I’m not a big believer in will power. That might be surprising to hear from someone who has spent two decades in the fitness industry, but I don’t believe in an intrinsic sense of motivation that can help you master your cravings. It’s not that people can’t change. I’ve been privileged to witness clients dramatically reshape their bodies, lose 100+ pounds, quit smoking, and turn their hypertension around. All of them had to practice self discipline to get through the discomfort of change. But the choices they made were planned far in advance of any “moment of weakness.” If you are struggling to make healthier choices, staring at the bottom of another empty ice cream container or consistently sleeping through your morning workout, maybe you’re relying too heavily on the notion of will power.
So what can we do instead of just trying harder? Taking the time to do a bit of planning and self reflection could make a huge difference in successfully staying on track towards your goals. Here are four steps that might help you.
1. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN
It’s obvious why this is step one, you need to choose a measurable behavior and create a clear plan to achieve it. Notice I said behavior (cut out sugary drinks), and not result (lose 10 pounds by May). If you address the behaviors, the results follow. Consult with a professional or do some research to make sure your plan is reasonable and palatable. For instance, if you intend to start exercising more consistently, but you hate running, planning to train for a 5k isn’t the best choice. Meet with a trainer to give you a program to follow, or sign up for a yoga class 3 days a week. If you plan to eat healthier, research some tasty recipes featuring vegetables you actually like.
But also plan for things to go wrong. Have healthy food prepared in the freezer for when you are sick or late coming home from work. Know what restaurants in your area have options that won’t blow all your hard work so you can go out with friends. If your kids get sick and you can’t make it to the gym for your workout, plan B could be a home workout using a DVD. But don’t wait until things go wrong to think of an alternative, have that already planned out knowing that life will throw you a few curve balls.
I know, this sounds like step one. But preparation is the part where you set up an environment that removes as many obstacles as possible. Purge your house (and workstation or car) of foods that tempt you. Food prep for the week. Enter your workouts on the calendar and refuse to schedule anything else that would conflict. Set a timer to cut off wi-fi 30 minutes before bedtime (sleep is vital for impulse control! That’s another blog post). Tell people who will support you about your goals. But this step is deeper than the physical preparation that needs to happen to set you up for success.
This is where the self reflection part happens. Ask yourself what do you get out of the old habit you are changing? For example, my clients who are smokers often think it is merely a nicotine addiction (not to minimize it in any way, because the physical symptoms are no joke). But when they look deeper, they see that their smoking breaks give them an excuse to step away from stressful work or people, breathe deeply, go outside. Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, says,”You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” So replace that cigarette break with a short walk listening to your favorite comedian on YouTube. Replace the bowl of ice cream you eat watching Netflix with a healthier, pre-portioned snack...or find another fun, stress relieving activity that won’t trigger your desire to snack and do that instead. Brainstorm 3 or 4 alternatives to replace your undesirable habit, and write them down ahead of time
3) GIVE IT A CHANCE
If steps one and two are done, following through is a lot easier. But there will still be those times when you are not in the mood to work out. Give yourself permission to do 75% effort, but do it anyway. 10 minutes into your workout you’ll probably feel like 100% and be so glad you didn’t skip. There have been days I look at my healthy lunch and think,”This is never going to satisfy my hunger…” but I give it a chance, and as my energy and mood improve I’m so thankful I trusted the plan to work. Change is uncomfortable sometimes, and it feels foreign. Remember that cravings are like waves, they pass if you can give it 10 minutes and an alternative behavior. Don’t wait to be in the mood to follow through on your plans. In his book, Rooney’s Rules, fitness coach Martin Rooney says,”Mediocre men think inspiration is needed to produce hard work, while successful men learn that hard work often produces inspiration.” Work your plan and the good feelings will follow. I promise.
4) MINDSET MATTERS MOST
Even though it’s the last in the list, this one is the most powerful of the four strategies. How do you talk to yourself and others about your habits? In your mind are you a fat, out of shape person forcing yourself to exercise? Try thinking of yourself as an active person who loves to move, and your body wants to let go of the extra pounds. Instead of resenting your plate of chicken and vegetables, take a moment to be grateful that you have access to healthy food and aren’t worried about starvation. Try to identify any negative attitudes you have toward the healthy habits you are building. Reframe those with positive words and an empowered identity. You are choosing these behaviors, they are not being forced upon you. Why is this so important? Our brains are wired to prove us right. You've heard of a self fulfilling prophecy… so change the prophecy. Spend some quiet time everyday checking in with yourself. If you’re getting burned out or bored, make some tweaks to your plan. If you miss one workout, have a cheat meal or a cigarette, don’t tell yourself,”Well, that’s it. I’ve blown it, here I am again, I’ll never change.” Tell yourself you are human, but you learn from your mistakes. Start again with the next meal or workout, and a new insight to what doesn’t work. This is one area where it really helps to have a coach or a positive mentor. As you change your self talk, your energy changes and your confidence grows. And those habits that once felt so foreign and difficult become part of your new identity.
ABOUT COACH SUSAN SANGE
Susan's focus on functional training began while working as a trainer at UCLA's physical therapy offices. Working alongside the therapists, she saw how bringing the body into balance not only prevents and corrects injuries, but can radically improve energy and overall wellness. She is also passionate about food...having recently relocated from the Napa Valley to San Diego, CA, she can show you how eating to reach your goals can taste amazing! While working at a medical fitness center, she created a sports performance program, ran the fitness portion of a weight reduction clinic, and worked closely with a pain management doctor (predominantly with back pain patients).
For fun, Susan loves to teach Turbo Kick, boot camp, and aquatic exercise. She competed in (and won), two figure competitions, and led teams to run two Tough Mudder events.
As the mother of three children, Susan understands the obstacles of a busy schedule! Through meal planning and creative workout solutions, she can show you how small, consistent changes lead to lasting results.