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Breaking Bad…Habits

At the risk of sounding cliché, we are creatures of habit. Physically, our bodies strive for homeostasis. Mentally, we like routines and processes that are done without much thought. In habits we find comfort, normalcy and familiarity. The problem is when our normal and familiar habits aren’t always healthy.

The 21 Day Myth

The adage is that it takes 21 days to create a habit. However, newer research has proven that theory wrong and it takes about three times that amount of time create a new habit. Research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes a person 66 days to create a new habit. In fact, it can take up to eight months for some people. So, throw out that notion that in three weeks you’ll be able to create new habits.

That’s a lot of time when the habit you are trying to break is something to which you’ve become physically, emotionally and/or mentally attached (smoking, drinking, over eating, stress, etc.).

As a health coach, I work with clients on behavior modification strategies with nutrition and fitness to support their new healthy goals. Every day I speak to people who are so entrenched in their habits that they can’t envision a way out.

If you are nodding your head in agreement, let’s dig into why it’s so difficult to get out of unhealthy habits and create new, sustainable behaviors.

What’s in a Habit?

First, we need to define a habit. It’s not the occasional indulgent dinner or afternoon latte and cookie. A habit is a regular tendency or practice that is difficult to stop. An obvious example of a habit is smoking a cigarette after each meal. It’s something your brain is wired to do, and your body expects, and to stop it would result in negative physical symptoms.

Now that we know what a habit is, it’s important to be aware of when, where and how we exhibit habits and what the triggers are that set them into motion. For example, if you head to the vending machine at work every day at 2 p.m. for a candy bar because you need a little “pick me up,” what are the triggers? Are you tired? Is it stress that leaves you feeling depleted by mid-afternoon? Take note of what prompts you to buy that candy bar. When you know what sets that habit into action, you’ll be able to start changing it.  

Next, identify the “reward” in your current behavior? What do you feel when you eat that candy bar? Do you feel comfort, energy, relaxation? Make note of how you feel after you’ve indulged in your habit. That will be important information when you are working reprogram your brain to get that same feeling from a different habit.

The Road to New, Healthy Habits

Now that you know what triggers your unhealthy habit and how you feel when you give into that behavior, you can create a plan to create new healthy routines. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Identify a good habit that will satisfy that craving/need. If you truly feel depleted around 2 p.m. every day, your body may need a little jumpstart. You can do that without eating a candy bar every afternoon. Energy comes from lots of sources. Replace the candy bar with a walk, a healthier sweet snack or a cup of green tea with a few drops of honey. Start looking for a replacement that can be done as easily as buying a candy bar at the same time, so you aren’t forcing yourself to just ignore the urge and keep working.
  • Start with a gradual change. Forget what the research says…21 days, 66 days, whatever. If you make one small change every day or every week, you’ll start to see the results in bigger ways. Maybe that means having a candy bar three days instead of five for the first week. Or, having half of it each day. Step down gradually to increase the chance of long-term success.
  • If it ain’t broke…don’t change it. When it comes to starting new, healthy habits, rely on what’s worked before. Think about a time when you’ve been successful at starting a good habit or routine (maybe it’s exercising or getting up earlier). What steps did you take to build that habit? How did you hold yourself accountable? What reminders and rewards did you use? Recall what’s worked and repeat that process!
  • Be comfortable with failure. Expect to stumble and be ready with restart strategies. We all fail when we are trying to start or stop something our bodies and minds are resistant to. Be prepared for the missteps and recover quickly. When end up at the vending machine with the candy bar, it doesn’t mean you should give up.  Acknowledge what went wrong (lack of preparedness, increased stress, etc.), enjoy the indulgence and start fresh as soon as possible.

Habits are difficult to break when our minds and bodies rely on them for relief of stress, fatigue or other problem. But it is possible to break poor habits and start new, healthy ones with a plan, some patience and accountability. Need some help getting started with creating new health, wellness or lifestyle changes, set up a free wellness chat and let’s discuss.

Have a healthy, happy week!

fitness, Personal wellness

Finding Time for Fitness

Most people don’t avoid exercise because they hate it or even because it’s difficult. In fact, most want to move more and feel healthy. The biggest barrier to getting in a few sweat sessions is the perceived lack of time.

It’s what I hear most from my clients as the reason they can’t exercise. When I really dig in and find out what’s going in their life and with their schedule, I’ve found a few common reasons for the time struggle. And, thankfully, there are a few simple strategies to free up some white space on your calendar.  

We Make Time for What We Like

As humans, we gravitate to what makes us happy or is enjoyable. When I speak with people about their fitness goals and find out what they’ve tried to make time for, I find many of those who weren’t successful were doing exercises they didn’t like. And, they didn’t really know why they were doing it. Somewhere along the way they heard from a friend or co-worker that spinning/running/rowing/kickboxing (insert any exercise!) was the best workout. Wanting to emulate someone’s results or try something new, people jump on the bandwagon. While it’s great to try new things and challenge your body, if you find running to be something you despise or spinning hurts your butt every time you go, you aren’t going to make time to do it. You’ll skip the treadmill, blow off class, and find other things to fill that time slot.

The fix: Do more of what you like. It’s okay to do simple exercise like walking, swimming, cycling. Any exercise can be intensified/modified to give you the cardio and fat burning benefit you’re seeking. When you do something you like (or can at least tolerate) you will find the time for it on your calendar and you will stick with it.

You’re an “All or Nothing” Kind of Person

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve told someone they DO NOT need to workout an hour a day, 7 days a week to get in good shape. I have had clients say to me, “Well…If I don’t have an hour…why bother?” It’s this kind of thinking that keeps you from getting in consistent workouts. Let me repeat it for the folks in the back…you don’t need 60 minutes a day, 7 days a week to get the benefits from exercise.

The fix: Take what you have and make it work. Ideally, you have at least 30 minutes a day/5 days a week, but that’s not always the case. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently revised their exercise recommendations for Americans and one of the key changes is this…“Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Read that again. Move more, sit less. Some activity is better than none. In addition, their overall recommendations for adults is 150 minutes a week. Divvy that up however you’d like over the week – taking every 15, 20, or 30 minute opportunity to work up a sweat. When you think in those terms, those shorter bouts of exercise become “worth it.”

You’re riding the Commitment Struggle Bus

It’s easy for someone to say, “you just have to commit.” Yeah, no kidding. But what many people fail to realize is that commitment is strengthened by a compelling reason why. When you know why something is important, you will find a way to get it done.

The fix: Do a little soul-searching to find out why you set the goal in the first place and then remind yourself of that “why” every single day. If it’s to be healthier for your kids, or improve a health condition, find ways to visually remind yourself of these reasons. Pictures, post-it notes, whatever it takes to keep those reasons top of mind! If you can’t come up with a good why, then reconsider the goal.

You’re a Yes Woman/Man

When I talk to clients who claim to have “no time” available on their calendar, I challenge them to take a good look at where they devote their precious time and energy. I ask them to consider if they could set better boundaries with those who request so much of their time. Your physical, emotional and mental health improve when you set healthy boundaries in all aspects of your life. Easier said than done, right? Work, family, friends…they’re all priorities. How do we decide what stays and what we say no to?

The fix: We all have the same 24 hours and I treat my time like I treat my money – I spend it on quality activities rather than just “stuff”. Ask yourself…what can I delegate? What commitments can I reassess? Who is taking advantage of my willingness and goodwill? Tough questions but necessary ones to get to the heart of why you don’t have time to exercise and take care of yourself. My other strategy is to always reflect on whether a request or commitment is aligned with my goals, values or something I’m passionate about. It might be a good cause or a worthy event, but if it doesn’t line up with what brings me joy or gets me closer to my goals, I don’t do it.

While saying no seems tough, look for ways to turn the no into an opportunity for someone else. For example, instead of taking on more at work, empower a junior staffer to step up and take on the responsibility. Delegate chores around the house to your kids and reward them for their help. And, when you can’t do those things, a polite “no thank you” is a sufficient response.

You Have no Accountability

Accountability is the glue that binds commitment to results. Without it, there is a higher failure rate when it comes to health and fitness. But it’s not as easy as asking your mom to check in on you once a week to see if you are going to the gym. Accountability must be provided by someone who understands your goals completely, supports you in those goals and is willing to dish out a little tough love when they see you slipping. It’s not an easy role to play but the accountability partner is an essential piece to your success.

The fix: Pick the right partner to help you achieve your goals. To ensure they’re a good fit for your personality, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they support my goals? If the person doesn’t see the value in your fitness goal, they are less likely to hold you accountable.
  • Can they commit? You need consistent check-ins with your accountability coach. Ideally, once per week. Don’t choose someone who cancels on plans or is more booked than you! Find someone who can set and keep a regular check-in appointment with you.
  • Are they comfortable calling you out? When picking a partner to help you, look for a friend, co-worker or family member who is okay with challenging you when you’re making excuses, skipping workouts or giving up on your goals.
  • Are they a good problem solver? An accountability partner should be someone willing to help you solve the challenges you face with your goals. They don’t have to have all the answers, but they should be willing to brainstorm with you to figure out how to bust through the barriers you encounter. That’s why hiring a trainer, or a health coach may be a good option as they are paid to be your accountability partner and fitness expert!

Finding time for fitness doesn’t need to be overwhelming or complicated. You simply have to get honest with yourself about what is truly a priority and if you are chasing the right goals. Add in a little bit of boundary setting and accountability and you’ll be on a path to better physical and mental well-being.

If you still can’t see a way to get fit, let’s chat. Set up a free wellness consult here. Or, fill out my wellness assessment and I’ll be in touch with a time to talk. Don’t get frustrated and give up. Ask for the help you need!

Niki Campbell

Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Workplace Wellness Consultant

412.310.6882 | info@niki-campbell.com

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Start Where You Are

arthur ashe

Whether you have 5 of 55 pounds to lose, knowing where to start and how to build momentum can be daunting. Especially if you haven’t focused on your nutrition or fitness for some time. Figuring out how to change your diet, exercise more, plan healthy meals, drink more water and get more sleep can be overwhelming. That overwhelm can lead to procrastination and eventually giving up. I know. I’ve been there and I work with many women who have experienced this over and over again. They are frustrated as I’m sure you are too.

So, when I have a client come to me out of ideas and tired of starting and stopping, my advice is simple.

 

Just START.

 

Yep, That’s it.

 

START. With whatever you have. Whenever you can. As much as you can.

I’ve always been of the mindset that something is better than nothing. A 15 minute walk is better than sitting on the couch. The choice of vinaigrette is better than a creamy ranch dressing. Prepping 2 dinners this week is better than none.

The problem is, women in particular get caught up perfection paralysis. If I don’t have time to do it perfectly, why bother? Instead of thinking, “I have 20 minutes to exercise today instead of an hour – how can I maximize that time?”

Let’s face it…there’s never a perfect time to get healthier. And many of us get “stuck” believing that we have to all the things to improve our health. Things like a gym membership, the best gear, a fancy fitness tracker and tons of time. Or, a meal planning service, all organic food and complicated recipes for perfectly balanced meals.

Here’s a big fat truth bomb for you…you don’t need any of that. In fact, if you have a pair of shoes suitable for walking and a kitchen where you can prepare a meal, you are ready to make a change and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

So, in the face of imperfect lives and time crunched schedules how do you get going and stay on the right track? Where do you start? Here are three SIMPLE ways to make a change in the coming week. PICK ONE.

1. WALK. Pick one day and walk. Walk anywhere. Or nowhere (on a treadmill). On an indoor track or outside in your neighborhood.  Just walk for 20-30 minutes at a pace that challenges you. Then, end with a 5 minute stretch. Walking clears your head and gets your heart pumping. Better yet, it motivates you to make other healthy choices (very few people follow up a walk with a giant hot fudge sundae).

2. COOK. Cook one dinner at home. Dinner cooked at home is usually proven to be healthier than one that is ordered or eaten out at a restaurant (unless you buy a frozen pizza and pop it in the oven). Make enough to take the leftovers for lunch the next day. Don’t get hung up on making it perfectly healthy. Just make it at home.

3. PROTECT. Your time. Everyone wants your attention. Say no to one thing you really don’t need to do, or perhaps don’t want to do. The world will continue to spin, I promise. And, you’ll get back a few minutes for what really matters to you (family time, meal prep or exercise).

So that’s it. No complicated plans or programs. Simple strategies for taking small steps forward with your health and wellness. Did you notice that each idea suggests that you do something ONCE. One walk. One dinner. One “no”. This isn’t about completely overhauling your life and doing something EVERY DAY. It’s about one thing at a time; one day at a time. It’s about JUST STARTING.

If you’ve started to make healthy changes but would like some additional coaching and support, get scheduled for a FREE 30-minute Well Chat. Simply fill out this form and I’ll be in touch.

Looking for a tribe that will encourage, support and kick your butt a little? Join my Fit, Fab & Fierce Tribe on Facebook. Lots of great info and supportive ladies in there.

Other questions? Hit reply and let’s talk. And, remember, this is all about JUST STARTING with one thing to get closer to the healthier lifestyle you desire. Don’t overthink it!

Much love,

Niki