First and foremost, tell “perfect” to “take a hike!”
Stop waiting for that perfect challenge-free day or week. There will never be a “perfect” time to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
As I always tell clients, you don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great.
Meet yourself where you are. Start. Learn as you go. Just start!
Accept that a healthier lifestyle is created. Nobody is born with unlimited motivation and a natural ability to always withstand cravings and desires. Health takes intentional action, awareness, perseverance, and planning.
Think: goals and preparation
Establish two or three realistic goals. Write them down. Make sure your goals reflect how much time and energy you actually have (not how much you wish you had), your finances, and your equipment.
Figure out in advance the what, where, when, and how of your workout plan. Will you join a running group, set up a home gym, sign up for online classes? Plan to do something you enjoy, or at least something you don’t hate. When do you want to accomplish your goal? Be specific. If you want to lose weight, how much and by what date? Break the goal down. If you want to get stronger, what exactly does that mean? How will you fit in your training? What accommodations do you need to make? Do you need to rearrange childcare? Do you need to block off time during your workday?
Basically, begin at the end. Figure out where you want to be and work backwards. Create a plan. Detail your WWWH of the goal—your when, where, what, and how.
Create a plan that you can spend more time doing than avoiding.
No “best” workout works if you spend more time falling off of it than being on it.
Create an eating and exercise program that you can spend more time on than off. The “best” new “miracle” is not the best if you can’t stick with it. Time spent yo-yoing off any “best” regime typically does more harm (think binge eating, countless missed workouts, etc.) than the positive time on the program ever does.
Something is always better than nothing. The benefits of the mediocre program you do consistently will trump the benefits of the intense program you always skip! Benefits from small amounts of motion compound to create a fitter future you.
Use my 10-minute rule for beginners: making 10 minutes your goal is a great place to start. The act of doing something makes moving a habit, and 10 minutes is not so onerous that you won’t do it. Plus, whether you’re a workout newbie, coming back from a health hiatus, or simply trying to stay on your horse, often the hardest part to being active is finding the ignition energy to start the workout. When you don’t want to train, make yourself do something—anything—for 10 minutes. If you want to stop after 10 minutes, fine. At least you will have done something. But most likely, once you start, you’ll just finish your workout.
Now, to stay on your horse…
Tie yourself up. Create systems that protect you from your lesser self. Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Odysseus and the sirens? Odysseus orders his first mate to tie him up so when his vessel goes past the tempting sirens, he is unable to submit to the sirens’ enticing calls. He knew his will would not be strong enough, so he set himself up for success. Think of Odysseus as you and the sirens as your health and fitness temptations.
Fudge bars are my sirens. What is your version of fudge bars? Almonds you swipe from your coworker’s desk? Cookies in your kitchen cupboard? Alcohol? Time spent on social media? We all have our unique sirens, our unique “red, no-go” triggers like behaviours, foods, situations, people, etc., that keep us from becoming our healthiest future selves.
Work to become aware of your triggers so you can create systems that protect you from your future less-motivated, exhausted self.
Why are systems critical? When you are motivated and energized it’s easy to have positive intentions—for example, to say, “I won’t drink at the party,” or “I can buy that tub of ice cream and eat it over the next month.” Now, following through? Not so easy.
You need systems. Systems set the future you up for success; systems promote follow through. Systems are safety nets—constraints that don’t allow your future self the opportunity to “go there.” Systems “tie up” future you and save you from your sirens!
If you’re going to a restaurant, read the menu in advance so you know what you will order. Don’t bring crap into the house that you’ll later binge on. Pay a trainer so you actually show up. Knit while you watch TV to keep your hands busy and prevent snacking. If you don’t want to buy cigarettes or ice cream, give your significant other your credit or debit card.
We all have weaknesses. The healthier among us just know them and make accommodations! Figure out the people, places, environments, mantras, and situations that will cripple you, and figure out the people and processes who will support you. Limit the less supportive. Pump up the supportive.
Learn to say no
Decide what matters to you—what choices will make you feel like you are living with integrity—and then stick to your guns no matter what people think. Live life in a way that makes sense for you and your family. Say no to what doesn’t work for you.
A “yes” to someone else’s priority is a “no” to yours. You can do anything, but not everything.
If you have tried too many diets and workout programs to count (and quit all of them), don’t worry. All of us, to varying degrees, fall off our health horse. Give yourself grace. You are human. As humans we are beautifully imperfect, emotionally driven beings. The trick is to trend positive, to learn how to spend more time on your horse than off. Remember, something is always better than nothing.
Do the best you can in this moment instead of stating that you will be “perfect” in future. This is the only moment you have direct control over—seize it! Perform daily small acts of health courage—make your steps non-negotiable such as drinking water and stopping eating when you are full.
The health process is not a pass/fail. It is a journey. Give yourself time. Mastery takes awareness, intentional practice, and repetition. As Tony Robbins says, “repetition is the mother of all skill”… and health is a skill!
So, get practising. Have fun! Be intentional. Be aware. Be patient. Be persistent!