Recently, I responded to an email from a client who was unsure about how and if she was or ever will be ready to take independent responsibility in meeting her personal fitness and wellness goals.
In other words, how can she push past the frustrating point of feeling “stuck” in her not-so-healthy habits? And more importantly, how does she independently incorporate healthier habits on a regular basis? Where and how does self-motivation turn into healthier daily practices?
My initial response in writing went a little something like this…
“…let me ask you a few questions to reflect upon (and maybe jot down some notes in your journal). Hint: some of these questions should sound familiar….
1. Why do you believe you are not “ready to really knock this out with as much independent responsibility” as you thought you would?
2. What is currently standing in your way of incorporating fitness and healthy nutrition habits into your daily life?
3. What is ONE action you can take TODAY to help you meet your fitness and wellness goals?
4. Take some time to reflect upon why exercise and personal fitness is important to you. Envision your fittest self. How do you look? How do you feel? What types of foods do you eat or not eat? How do you days flow? How much sleep are you getting?
As you know, I truly believe fitness and wellness are important things to prioritize in all of our lives. But it’s difficult to break the cycle of current habits and incorporate new ones into our daily lives. A quote by Frederick Douglass comes to mind. “Without struggle, there is no progress.” Remember, there will be a struggle at first, but progress is ah-coming! The hard part is pushing forward through the struggle. I have a lot of creative ideas to help push (and support) you through the struggle, but ultimately, the choice is yours.
As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.”
You know what water is and what it can do for you. You can see the water. You can even think about the water. You can talk about the water. You may even fall into the water! But it’s up to you to decide when you will take a critical step and drink the water. That action all in itself reflects self-motivation, determination, focus, and demystifies the process of starting something that nurtures our well-being.
Take a day or two to reflect on the questions above and I’ll touch base with you via phone later this week.”
Check out Part 2 of this two part blog post.
Today, let’s start with the end in mind.
You have to make it a habit to get rid of a bad habit to make space for better habits.
Anyone who knows me is fully aware of my love for desserts–especially dark chocolate, sweet potato pie, apple pie, ice cream, soft chocolate chip cookies, birthday cake, well, you get the point. Once upon a time about five years ago I decided to give up desserts for the entire month leading up to my birthday. I was curious to see if I could actually do it. And what better way to celebrate than to have a big ol’ piece of birthday cake and ice cream 31 days later!?!? So yes, 31 days of no desserts for a person who regularly partakes in the deliciousness of sweet delectables.
The first few days weren’t so bad and admittedly it was very eye opening to experience the “alleged” cravings for sweets. Mind you, it didn’t help that certain people who shall remain nameless tried to tempt me with all types of sweets. My will power prevailed. I also noticed how much desserts are around me as a convenience to eat. Work. Dining halls. Restaurants. Grocery stores. Work meetings. Doctor’s offices. My purse. In the hands of friends and colleagues. Hair salon. Movie theater. And the list goes on and on. Let’s fast forward 31 days and chat about a few things that surfaced during my 31-day dessert fast.
discipline: Unsurprisingly, I have will power and discipline to push through any type of luxurious sacrifice. It was only dessert (my precious). It’s not like I was giving up water and food all month. Mind you, I remain thankful for the choice to even give up desserts, let alone the possibility of giving up water or food.
craving: At first, I could have sworn I was craving desserts. I didn’t have the shakes or some other noticeable physiological response, but I really did think I seriously craved desserts. And then it happened….
habit: I figured out that I don’t really love desserts, nor do I crave them. I have simply conditioned myself to eating desserts at a certain time of day and for certain occasions for the majority of my life. After dinner–dessert. Birthday–dessert (I still haven’t been able to shake this one). After lunch–dessert. After snack snack–dessert. After pulling desserts (high glycemic index and super sugary foods) out of my diet, my sensitivity to sweets increased and my desire to eat sweets decreased.
Moral of the story: You have to make it a habit to get rid of a bad habit to make space for better habits.
Here’s a cool video infographic I found on YouTube about the Science of Habit. It’s pretty basic and progresses into how habits become addictions, so you could stop watching at the 2:40 mark…or not. 😉
Video credit: Kenny Winn via YouTube
There’s also a book I’ve been meaning to read, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.
QUESTION: What not-so-healthy foods do you crave? Are they truly food CRAVINGS or have these foods become part of your food intake routine (a.k.a., habit)? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both…
In order for change to occur, change needs to happen.
It’s easy to lose momentum working out and maintaining a regular fitness regimen. We often here it takes 21-days to build a habit, but it can take as little as one day to break it!
Here are some things I do to help stay the course and maintain my workout momentum on a regular basis.
1. Travel with a gym bag prepared and ready to go. This gives me the flexibility of accepting an invite or opportunity to workout. It also allows me to make an impromptu stop at the gym or outdoor area to get a good workout into my day. I often find it hard to go home and then leave my house again to go to the gym. At the most minimal level, I always have a pair of sneakers and socks in my car.
2. Always have healthy snacks on hand. Eating healthy eventually becomes a lifestyle. It’s easier to maintain healthy eating habits when I proactively take control of what and when foods go into my body. Carrying healthy snacks increases the likelihood of working out because I’m providing my body with good fuel. The last thing I want to do is work out after eating a heavy meal, but I could definitely see myself working out within a couple of hours after eating a delicious sushi roll! So, the moral of the story is eat well, live well, and exercise well.
3. I am the company I keep. This is a hard one to swallow. (pun intended) If I spend a lot of time with people who do not eat a healthy diet and do not regularly work out, I tend to acquire some of their behaviors. Likewise, if I spend a lot of time with people who do eat a well-balanced diet and who are physically active, I acquire some of their behaviors. Of course the converse of each example is true. As an active person who eats a fairly healthy diet, I could hang with folks who eat a less healthy diet and who are less physically active. These folks could acquire some of my habits because they want to make a lifestyle change and they see positive benefits of hanging with someone like me. Similarly, I enjoy being with people who are invested in being their best selves. In summary, be aware of who you spend the most time with. Ask yourself, do my relationships reflect the person I am or want to be?
4. There is power in numbers. It seems like 5K’s, 10K’s, half and full marathons have become more and more popular and accessible to the masses. If you can afford or have someone sponsor the registration fee, DO IT. It’s so much “easier” to run a long distance race with a group of people rather than by myself. Yes, it still requires training, endurance, and a certain level of fitness, but it really does feel easier. And depending where you are within a clump of people running, it may actually be easier (i.e., less wind resistance).
This concept also applies to every day physical activities. They key is to work out with people who are focused and share a similar agenda. Some people like the social aspect of working out with others and literally want to talk the whole time. That’s fine if that’s what you want during your workout. Others (like myself) want to get a good workout in and chat afterwards as we stretch or over a post-workout protein shake. This brings me back to Tip #4, you are the company you keep. Choose wisely.
Working out with one or more people also adds an additional layer of accountability to your personal fitness goals. By definition, accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions,” (Merriam-Webster Online, 2013). Whether it’s one or more people, I am more likely to show up and do it if I know someone else expects it.
If you’re new to an area, search online for local fitness groups you can join. A few I have found helpful are http://www.meetup.com, http://www.facebook.com, http://www.active.com, http://www.blackgirlsRUN.com, local recreation centers, local gyms, and newspapers. When in doubt, talk to people and ask questions about any fitness groups you can join in the local area.
5. Immerse yourself into the literature. Anything from watching scary (and real) documentaries that tell us what’s really in our food to reading health and fitness magazines are good ways to keep us immersed in a healthy lifestyle and maintain our fitness momentum. I read at least one article about health, wellness, or fitness each day. This keeps my mind proactively immersed in my personal fitness goals and in turn, aligns my body with my mind.
6. Vision board. Envisioning and truly seeing the person you strive to be is critical along any life journey. Quite a few pictures and words on my vision board incorporate elements of fitness and wellness. For example, I have a muscular, lean physique of an athlete as a source of daily inspiration. The key to having a vision board is putting it in a location you see every day. Looking at every day provides me positive and inspiring self-affirmations.
7. Being human and making mistakes. So what if I ate all of that ice cream on my birthday! So what if I didn’t make it to the gym today. So what if I got caught up in a moment with friends and ate a delicious, fattening piece of (insert favorite fattening food here). I’ve learned few things. First, you only live once and enjoy life. Eat your favorite dishes and enjoy them! Listen to your body and honor what it is telling you. Second, moderation and self-forgiveness are key. I don’t eat ice cream and other deliciously fattening treats every day. And I know how eating ice cream yesterday wasn’t the downfall of my entire diet and fitness goals. Today is always a new day.
8. Active recovery and off days. Low-intensity is better than no-intensity. The research has shown active recovery, or low-intensity, workouts after a high-intensity, hard workout is good for reducing the levels of lactic acid in your muscles. Lactic acid builds up in our muscles as we (over)work our muscles. Remember, off days are purposefully planned days into your overall workout regimen. Rest is important!
If you decide to incorporate “off” days into your week and do no pre-planned physical activity, don’t feel bad about it when you’re doing it. Bask in your off day. Enjoy it. If you feel the urge to do something, do an active recovery exercise to hold you over until your next workout.
Keep up the great work, maintain momentum, and stay the course!