We are now six weeks into the new year and I am seeing a lot of patients in full swing with their weight loss efforts. Many of them are on point with their eating plan, working out regularly and feeling good about the results they are seeing. But a recent conversation with one of them highlighted the challenge for most people….. How do you keep it up? How do you keep the motivation going and make everlasting changes?
I felt compelled to do some research on New Year’s resolutions and find out how many people were able to stick with the new habits they were creating. It turns out that according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton that only 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals! Not only that, but I was surprised to see that resolutions dropped off much sooner than I would have thought. Research from Strava, a social network for athletes, found that most people had already fallen off their bandwagon by the middle of January.
As a doctor and a health coach, I am in a perfect position to cheer people on with their healthy habits, but I also realize that forming new habits involves much more than just setting an intention and making some changes. Our brain and psyche are very happy to press the “Easy Button” and keep us in patterns of comfort and autopilot. The brain is also well adapted to choose the option that feels most pleasurable. So, if hitting the snooze button on a Saturday morning feels more pleasurable than getting dressed and going to the gym, then we will be more likely to stay in bed. Creating new habits that last can be tricky, especially when we are dealing with well-worn patterns of operation, so I’ve come up with a list of 5 steps that will help you with permanent transformation.
- Know your WHY. Identifying your motivating factors is the first step in making lasting change. For example, imagine that you are in a habit of eating ice cream every night and you’ve decided that you would like to lose weight. After some deeper digging, you discover the importance for losing weight is that you want to be the type of parent that can run and play and role model good eating habits for your kids. Now, when the ice cream dish starts to call your name at 8 pm, you’ll be able to load up this vision of playing basketball with your son and the good vibes that come with being the parent you want to be. You’ll need that emotional connection to your why in order to overcome the pleasurable pull of the ice cream! Remember, the brain is always going to want to choose the more pleasurable option.
- Create a Plan. Take some time to reflect on what has helped you achieve your goals in the past and use that to your advantage. Likewise, are there lessons around previous “failures”? Remember: failure is just a form of feedback. I often will talk to my patients who relapse on their smoking cessation efforts. We carefully identify the factors that led them back into smoking and try to set up systems to ensure they don’t fall into the same trap again. By putting some thought into your goals, you can hopefully avoid past pitfalls.
- Take Baby Steps! I find it helpful to chunk down big goals into smaller steps. Think about it this way: by taking small steps, we’re less likely to set off the alarm bells in our primitive brain that try to prevent us from doing “big, dangerous, scary” things. When we look at our biology, the primitive brain wants us to stay safe and ensure survival. So if we decide to suddenly go from couch potato to running 2 miles a day, the alarm bells go off in our subconscious mind and we may be likely to self sabotage. As you are about to embark on some changes, ask yourself “what is the smallest, realistic change that I can make and sustain right now?” Maybe it is to start with parking the car in the farthest parking space at work, or committing to walk for 10 minutes on your lunch break. Once those new habits become ingrained, you can take the next baby step.
- Set Yourself up for Success. Creating small wins helps a person feel successful and will propel him/her toward wanting more. Here are some simple ways to ensure small wins: First, try to clear out any blockades. Figure out what is currently stopping you from already doing your goal. Is your workout space a place that you want to spend time in? Can you lay out your clothes the night before? Make your lunches several days in advance? Go grocery shopping and prepare meals and put them in the freezer? Essentially, what can you put in place so that following through on your intentions is much easier?
- Set Up Accountability. It’s a scientific fact! Research done by the American Society of Training and Development found that people are 65 percent more likely to reach their goal after committing to another person. If you don’t have a workout buddy, don’t despair! There are lots of ways to set up accountability, including apps to track your progress, joining on-line groups of people with similar goals, writing in a journal, and working with a health coach.
If you’re needing help reaching your goals this year, I’m here to help! Whether it’s weight loss goals, work-related goals, setting boundaries, or creating balance, my extensive training in health and life coaching can help you be in that 8 percent of people that succeed!
If you are local to central Massachusetts, I’ll be giving a free talk at the Greendale YMCA in Worcester on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm to go over this exact topic! Not only that, but you will receive a voucher to attend a yoga class immediately following. You do not have to be a member of the YMCA to attend.
If you’re interested in working with me one-on-one, click here for a link to a free coaching call and a listing of various packages I offer.