Tips For Changing When Change is Hard

TIPS FOR CHANGING WHEN CHANGE IS HARD

The New Year’s Resolution landscape is fraught with landmines and traps. Many people give themselves a greenlight from Thanksgiving to New Years Eve to indulge however they please, and promise themselves to lose the holiday weight gain in the new year. But those promises only set us up for failure because they’re too grand, and they’re too vague.

Fretting over what happens between Christmas and New Years is less effective than focusing on what happens between New Year’s and Christmas. In other words, a month of indulgence is less impactful on our health than the daily behaviors we engage in within the months of January to the following December. Our health is typically the culmination of small, consistent acts. And those consistent acts must be performed over and over again.

For many, the New Year is indeed a great opportunity to create new pathways in our health. But those paths have to set us up for success, not grand and vague visions that we won’t be able to meet. So how do we change when change is hard? How do we actually get ourselves to do something new?

Instead of outcome-based goals, set behavior-based actionable steps.

Outcome-based goals look something like this:

“I want to lose 10 lbs.”

“I want to get into a bikini by June.”

“I want to look good for my vacation.”

“I want to feel healthy and confident.”

While all of those desires are valid, they are focusing on outcomes. Instead, we have to focus on behavior goals. Behavior-based goals are actionable steps for us to follow. They look something like this:

“I’m going to eat five servings of vegetables a day.”

“I’m going to book three workouts a week with my coach for the next six months.”

“I’m going to walk 12,000 steps per day by doing laps at the office every 45 minutes.”

“I’m going to meal prep this Sunday.”

All of these behavior goals can be achieved immediately, and are a clear call to action that our brain can follow. The clearer the directions are, the more likely we are to walk the path. Thus, the behavior itself is a goal that we can achieve in the immediate future. This sets us up for success because we can celebrate the victories day after day, rather than waiting for those ten pounds to come off before we let ourselves jump for joy.

Do something with a friend or group instead of by yourself.

Doing something alone can be harder than doing it with friends or a partner. Going for hikes with a group, setting up strength and conditioning sessions with a friend, or meal prepping with a buddy each Sunday can help us follow-through on our plans. Not only does it make an activity more enjoyable to do it with a friend, but it helps our emotional brains feel more “willing,” because we’ll feel connected with the people we’re doing the activities with. And of course, it makes us more accountable when a partner is relying on us to show up for the task, too.

Setup barriers around not meeting the objectives.

While punishment is usually not a good idea for not meeting a goal, there are some fun ways to motivate ourselves with a tiny bit of threat. One of my favorite examples is inspired by some strength coaches who hold each other accountable by making someone donate to a charity/cause they dislike if they don’t meet their objectives. Donating money, owing someone a home-cooked meal, or not letting yourself buy the expensive wine are all gentle ways to deter us from not meeting the behavior objective. We don’t want to be too hard on ourselves, but we also don’t want to give ourselves too much leeway. A little accountability is a good thing!

Journal, record, and write things down.

Food logs, exercise journals, mind-body-stress journals, activity trackers, and other means of recording our behaviors can all help improve our self-awareness and track our progress. Oftentimes, people don’t realize how much they’re snacking, or how little they’re moving. Or they might not realize the quantity of alcohol or sugar they’re consuming. For this reason, doing a little journaling can go a long way. Not only does this improve our knowledge about ourselves, but it also helps us set and reach incremental goals and monitor our progress from week to week.

Align your emotional brain with your logical brain.

Research shows that change only occurs when our emotional brains are on the same page as our logical brains. This is where the metaphor of the elephant and the rider emerge from–our emotional brains are the elephant (very big and powerful) and the rider is our logical brain (very small and cannot exert much influence). Often, the rider comes up with an idea, such as “I want to be healthy.” But the elephant starts stomping its feet the second that the work required to make such a change sets in. This is why motivation is so fleeting. To get our elephant and rider on the same page, we have to have an emotional stake in our goal, such as wanting to love our body enough to care deeply for it and nourish it. And then we need to have a very clear and well-defined path, such as three workouts scheduled per week and having five servings of fruits and vegetables in the fridge at all times. Murky or vague instructions make the elephant run in the other direction. Being as clear and actionable as possible, while also feeling the connection between the goal and our emotions, is key to unlocking the potential to change.

TIPS FOR CHANGING WHEN CHANGE IS HARD

The New Year’s Resolution landscape is fraught with landmines and traps. Many people give themselves a greenlight from Thanksgiving to New Years Eve to indulge however they please, and promise themselves to lose the holiday weight gain in the new year. But those promises only set us up for failure because they’re too grand, and they’re too vague.

Fretting over what happens between Christmas and New Years is less effective than focusing on what happens between New Year’s and Christmas. In other words, a month of indulgence is less impactful on our health than the daily behaviors we engage in within the months of January to the following December. Our health is typically the culmination of small, consistent acts. And those consistent acts must be performed over and over again.

For many, the New Year is indeed a great opportunity to create new pathways in our health. But those paths have to set us up for success, not grand and vague visions that we won’t be able to meet. So how do we change when change is hard? How do we actually get ourselves to do something new?

Instead of outcome-based goals, set behavior-based actionable steps.

Outcome-based goals look something like this:

“I want to lose 10 lbs.”

“I want to get into a bikini by June.”

“I want to look good for my vacation.”

“I want to feel healthy and confident.”

While all of those desires are valid, they are focusing on outcomes. Instead, we have to focus on behavior goals. Behavior-based goals are actionable steps for us to follow. They look something like this:

“I’m going to eat five servings of vegetables a day.”

“I’m going to book three workouts a week with my coach for the next six months.”

“I’m going to walk 12,000 steps per day by doing laps at the office every 45 minutes.”

“I’m going to meal prep this Sunday.”

All of these behavior goals can be achieved immediately, and are a clear call to action that our brain can follow. The clearer the directions are, the more likely we are to walk the path. Thus, the behavior itself is a goal that we can achieve in the immediate future. This sets us up for success because we can celebrate the victories day after day, rather than waiting for those ten pounds to come off before we let ourselves jump for joy.

Do something with a friend or group instead of by yourself.

Doing something alone can be harder than doing it with friends or a partner. Going for hikes with a group, setting up strength and conditioning sessions with a friend, or meal prepping with a buddy each Sunday can help us follow-through on our plans. Not only does it make an activity more enjoyable to do it with a friend, but it helps our emotional brains feel more “willing,” because we’ll feel connected with the people we’re doing the activities with. And of course, it makes us more accountable when a partner is relying on us to show up for the task, too.

Setup barriers around not meeting the objectives.

While punishment is usually not a good idea for not meeting a goal, there are some fun ways to motivate ourselves with a tiny bit of threat. One of my favorite examples is inspired by some strength coaches who hold each other accountable by making someone donate to a charity/cause they dislike if they don’t meet their objectives. Donating money, owing someone a home-cooked meal, or not letting yourself buy the expensive wine are all gentle ways to deter us from not meeting the behavior objective. We don’t want to be too hard on ourselves, but we also don’t want to give ourselves too much leeway. A little accountability is a good thing!

Journal, record, and write things down.

Food logs, exercise journals, mind-body-stress journals, activity trackers, and other means of recording our behaviors can all help improve our self-awareness and track our progress. Oftentimes, people don’t realize how much they’re snacking, or how little they’re moving. Or they might not realize the quantity of alcohol or sugar they’re consuming. For this reason, doing a little journaling can go a long way. Not only does this improve our knowledge about ourselves, but it also helps us set and reach incremental goals and monitor our progress from week to week.

Align your emotional brain with your logical brain.

Research shows that change only occurs when our emotional brains are on the same page as our logical brains. This is where the metaphor of the elephant and the rider emerge from–our emotional brains are the elephant (very big and powerful) and the rider is our logical brain (very small and cannot exert much influence). Often, the rider comes up with an idea, such as “I want to be healthy.” But the elephant starts stomping its feet the second that the work required to make such a change sets in. This is why motivation is so fleeting. To get our elephant and rider on the same page, we have to have an emotional stake in our goal, such as wanting to love our body enough to care deeply for it and nourish it. And then we need to have a very clear and well-defined path, such as three workouts scheduled per week and having five servings of fruits and vegetables in the fridge at all times. Murky or vague instructions make the elephant run in the other direction. Being as clear and actionable as possible, while also feeling the connection between the goal and our emotions, is key to unlocking the potential to change.

2019-01-01T19:13:10+00:00

About the Author:

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Erin is a graduate student working toward a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Health Promotion, as well as completing the Didactic Program in Dietetics to become a Registered Dietitian. She’s also a Precision Nutrition Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Sports Nutritionist.