Written by Dan Osman
It’s not unusual for the sun to make an appearance at this time of year as a polite reminder that summer is on it’s way, less clothing will be worn and more flesh will be on display- It’s time to shape up! But where to start? Setting goals, working toward behavioral changes and the formation of new habits can all help towards achieving your goals.
Autonomous behaviors performed on a subconscious level can also be described as habits. If you instinctively brush your teeth every morning and evening, you have a habit. By the same token, with reference to fitness, if you stop off at the gym on your way home for your routine training session then again you’ve acquired a habit that is ingrained in your neural pathway. These ‘old’, engrained habits are hard to break and new habits can be challenging to form.
Often replacing perceived ‘bad’ habits with ‘better’ ones can be easier than creating entirely new and cementing new habits in place. For example a sweet dessert after an evening meal can be replaced with walking the dog. Actions are well put in place but without consistency are short lived. Smaller, more manageable goals and actions within the restrictions of ones lifestyle allow maintainable patterning and long-term sustainability.
I’m not a fan of the terms ‘cheat meal’ or ‘cheat day’ or even the term ‘clean eating’. Although these may be terms commonly understood within fitness circles, they have the potential to accentuate any perceived disordered eating patterns (note: not eating disorders, this is an entirely different concern), that is due to the excessive rigidity of ones routine “eating clean”, to the complete release of restrictive pressure and negative connotations with regards a “cheat meal/day.” This can lead to uncontrollable bouts of eating undoing, and through self-destructive habits lead to a vicious cycle of restriction, reward, guilt and long term behavioral outcomes. An extreme example being that of binge eating. Changing nutritional habits can be the most challenging and a weekly ‘reward’ of food in the form of ‘cheat meals/days’ can be a difficult habit to irradiate, and long term, replace with a more favorable habit.
Tips for forming a plan of action toward your goals
- Have a definitive goal in mind and work backwards – Reverse engineering the plan makes setting short-term more obtainable goals within a realistic time frame easier to manage without the ‘overwhelm’ of something that may seem a million miles away from your current state.
- Adherence will be the biggest factor in the success or failure of any plan. How much do you value the outcome and the goal? – This is entirely inter-individual and you must be clear about what you are trying to achieve.
- Be realistic in your expectations – Inevitably there will be challenges and hurdles to overcome but does your lifestyle lend itself well to your goal? I.e. Completing an ultra marathon as a busy full-time working single mother of three children under 5 years with no training experience. Training for an ultra event such as this is likely to be a part-time to full-time job in itself and realistically speaking would create emotional and mental stress in the strongest of individuals without the responsibility of the said person – Impossible? No! Unrealistic. Perhaps. A more realistic and short term goal for this busy mother would perhaps firstly be joining a local running club one evening a week, progressively moving on to a couple of runs, eventually a half marathon and then ultimately perhaps one day reaching her initial long-term goal.
- Practice makes permanent, not perfect – Sticking to the same behaviors consistently, makes them much easier to perform. At the same time being human exposes us to humane shortcomings and failures that are totally to be expected. Realize mistakes will be made but keep focused on your long-term goals. Perhaps an article for another time but self destructive behaviors tend to manifest themselves in perfectionists and creating further barriers can be commonplace. There is no such thing as perfection and the quicker this is realized, the far happier you will be with the small ‘wins’ along the way.
- Use external monitoring and externalize your rate of success and failure. Accountability can be a key contributor here, acquiring a coach, making competitive “deals” and challenges amongst friends, publically making promises and making yourself accountable through social media, etc. All can fuel the motivational fire.
- Reward yourself for your personal victories – Perhaps if improving body composition is your goal the reward of food may not be appropriate, but try to pick something else that elicits the same feelings of pleasure. E.g. the purchase of a new shirt or dress as you lose weight, disposing of larger garments as a permanent measure never to return to a point where you were unhappy with your appearance.