Make healthy choices convenient and unhealthy choices utterly inconvenient
Consistency is paramount when working toward any health goal; abstaining from cake only one time will not shed stubborn pounds.
To lose weight, lower your blood pressure, improve energy or decrease anxiety, you need to change your preferences — your daily habits — so that more often than not you are making healthy choices.
You need to be consistently healthier. It may sound obvious, but consistency falls into the life category of “simple, but not easy.”
To set yourself up for success — that is, give yourself the ability to be consistent in your health choices — live by health goalpost of convenience. Healthy choices should be convenient and easy. Unhealthy choices should be utterly inconvenient.
Making a healthy choice requires energy, concentration and mindfulness. You might be able to force yourself to work out at lunch when you have more energy, but after work — especially if you go home between work and the gym — mustering the motivation to train can feel next to impossible. Hunger, exhaustion, anger, sadness, and thirst all lower our resilience — which means it takes more energy and resolve to make a healthy choice.
Instead of being surprised by your physiological needs and emotions — we all get tired and hungry — normalize this aspect of life and take the necessary preemptory steps.
1. Set yourself up for success by making healthy choices convenient and as easy as possible.
Ensure your workout length, location, and timing are realistic; the yoga studio around the corner might be conveniently located, but if you never make a class because they are too lengthy to be convenient, the benefits are moot.
Make completing your goals as seamless and easy as possible. Put your clothes out the night before you plan to train so an early workout is relatively easy, have a training bag at work so you can always duck out to train, or set regular training dates with friends to create accountability.
2. Decrease future roadblocks by making unhealthy habits utterly inconvenient.
Most of us can be objective about our health when temptation is low. At 3 PM it is easy to say you will get up at 5 AM tomorrow, but actually getting up at 5 AM is a whole other story. Instead of expecting your future self to be superhuman and have the ability to resist all temptations, set yourself up for success. Make bad habits as inconvenient as possible so you can’t impulsively deviate from your health plan.
Recognize your natural biases and emotional food triggers; create a plan that makes it next to impossible to fall into usual bad habits. For example, I love fudge bars. I can eat the whole box in one sitting. When I am at the grocery store the devil on my shoulder says, “Kathleen, you have enough self-control to ration these out.” My rational self knows that the future Kathleen — the tired and bored Kathleen — will not be able to resist. So, I don’t keep the bars at my house. If I want a fudge bar, I have one at my mom’s. That way I can enjoy one with her without consuming all six in a late-night binge.
Decide in advance — when you are level-headed — what you will do when your future self wants to deviate from your health plan. Create “if … then” statements in advance about how you will handle any “landmine” health situations. If I want to eat a treat at a party, then I will make myself wait 15 minutes before indulging. If I decide to indulge after 15 minutes, then I will restrict myself to a portion the size of my thumb. If I want to eat in front of the TV, then I will knit instead. If I book a dinner out, then I will look at the menu before I go and decide in advance what I will eat. When I arrive I will not look at the menu; I will just order my predetermined meal.
Main take-away: Set yourself up for success. Have clear goals and reasons why you are making a health change, then orchestrate your life so that healthy choices are “easy.” Demand more of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall off your health horse, but commit to always learning why you made the unhealthy choice and figuring out what you can do differently next time.
Stop looking for excuses. Instead start to look for solutions. Commit to something realistic — anything — and do it!