Throughout my fitness career I have seen people get into healthy habits and quickly make the jump into eating well and exercise. Then they pile on the miles and hours on the ellipticals, only to wind up back on the couch, never to be seen again within a few short years. It’s true! The biggest challenge in maintaining a lifetime of healthy habits is doing too much, too fast, too soon. We expect a quick fix or immediate results and then when that doesn’t provide the desired outcome (or is too much to handle all at once) we get discouraged, burnt out, and throw in the towel. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You CAN maintain a healthy lifestyle without resorting to extremes or only eating broccoli. You just have to go about it the right way. Whether you are starting your wellness journey or looking to set a new goal, here are my secrets for making habits that stick, for the rest of your life!
Secrets to Lasting Lifestyle Change. Rome wasn’t built in a Day.
- Get Support. No person is an island, it’s truly challenging to accomplish your goals without a team supporting your success. Often times its not about getting tons of support, but about finding the RIGHT people to help you. Communicate your goals to people in your life who will hold you accountable, help you overcome obstacles, and keep you positive when it gets hard. Im a big believer in coaching, as I have seen the rewards that investing in yourself can bring. A coach can help you overcome roadblocks, keep you moving forward towards the life you want, and give you constant encouragement and support. The secret to a life of lasting healthy habits is surrounding yourself with others who lift you up.
- Ease Your Way Into It and follow a moderate rate of progression. There’s no better way to get sick of something than to do it too much, too hard, and too often, to the exclusion of other pursuits and activities. Yes, healthy habits require time and commitment, but they do NOT require that you take on the monastic or ascetic life. Regardless of the age at which you start making positive lifestyle changes, take your time and don’t hurry things. There’s no need to do several marathons in your first year of running or become a yoga master in 30 days. Building layer upon layer of quality training, quality rest, quality information-seeking, and quality experience is an integral part of a healthy, fulfilling, balanced lifestyle. With that approach, you’ll be rolling across finish lines and mastering yoga poses for many decades to come.
- Set SMART goals. I fully support making goals that challenge you to grow. But if your goals are unrealistic or unfocused you are setting yourself up for failure. Create goals that challenge you but are detailed by following a S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timed) goal setting plan. Stretch yourself but set yourself up for success with goals designed to help you make baby steps forward towards progress.
- ACTION Plan ahead of time. Make your SMART goals work for you by creating an action plan to accomplish them. Having a plan for the week (or month) removes the pressure of feeling clueless and it gives you a solid strategy for success when it comes to your health. Prepare a realistic workout program and map out a schedule for yourself. Line up a meal plan for the week and plan healthy nutritious options ahead of time. Think ahead and make time for breaks to decompress and recharge your batteries. It pays off to think forward and have a schedule to keep you on track for success with your wellness goals. Be flexible when needed, the important part is that you just keep moving on.
- Have FUN with it!! If eating well and exercise is stressing you out, you are doing it wrong. Choose activities you love and explore recipes that entice you. Make health something that brings more energy, vitality, and JOY to your life. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing – figure out what YOU need to feel healthy, happy, and strong.
- Think and Live Seasonally. It’s impossible to maintain maximum fitness year-round, year after year. That’s why top endurance athletes build their seasons around one or a few key events and vary their training in cycles of weeks or months at a time to reach their peak fitness when those events happen, a system called periodization. You can adapt this principal to your healthy lifestyle goals. Enjoy seasonal foods and get creative with nutritious meals based off the season’s bounty. Take up seasonal activities like skiing in the winter, hiking in the spring, and swimming in the summer to bring variety to your exercise routine. There are many reasons such an approach is beneficial and productive. Each cycle brings new challenges, and rewards, to you. You’ll be healthier, fitter, and enjoy maintaining a life full of variety and color!
- Don’t diet. Just eat HEALTHY. When you go on a diet, you will eventually have to go off a diet. This creates a yo-yo effect that will NOT help in maintaining your wellness goals long term. Avoid quick fixes and extremes (only meat and cheese? REALLY?) and just do the work to learn how to eat HEALTHY. Focus on clean, nutritious foods that make you feel good and fuel your body with energy. Learn about portion sizes, nutrients, and how to eat well throughout the day. Everybody’s body and needs are different. Learn about nutrition and how to eat to make YOU feel amazing – it’s worth investing time in and will help you eat healthy for the rest of your life.
- Drop the “all or nothing” mindset. This mentality sets you up to feel guilty eventually and is why so many people struggle to succeed. Expecting to stick to a structured eating and exercise plan for an extended period of time without ever deviating is unrealistic. Things happen and life can get in the way – through illness, other obligations, exhaustion, different opportunities, etc – it is impossible for someone to NEVER miss a workout. Remember it doesn’t matter if you fall down, it is if you pick yourself up that counts. It’s not all or nothing, get back at it and don’t beat yourself up.
- Practice the 80/20 Rule. While healthy habits important, there are times when we all want to indulge and need a little wiggle room to do so. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and if having a piece of cake at your friends birthday party is going to bring you pleasure, then by all means you should have a piece of cake. Thats why I subscribe to the 80/20 rule. This rule reminds you that if you want to maintain a healthy body and weight, you’ll need to make wise choices more often than not, but can make occasional allowances for certain foods or days off without falling off track. Depriving yourself to an extreme isn’t sustainable long term and neither is indulging 24-7. When you don’t let yourself enjoy the things you love, you end up craving them more. By indulging wisely and treating yourself once in a while, it makes it easier to stay on track and maintain a healthy life. Live by the 80/20 Rule and keep your healthy habits (and life satisfaction) in tact long term.
- Be NICE to yourself! Think Positive and STOP beating yourself up. You are a work in progress; which means you get there a little at a time, not all at once. You can’t make positive change with a negative, self-depricating mind. Get rid of the trash talk and BELIEVE in yourself. The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful. Listen to your self-talk and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Regardless of how a situation seems, focus on what you DO WANT to happen, and then take the next positive step forward. No, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects – whether or not you’re happy and successful in the long run depends greatly on which aspects you focus on.
Remember “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and as Epictetus would say, “No great thing is created suddenly.” . You never need to carry more than you can hold, just take one small step at a time. And while you’re out there making decisions instead of excuses, learning new things, and getting closer and closer to your goals, know that there are others out there, like me, who admire your efforts and are striving for greatness too.
Practice the skills above and teach yourself how to adopt healthy habits you want to stick with. Listen to your body and support yourself towards your goals with a realistic action plan tailored to your needs. Be consistent, realistic, and make time for your health. Always stay positive and make your ultimate goal one of WELLNESS. Every day is different. The important part is showing up, doing your best, and committing to a healthy, happy life.
Love to you and your long life,