Lifestyle changes…..that work.

starts-with-you

So January is ticking along then. Did you make any New Year resolutions? And if you did, how are you getting on?

I don’t tend to make them myself, well I do, but not necessarily at New Year, just at any time when I feel there are changes that need to be made. Why do I say ‘changes that need to be made?’ Well, something within me knows that life would be better in some way if I made those changes, and that isn’t to say that the changes need be anything drastic or forever. It might be something like I’m not getting enough good quality sleep lately so what do I need to do to help get more? Or it might be my wine intake went up over the Christmas break and I haven’t quite cut that back down yet. 

Sometimes certain times help to motivate us to evaluate our lives and to consider what’s working and what isn’t. We probably all have a little nagging voice of conscience that tells us that we could really do with updating an old habit that isn’t really in alignment with what we say we want in life. Sometimes we change those habits easily and sometimes we just seem to hang on to them. 

Have you ever wondered what stops you from actually following through with the choices you would like to make? What is it within you that self sabotages making your life better for you? There are many reasons this happens so here is a simple approach to giving yourself a bit of help.

Here are my top 5 tips for making any change…..

1) Ask yourself if you really want it.


The first question to ask yourself is do you really want to make the changes. I ask people to give me a number out of 10 as to how much they really want to make the change and it surprises most that their score is often below 6 or 7. If that is the case then it is hardly surprising that they don’t actually follow through on what they say they want. If your score is below a 9 then you are quite likely to start out with all enthusiasm and then give up when you hit the first hurdle or two.

Take my wine drinking for example. I like a glass of wine or two, not always everyday but at times like Christmas it can be. I read somewhere a while ago that drinking a glass of wine a day takes 3 years off your life. Now, I admit, I’ll take that. I would happily knock 3 years off of my life to continue to enjoy a glass of wine. So if I said I wanted to give that up then it isn’t true, even if I think I should cut the wine out, I don’t actually want to. Now all that said, this is I how feel at the moment, and it might change. I might have an epiphany one day where I decide I never wan’t alcohol again, but at the moment I haven’t.  Every now and then though my wine drinking creeps up a bit and then I know I don’t feel quite as fresh in the day or sleep quite as well at night so when that happens I rein it in, and feel all the better for doing so.

So before you go any further you might like to ask yourself that same question for anything you are currently trying to change. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you actually want to?

2) Acknowledge what you have been gaining from your old habit.

Now, let’s assume for the moment that your score isn’t quite a 10. You will be gaining something from the current choice you are making and if you don’t acknowledge that then it will be hard to give it up. So, if you are a comfort eater and whenever you feel anything that you don’t want to feel, you eat. It’s not the news that the food gives you a temporary distraction and pick me up because you already know you comfort eat for those reasons and it doesn’t stop you doing it. Where you need to explore is what could you do to comfort yourself when you feel those difficult or uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, instead of using food. What would you need in order for you to be able to sit with difficult thoughts and emotions without needing to avoid them? If you can get comfortable sitting with uncomfortable thoughts or emotions and from there address them in a more productive way, and find a healthier way of comforting yourself in those moments, like breathing exercises or a walk for example, then you will stand more chance of letting go of the comfort eating habit.

3) Be prepared for the moments of challenge.

You will still need to break the habit though, even when you have decided you want to. We know that the neural pathways in the brain get wired for the choices we make and it takes time for these pathways to re wire into the new default habit (most studies agree on at least 28 days but figures vary and I personally think that’s because we all vary too) so for this reason it will take some effort to choose the new choice over the old one, a least for a while.

And given that it is highly likely that you will hit moments when it is far easier to make the old choice, if you know those moments will arise you can pre script how you will handle them.

So back to my wine drinking, when I know that after a glass of wine in the evening I am likely to want one more, but my current choice is that I would rather not have one, I need to find a strategy in advance to help me when that moment arises. I come up with two solutions for that. Firstly I have a fizzy water with fresh lemon in a wine glass whilst I am preparing dinner (which would otherwise be a glass of wine), then I have a glass of wine with dinner, and as soon as I have finished my dinner and wine I wash my wine glass up and make myself a herbal tea. If I can do that in that moment then I don’t even think about having another wine. If I hadn’t pre thought that plan then I know that I would likely pour a glass of wine to start preparing dinner, and then there would be at least one more to follow!

 

4) Know why you want to make the change, and focus on that.

You already know what your old choice gave you in terms of benefits and the same needs to be true for your new choice. What will you gain from making, and following through on, your new choice?

For me cutting down on wine, I know I can still really enjoy a few nice glasses of it, and if I stick to less is more then I can also enjoy having more energy in the day, sleeping better at night, increased productivity, healthier skin and more money to spend on other things!

Identify your ‘why’ and remind yourself of it on a regular basis. If you care enough about your own wellbeing and you have a level of self worth you will want to follow through. You are worth looking after! And yes, you deserve the best possible life that is there waiting for you!

5) Little steps in the right direction.

One of the biggest reasons I personally think causes people to fail to stick to their goals is that they are too rigid about how they do them. The all or nothing approach works in some situations, and is essential in others. If you are an addict then it is an all or nothing approach. For many people though it is possible to take a softer approach. Take healthy eating for example, if you are trying to lose weight and someone brings a birthday cake into the office on Tuesday and you have a slice of it you don’t have to go on a food binge for the rest of the week because ‘you have blown it.’ If you have had that bit of cake then don’t write the rest of the week off, get back to your plan. It’s ok. Little steps in the right direction make massive changes over time. Top coach Tony Robbins says “people often over estimate what they can do in the short term and under estimate what they are capable of in the long term’ and I couldn’t agree more with him.

And one last thing that’s worth keeping in mind is that in our buy now arrive this afternoon world, we expect something the moment we want it. We make a choice and then we want to see the results of that choice straight away or we give up. We give up on things before we give them a chance to work. Be patient!

So keep going, one step at a time in the right direction. Don’t give up if you pause or take a step backwards. Just get going again, when you can, one choice at a time.

I spent some time lately talking to Karen Norris, who is an expert in the field of exercise and nutrition so look out for my email next week where I will be sharing a podcast we have recorded and details of a live webinar where you will have the chance to ask her questions yourself on all things exercise and nutrition related.