One of the most important things I’ve learned on my journey to become a dietitian is that the reason people are often unable to achieve their goals is not due to a lack of knowledge, but rather an inability to overcome behavior-related obstacles.
It’s easy, however, to blame failure on outside forces.
Perhaps you didn’t follow the “right” diet. Maybe this year Paleo will solve your problems? Or maybe you weren’t doing the right exercise? Once you perfect your downward dog, everything else will fall into place.
Perhaps you blame your failure on willpower? If only you were stronger, better somehow, you’d be able to achieve your goals.
The simple truth is — there is no “right” plan, diet, or exercise routine. Cutting out a certain food or food group isn’t the secret key to success. And willpower isn’t something only the blessed possess. The right healthy lifestyle choices are whichever ones are going to make you feel great, and that you’re actually going to stick to.
It’s human nature to resist the uncomfortable, and no matter what goal you set out to achieve, you’re going to face adversity. If you don’t set yourself up for success, you’re not going to accomplish it. Success comes from a combination of removing barriers and finding productive ways to respond to them.
Over the whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing? How about making a list of “New Year’s Revelations” >>
Today we’re going to talk about how to make healthful changes as painless as possible — and dare I say pleasant — by creating an environment that is conducive to success.
If you’re contemplating making a New Year’s resolution or embarking on a journey toward better health, here are the five major things that may be standing in the way between you and success, and how you can overcome them.
- Reason #1: You’re too stressed.
Studies show that chronic stress is associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease.
Find an outlet for your stress. One of my new year’s goals is to learn to mediate. Mindful meditation has been shown to help with stress and behavior modification. I’m starting small by incorporating five-minute meditations into my morning routine. There are plenty of free apps that can get you started like Stop, Breathe & Think.
Another way to relieve stress is to cut back on caffeine. While coffee does have health benefits, some people are genetically predisposed to respond to caffeine more powerfully. This can increase anxiety levels and add to stress. If your daily Venti is getting you a little too amped up, consider reducing to a one cup of coffee a day.
- Reason #2: You’re too tired.
Sleep is considered a luxury in our society. How often do you hear someone boasting of what they accomplished while running on fumes? However, adequate rest is essential for good health and for achieving health-related goals.
Studies show that lack of sleep is associated with obesity. Sleep deprivation causes increases in hunger hormones, and decreases in hormones that signal fullness, causing people to overeat. If you’re already having a hard time adjusting to eating healthier, just think how much harder it will be if you’re constantly feeling hangry.
Start filling up that sleep bank by setting a bed time. I know, it sounds a little juvenile, but I promise it works. Aim to get 7-9 hours a night and adjust the time based on how you feel. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to feel their best, but it usually falls somewhere between that interval.
If you find you have a hard time falling asleep at first, get in bed about 30 minutes before you want to actually be asleep. Then spend the time reading or catching up with your significant other — two ways to wind down that don’t involve electronics, which can keep you wired.
- Reason #3: You lack accountability.
Self-motivation is obviously important, but having a support system increases your chance of success considerably. Studies show that when people enlist friends and family to help reach a goal, they are more likely to succeed.
Get accountable by joining a group of like-minded goal-setters, teaming up with a workout buddy, or simply appointing a friend or family member as your “sponsor.” My friend and I are keeping each other accountable with our meditation goal with daily check-ins and reminders to get our om on.
And if bringing another person on board isn’t an option for you at the moment, try keeping a journal to record your daily progress.
- 4. You’re unprepared.
As I said before, sheer willpower isn’t the secret to success, preparation is far more important.
For example, if your goal is to start eating whole foods, and you come home from a long day’s work to an empty refrigerator with a Domino’s magnet stuck to the front, and you end up ordering an extra large with the works, to what will you attribute your dietary derailment? Obviously you’d be much more likely to succeed it you had a refrigerator full of delicious ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables. The same goes with any goal.
Make a plan. If the goal is food related, meal prep is key. Pick a day to do your grocery shopping and decide aead of time at least two major food groups to prep. Mine are grains and veggies. I shop on Sundays and when I get home I make a batch of quinoa to last the week and I wash and chop all of my vegetables. Then when I’m busy, I can quickly throw together a salad for lunch or toss the grains and veggies with a protein for an easy dinner.
I also always have staples on hand like canned tuna and salmon, beans, frozen veggie burgers, and eggs, that can be made into a meal with minimal effort.
For exercise related goals, the first step is scheduling. If it fits with your lifestyle, plan your workouts the week before. And if you’re doing early morning workouts or going from your job to the gym, make sure you have your exercise attire packed the night before.
- 5. You’re too hard on yourself.
No matter how calm, well rested, and prepared you are, you’re not always going to make decisions that align with your goals, and that’s ok. Loosen up. Rigidity is the enemy of success. Punishing yourself for making “mistakes” is a viscous cycle.
The next time you overindulge or hit snooze on your morning workout, give yourself a break. Reflect on why you did what you did and think about what you could have done differently. Make a plan for the next time you encounter this issue and decide how you’ll respond differently in the future. Journaling is one way to actively do this.
Having trouble being kind to yourself? Try”radical acceptance” >>
I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful and that they’ll come in handy when planning and approaching your health and fitness goals, now or anytime you’re ready to make a change.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy New Year!
Weigh in: What obstacles have you faced in the past when trying to achieve a new goal?