Emily said, “I really like your personal mantra to never set yourself up for failure. However, I find it challenging to decide when I’m being lazy, and when I’m giving myself a break and allowing myself to just complete one small healthy goal. For example: not setting myself up to fail could be setting a goal to only eat five Hershey Kisses today instead of ten. But that’s still not very healthy! When I cut myself a break and think, “Oh, I don’t have to exercise today because I’m way too tired” – I feel that way everyday! And therefore I will never exercise. In all honesty, I hate exercising, and I hate healthy foods. How do you know when to challenge yourself and when to cut yourself a break?”
Emily’s comment really intrigued me because I actually see a lot of my old self in her question. I really, really preferred to be horizontal and with one hand in a potato chips bag and the other wrapped around an icy, cold beer. I would alternate between making excuses for my behavior and beating myself up for my choices. On top of that, I had the added pleasure of occasionally tackling a crazy 180 degree turn-around with gusto (and you can guess where that usually ended up… right back where I started). So if Emily is stuck at one end of the spectrum, I yo-yoed between two extremes.
But eventually, I discovered that although I wasn’t born lovin’ vegetables and sweating, I could actually learn to like it… and stick with my new habits in a manageable and realistic way.
So, the question becomes: When you’ve got no balance in your life, how do you find your healthy and happy medium without 1) making excuses and 2) making yourself crazy?
Rule #1: Not setting yourself up to fail isn’t about making excuses. When I say, “Don’t set yourself up to fail,” I mean don’t expect too much or too little from yourself. Either way, creating false expectations gets us in trouble. If you decide to go from couch to marathon in two months, you’re probably setting yourself up for burnout. On the other hand, if you don’t demand some sort of discipline from yourself, you’re never going to achieve anything. If you’re working forty hours and don’t have kids, it’s pretty reasonable to expect that you can make it to the gym three days a week (I love my Blank Training Plan, by the way – I think it’s the perfect way to keep yourself on track without locking yourself into a strict schedule). If you suffer from the ‘I Just Can’t Get Motivateds,’ you have to start by demanding a little bit more of yourself. Set the bar a bit higher.
Rule #2: Stop thinking of healthy living as optional. Because we have a choice in the matter, I think we often feel that being healthy is an option. It’s really not an option. It’s kind of like brushing your teeth. Yeah, you could not do it, but your teeth would rot and fall out. Same thing with healthy living. Sure, you could never exercise and eat junk food all the time, but over time, you would probably suffer from a myriad of lifestyle-induce diseases as a result. Look, I’m not going to lie. Creating lifestyle changes is hard, especially at first. Like any change, you have create the routine and habit. So once you have a reasonable expectation of yourself, make yourself stick with the changes for at least six weeks. Tell yourself it’s not optional. Even if you have to choke down those five servings of fruit and veggies. Just do it. (Again, I really love blank training plans/star charts for things like this – it helps you stay on track.) I promise it will get easier over time. Eventually, it will become part of your everyday routine that you do because you know it’s good for you – just like brushing your teeth.
Rule #3: It’s okay to make excuses… every now and then. Tough love time: If you find yourself faltering on your new expectations every day (or every other day), it’s not a legit excuse. You’re just bailing. I’m all about moderation (that is healthy, after all!), but I think everyone needs to determine what their own line is. For me, it’s okay to cut myself slack on healthy eating and exercise when: I’m sick/injured, I had a really crappy emotional day, or I’m really tired. Especially in terms of exercise, if it’s going to take away from my energy level instead of adding to it, I skip the workout. It’s also okay to bench myself about once a week because of pure and utter laziness. But before I decide to be lazy, I look forward to the rest of the week, consider that I aim for three workouts a week, and determine if I really want to use my lazy day today. If it’s Wednesday, and I’m tempted to lay on the couch, but I know Thursday and Friday are going to be rammed, I’ll usually work out because I’d rather use my lazy day at the end of the week.
Rule #4: Really recognize how making the healthier (or unhealthier) choice really makes you feel. My biggest trouble spot was definitely unhealthy eating, especially stress eating. I could easily put away half a sleeve of Oreos after a bad day at work. One day, a friend asked me, “How does it make you feel to stress eat all those cookies?” And I realized… it made me physically (and emotionally) feel like crap. I really began to focus on the physical impact of my healthy and unhealthy choices. When I eat a lot of sugar, I get a freaking headache! It’s not enough that the cookies taste good going down; the consequences are too big. When I feel lazy but I get up and go for a long walk away, I feel awesome, awakened, and happy. I really believe it’s important to simply identify the way choices make you feel (guilt tripping not necessary, just identify the physical and emotional response). Then, when you are tempted to overeat Hershey’s Kisses or whatnot, ask yourself, “Based on my previous experiences, how is this going to make my body feel?” Sometimes it’s worth the sugar headache – but usually, it’s not.
Rule #5: First, tackle something ‘easy’ for you. You probably know your ‘trouble spot.’ If are like Emily and think, “I hate exercising, and I hate healthy foods,” decide which one you hate the least, and start off by making a small, manageable change. I think the confidence and conviction to change other areas of your life starts by successfully changing just one small thing. Don’t feel like you have to change everything at once. Just do one small thing and stick with it. Build flexibility into your change, but decide your terms, and make yourself stick with it long enough to create that habit.
Rule #6: Don’t get hung up on your old definition of yourself. Five years ago, I had myself convinced that I was inactive, not athletic, and would never, ever be able to stick to a healthier eating style. I didn’t think I could change because I was the way I was. But no one is stuck! We often tell ourselves stories of how we are or who we can become, but this is certainly not written in stone. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re only a certain kind of person – you can be any type of person you want to be… even a person who sort of likes healthy eating and exercise. I swear!
What’s your advice to Emily? Can you relate to her situation?