Big lifestyle changes – begin with small daily habitual shifts
As an adolescent I learnt an incredible life lesson from my father, reaching the age of 50 he found himself overweight and unfit, he decided he was going to start jogging. We all rolled our eyes as he embarked on his journey. He kick started his program with a brisk walk around the block – one block, and it took him about 15-20 minutes. As the months went by and the seasons changed, he added block upon block and the brisk walk turned into a brisk run – within a year he was running 10 kms every day. It was inspiring – small steps over time, turned into major lifestyle changes that have impacted on his health dramatically. Today he is an 82-year-old who has the energy and fitness of a man half his age.
Lifestyle changes are extremely difficult as they take us completely outside of our comfort zone, yet it is exactly that that is necessary when you decide to take charge of your health! We are creatures of habit and usually our habits are developed over many years. Breaking those habits and forming new ones is extremely hard to do and stick to. In the beginning enthusiasm is usually high and new habits feel easy to adhere to; but the biggest question remains: How do we continue these changes and make them into new rituals that last a lifetime?
How can the ordinary person have an extra-ordinary mindset? How do we change our mindset and make sure that the changes we make are long lasting?
Research shows that exerting willpower is like exercising a muscle; the more we train and use it, the better we become at it. It seems though far more difficult for us today to resist temptation because we are constantly bombarded with so much more than generations gone by. We live in an immediate gratification society, so we are continually exercising self-control and willpower and it literally gets exhausting.
According to Professor Timothy A Pychyl (Associate professor, Dept of Psychology, Carlton University, Ottawa, Canada) starting small with manageable, achievable goals is key to developing self-discipline. Sleep, rest and adequate nutrition are also helpful when trying to develop self-discipline. (1,2)
Setting yourself up to succeed is vital in achieving your desired outcome. This could be as simple as not going grocery shopping when you are tired and hungry. It’s really difficult to resist the chocolates and baked goods when your stomach is rumbling, and you’ve had a stressful day.
He also advises people to start early in the day; as the day goes on your willpower begins to weaken. So, if your resolution is to go for a walk or jog; do it first thing in the morning. Chances are if you leave it ‘till after work – it won’t get done.
Tips to make small changes that will last a lifetime:
- Attach a new habit to something you are already doing. For example: if you are already walking the dog, add a 5-minute jog at the end of the walk.
- Start small! If your goal is to write a book– set yourself up to write for 15 minutes every day.
- Look for helpful alternatives. Use the stairs instead of taking to the elevator.
- Swap unhealthy for healthy – sparkling mineral water with fresh lime instead of soft drinks; salad instead of fries.
- Be realistic and make it practical. Incorporate a minimum of 3 alcohol FREE nights into your week.
- Anticipate obstacles AND prepare for them. A colleague of mine sets herself two alarms when she has to get up early to exercise in winter.
- Report to a family member or enlist a friend. Be Accountable.
- Find a mentor – someone you admire, look up to and want to impress.
- Visualize – how you will feel AFTER you have completed your new habit.
- Don’t over think it – just DO IT. Start now.
- Be prepared – have your gym gear ready in your car or at work, ready to go have a workout.
- Visual Cues – mark your achievements off on a calendar that is visible to all.
Take charge – pick ONE new healthy habit this winter and stick to it. Start small and build on it every fortnight. Document your goals and start your journey to long term health today with tiny steps in the right direction.
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- Pychyl TA, posted March 03, 2009, Self-regulation failure (part 4): 8 tips to strengthen willpower, Psychology today.
- Baumeister RF, Vohs KD & Tiee DM, 2007, The strength Model of Self Control, Current Directions in Psychological Science,16:6;351-355