I have mixed feelings about January when it comes to changing habits and setting health goals. I love that many people are motivated in January to make changes. What I don't love is that it's usually short lived, and come mid-February, it's back to old ways. Here are a few tips to turn your January motivation into long-term, sustainable healthy habits versus another failed resolution.
1. Don't shoot for the moon. Instead, aim for 2-3, small, attainable stars. Jim Davies, a cognitive science professor at Carleton University says "many people set goals that are too far out of reach, especially when it comes to health-related resolutions such as losing weight or exercising." For example, a client that wants to lose weight might say, I'm never having chocolate chip cookies again. Instead, set a goal of having vegetables with lunch and dinner, continue to have chocolate chip cookies, but have one and make it yourself using healthier ingredients like high fiber oats, a small amount of natural sweetener like honey or bananas, and healthy fats like coconut oil & natural nut butter. Another client that wants to start exercising might set a goal to workout every day for 30 minutes. While I love daily movement as a long-term goal, I recommend starting with 2 days a week. Choose your workout, put it in the calendar, and start with that. You can slowly add on days over the next few months.
2. Instead of stopping a behaviour - replace it with an alternative behaviour that will serve your health. For example, to break a habit of having something sweet with a coffee in the afternoon, Davies suggests thinking about how your sugar cravings are triggered, and respond with an alternative action. Triggers can be time of day, hunger, environment, certain people, emotions, etc. Once you identify a trigger or a pattern, it's easier to change a behaviour. If you find yourself craving sweets in the afternoon, it's likely because you're hungry, which means your blood sugar is low, which makes you hungry and tired. Come prepared with a healthy protein bar (Love Good Fats or No Sugar Co. are a couple of my favorite brands because they're high in protein, fiber and low in sugar, a combination that gives you sustained energy versus the spike and crash experienced after eating something high in sugar), or make a batch of energy balls (see my go-to recipe for Cinnamon Protein Energy Bites below) and pack one daily when that sugar craving or energy dip hits.
3. Davies says that the belief that habits can be formed in 21 days or a month is a myth, "if you want to install a good habit, you need to keep doing it until it feels habitual, which means you're not making a decision to do it every time." It's also important to keep up with that habit even on the days that you don't feel like doing it. Take exercise for example, if Tuesdays and Thursdays are your days to exercise, and you wake up Thursday tired, and want to hit snooze, get your exercise gear on, and do your cycle, strength or HIIT class anyways, even if you drag your butt the entire class. Showing up on the days when you feel unmotivated is critical to establishing good habits.
4. Establish "your why." Motivation doesn't last, which is why most people give up on their resolutions after 4-6 weeks, so how do you get your butt out of bed to exercise on the days that you don't feel motivated? It's all about establishing "your why." Davies says, someone who wants to start exercising "is more likely to succeed if they can connect their efforts to a greater motivation," such as being able to keep up with their kids' energy, living longer or being able to climb stairs without becoming winded. When I meet with a new client, the first thing I ask them to do is write down 3 reasons why they want to make changes to their habits, and put them somewhere they will see them everyday. On those days when their motivation isn't there - go back to your why, and keep going.
If you're interested in making long-term, sustainable changes to your habits, contact me to set up a free 15-minute discovery call to learn how I can help.