I write this in February, albeit a “different” February to normal as the UK is still in the throws of resolving the global pandemic, but similar to any other February in that it tends to be the graveyard of New Years Resolutions. I think we can agree that the vast majority of good intentions won’t be around in Spring!
But why? Certainly when they were spoken of it was with real intent. And ultimately they would have been achievable… So why do they fall by the way side so quickly? In this post I want to look at some simple ideas for creating sustainable big changes, be that to your general health or to transform your level of fitness. The key is sustainable!i
If you are curious about the picture I chose for this blog post, that was me in the Lake District in May 2014. I still have that bicycle!
Before I look at the positive ways we can make a difference to our health and or fitness, I want to absolutely kill the idea of anything that is “Time Limited”. What do I mean by that? Classic examples are ‘Dry January’ (leading to alcoholic blitz February), or “21 Day Challenge” (leading to a race to reach day 22 when you can revert back to Normal). In fact anything that infers it is time bound or a “fast start”, I would suggest needs to be forgotten about. Easy programmes for people to sell, but actually highly unlikely to lead to permanent change. These programmes are set up psychologically wrongly – they are not creating the idea of permanent change but rather something that you will only have to endure for a short time and then stop doing. And anything that needs “enduring” is likely to be difficult / unpleasant.
Whilst we are discussing things that do not work; quite often the sheer excitement and motivation we have for our new “resolution” leads us to bite off too much change in one go. We try to re-invent ourselves overnight and for the first couple of weeks (we are back to that 14 Day thing…) the novelty can carry you through. For a very short time you can prioritise the “new you”, but very soon really life happens to you again and guess what falls off the end? We need to move away from the notion that we need to do everything perfectly all at once.
A Different Perspective
As it turns out we can be both more successful and make “re-inventing” ourselves a lot easier. We just need a different perspective. Making small (incremental) changes over time works a lot better. We need to appreciate that we are trying to create new long lasting habits and behaviours. Think less about changing what you had or losing (depriving) yourself of something. Instead this is about gaining something additional that you really desire. Adding small new habits, and behaviours, are far more likely to stick and become part of your everyday life than a large sudden change. Gradually making changes to your life becomes a habit in itself. At which point you can then make larger more ambitious changes and still succeed.
Trying to force yourself to do a 3-hour gym marathon will be an uphill battle from start to finish, especially with a busy daily life. Instead, try to schedule up to 30 minutes to go for a walk perhaps with a friend. Instead of sitting down for coffee, could you create the opportunity to walk and talking for an hour?
Or, if you prefer to exercise alone at home, you might just do some lunges, squats or calf raises every time you are waiting for your kettle to boil. You could also do some straight forward core exercises every morning after getting out of bed. Maybe your bathroom will be your new gym!
Some time back I wrote about exercise snacks, which might well be another strategy you could use? Initially perhaps you could nominate one morning a week and “snack” every hour?
No matter how busy your lifestyle, exercise will happen if you plan for it, write down your plan, a week at a time. A new habit could be to write your exercise to-do list each Sunday evening for the week ahead.
Maybe you are someone who dreads the idea of eating a big bowl of salad instead of your usual favourite food. I can totally understand that! Instead, start by adding just one fruit or an extra vegetable to your meals. You might even find a new favourite food this way! Also, you might spontaneously eat more as time passes. At the very least, you will add some useful micronutrients to your diet every day. But remember make SMALL changes to the foods you eat. Let each change become a habit and then move to the next change.
And whilst we are talking about eating differently – different can be mean portion size not just what you eat. I will leave that hanging for you!
There have been times where you were not that motivated and just thought to yourself “what the hell” and gave up! Not only have there been those times, but it is a certainty that they will happen again. Phases of low motivation happen to all of us. So if we can predict that this will befall us, what can we do about it? Every time you feel a loss of motivation, help yourself over the edge by watching, or listening to, some inspirational content or music. By having some motivating content to click on, you have the possibility to help yourself during those moments where you just think “what the hell”. If that is not you, then another strategy is to break the moment down. First recognise that you are feeling demotivated and reply to yourself the “why” you are wanting to do these things. What was the benefit that you desire and let yourself thing about what it would mean to you when you have it. Next think about the next five minutes and recognise that you can do anything for five minutes and that getting over this feeling moves you closer to your goal. Finally recognise that this is only a temporary feeling and find (or have to hand a distraction) to get you through it. Understand that everyone hits demotivation, you will get through it and it is nothing more than a very minor set back.
Coach Thy Self
Sometimes we might find ourselves in the middle of a tough workout just wanting to give-up. Or even more likely not able to start it! This is a natural part of challenging yourself but can prove difficult to overcome on your own. However, you can help yourself by having a little word with yourself. This “positive self-talk”, will help you push through adversity and make those transformational changes happen over time. Focus on the next 60 seconds. You can do anything for 60 seconds! So make yourself do whatever it is that needs doing right now. Then once those 60 seconds are done do the next and so on. For some people (myself included) counting works! I stop thinking about the problem or any notion of giving up and just count the next 10 seconds. Success then maybe 20 seconds – again SUCCESS… and so it continues until boredom takes my mind off in a more interesting direction… Which by the way means I have got through it.
Because You Want To
The key to long lasting MAJOR change is identifying many small habits that you can live with. But only try to pick up one or maybe two habits at a time and give yourself LOTS of time before you consider it really is a habit. Ultimately it is within all of us to be able to change permanently… If, that is, YOU really want it.
Ed Stivala is an England Athletic qualified Event Group Coach specialising in Endurance Events. This is the most senior coaching qualification currently awarded to Coaches by England Athletic. His practice specialises in performance coaching for runners: online or face to face. He also holds qualifications in Personal Training, Nutrition and Swim Instruction.