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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!

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No Time for Negativity

Dealing with the Naysayers and Negative Nellies

This month I’ve been talking about how to “spring clean” your health and wellness efforts by eating better and ensuring your workouts are safe and effective. The last of my spring-cleaning series is how to clear out the negativity and the unsupportive people in your life who don’t appreciate your decision to live your healthiest.

When you are ready to change for the better it’s an awesome feeling. You’ve taken control and you’re excited about eating better, exercising, destressing, etc.  You assume your spouse, best friend, colleagues and kids will be on board and excited for you. While most will be, some of those closest to you won’t be ready to support your efforts.

Figuring out why they are resistant to support you is a frustrating endeavor. Many times it’s simply because they might have to face (and own) their unhealthy habits and lifestyle. It forces them to see they may need to change too and, as we all know, change is difficult. Truth is, it doesn’t matter why they aren’t supportive. It’s more important to have a strategy to keep your thoughts positive and your plans moving forward.

So, how do you handle the naysayers? What do you do when people you thought would be cheering you on are turning their backs?

  1. You do you. Do not think for one millisecond that you can convince, cajole or coax someone into a healthy lifestyle. Control what you can. Set a good example, do your thing and just maybe they will come to see what a positive thing it is.
  2. Surround yourself with positivity. I’m not saying ditch the friends who don’t want to go to spin class with you but look for people in your life who share your desire to live healthier. There’s the theory that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Think about that circle. Could it use some positive peeps who are motivated and inspired like you to get healthy?
  3. Stay relentlessly focused. Put reminders wherever you need them to keep your goal top of mind. Post it notes on your computer, mirror or fridge and alerts on your phone. Get an accountability partner to remind you of what you are working toward. When you ignore the noise from those who don’t support your new lifestyle and stay laser focused on your goal, you have no time for negativity.
  4. Don’t engage. I like a good debate. However, when you find yourself in a situation where your friends or family are being negative about your new lifestyle, rise above it. You don’t have to defend your choice to be healthy. Politely bow out of a conversation when you feel compelled to be defensive. Stay the course and keep your vibe high.
  5. Don’t make it weird. Treat fitness and eating right like it’s just what you do and who you are now. You don’t have to wear a sign that says “hey, I’m healthy now…want to hear more?” That’s weird. Just do the right things, set the example and live authentically and confidently. You will be surprised how many people will start to see this as a good thing and want to follow your example.

Finally, understand that people’s negativity usually comes from their own insecurities and has little to do with you. And, while you should be compassionate and kind, it’s not your responsibility to fix them or make them feel better about it.

Your decision to be healthier is about YOU. Be a little selfish and protect your mindset. When you do, and you stay focused on your goals, you’ll succeed. And, success in this case, is living longer, healthier and with a better quality of life.

Making the decision to change your lifestyle to lose weight, get healthy and regain your confidence and energy is sometimes overwhelming. I invite you to join my Wellness Tribe to get the support and positivity you need. And, if you are interested in jump-starting your clean eating efforts, get on the list to be part of my 10-Day Metabolism Reset program that kicks off April 22.

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Think Small This Year – How to Really Get Healthy in 2019

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

Every January 1 you are inundated with ads, emails, social media posts about how to completely change your life by setting some crazy resolution.  The whole “New Year, New You” mantra is insulting. It says you’re not good enough as the current you. It tells you that you have to completely remake yourself to live up to some kind of unrealistic standard. And, it’s total bullshit.

I despise the New Year’s resolution hype because when I work with people who want to make true improvements in their health, the thought of a complete overhaul of their lives is overwhelming. And, when people are overwhelmed, they often give up.

Among all the memes and inspirational posts you’ll see today, this week and this month will be lots of encouragement to think big. Dream big. Set big goals. And, while there’s nothing wrong with that, I am going to challenge that thinking to help you be more successful.

Today, January 1, 2019, I want you to think small. Make small changes. Set short-term goals. Take daily action – even if it’s not perfect.

Setting goals always seems daunting because we all think in big picture terms. Consider setting a process goal vs. an outcome goal that has a shorter time frame. For example, you may want to lose 20 lbs. this year but what if you stepped away from the number and focused on the behaviors and processes that will help you lose weight – one day/week/month at a time? For example, can you eliminate one take out meal a week? Or, commit to exercise three times a week? When you break down the bigger goal into bite sized pieces, you re-establish healthy habits that will get you to that 20 lb. weight loss.

So, how do you start today?

Here are my 3 Tips to A Healthy New Year:

  1. Take Action. Do something today. It doesn’t have to be an hour workout or throwing out all the food you love from the fridge. Take a walk. Make a healthy dinner. Take deliberate action to be healthier. Do just one thing each day.
  2. Find Accountability. Tell someone. Make a point to have a weekly check in with a friend, spouse, coworker who knows you are trying to improve and can help you stay on track. If you invest in a personal trainer or health coach, they should be setting up check in points with you at least weekly. I use texting and online tools to support my clients with accountability.
  3. Always reassess. Check in with yourself once a month to see how you are doing with your short-term goals and new lifestyle changes. If you’ve been consistent with a goal, add a new goal or amp up the current one. For example, if you’ve hit the gym three times a week for the whole month, add a day and shoot for four days in the new month. If you never change-up your goals or challenge yourself in new ways, you’ll get stuck, bored and worse yet, revert back to old habits.

 

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Creating a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be a complete “do over” every January. It should be a process of continual improvement. Ditch the stress of New Year, New You and think in terms of New Year, Healthier You.

In the category of taking action…There’s still time to join my January lifestyle program – The Little Black Dress Project. 6 Weeks of total wellness coaching (all online!). Fitness, nutrition, mindset, financial, career, beauty and more! You will learn how to make small, sustainable lifestyle changes to be your healthiest, happiest and most confident self. We start January 7. Take $100 until January 4 with code LBD100.


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Putting the Power Back into Willpower

Willpower is a Limited but Renewable Resource

 

Someone in my Facebook group asked a great question the other day…how do I gain more willpower to make the right food choices?

There were some great answers from other members about the importance of accountability, taking small steps to improve versus trying to “fix” everything you’ve done wrong in the past, and giving yourself a break sometimes because, none of us is perfect.

But it got me thinking even more about the question. What is willpower? And can we really create more of it? So my writer instincts said…go research it. First, I went back to my health coaching textbook and looked up how my field describes willpower.

“Willpower is the ability to ignore temporary pleasure or discomfort to pursue a bigger goal.”

Busting the Willpower Myths

More digging into the subject busted some long-standing myths that I had about willpower. Such as:

  • You just need more information. Knowledge is not power when it comes to willpower. Apparently, even if we know a sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies are high in calories and generally not a good choice for breakfast (oh no!), that does not increase our willpower to resist them.
  • Using the willpower “muscle” makes it/you stronger. Ugh. You know how people say practice makes perfect. Not always with willpower. The cognitive function that controls your ability to have willpower can become fatigued, like an overworked bicep.
  • Willpower is a long-term strategy. Willpower is an “in the moment” response to the cookies, a second glass of wine, or whatever you’re trying to consume less of. To truly change your behavior long-term, willpower is only one part of the equation.

So, knowing all these fun facts, what can we do to not only increase our ability to make snap decisions that are healthy but also increase our overall ability to reach our long-term goals.

Let’s Get GRITty

According to the experts it comes down to GRIT. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania coined the acronym and it is defined as “the ability to “work strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress.”

Wow. That’s motivating.

Dr. Angela Duckworth distinguishes self-control (willpower) as a shorter-term behavior—not eating the cookie right in front of you. While GRIT is about pushing toward goals over a longer period.

Here’s an overview of GRIT and how I use these techniques to help my clients gain better long-term control over their lifestyle habits and behaviors.

  • Goals Get You There. If you’ve read my blog for the last year or two or if you’ve worked with me, I am a big proponent of setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound). When you lay out your goals in a way that has all those elements it helps to focus your efforts on ONE thing and strengthen that willpower muscle for endurance, not just spurts of heavy lifting.
  • Relax and Reward. Again, something I teach my clients. First – I help them find ways to reduce stress and increase energy. Yoga, long walks, silent meditation for 15 minutes a day – whatever it takes to quiet your brain and refocus on your goals. When you’re tired or stressed out you don’t make good choices. Your guard is down, and you reach for comfort, and convenience. Also – I’m a big fan of rewarding yourself and celebrating the little accomplishments. If you never allow yourself to eat that cookie or order the second glass of wine, you’ll eventually overindulge and end up on a path back to old behaviors.
  • Intention and Implementation.  Ahhhh…it all comes down to planning and preparing. When you plan what you’ll eat and drink at a cocktail party or map out when you’ll workout on a business trip, you are in CONTROL and when you’re in control you are ready for the temptations and roadblocks. One way researchers suggest to prepare for something that will be tempting is using the “if-then” strategy. Let’s say you’re going to a client dinner where there will be lots of alcohol flowing. “IF someone tries to pour me a drink, THEN I’ll thank them and carry a glass of club soda with a few olives in it.”
  • Thinking Truthfully.  Kelly McGonigal the author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It says there are three different aspects of willpower:

-“I won’t” power—the ability to resist temptations
-“I will” power—the ability to do what needs to be done
-“I want” power—the awareness of one’s long-term goals and desires

Using these mantras to deal when temptation pops up will give you the ability to respond to whatever the world puts in front of you (cookies, wine, the couch and remote).

Let Your Willpower Renew

Finally, even with all the good intentions and planning and goals, it’s important to remember that we are human. We are flawed. We will give in to temptation sometimes. The most important thing I teach my clients is self-forgiveness and self-compassion.

Remember what I said about willpower ‘muscle fatigue’? Some days that muscle will have had all it can lift and will give out. When it does, acknowledge the slip, remind yourself of the long-term goal, and refocus on you and what you need to do next time to avoid the pitfall. Give the muscle a break; let it renew a bit. It’s when we never use the muscle that poor “in the moment” choices then become habits and then deeply-ingrained behaviors. That’s when we need to bulk up that willpower muscle and use a little GRIT to overcome the challenges and make the positive changes needed to be healthy.

Want more help finding your GRIT and strengthening your plans to be healthy? Let’s chat. Fill out my FREE Wellness Assessment and you’ll get a 30-minute call with me. We’ll discuss your goals and what I’d recommend to strengthen your willpower and GRIT.

Have a happy and healthy day and watch out for those willpower-busting, yet adorable, Girl Scouts and their addictive cookies!

Xoxo

Niki