Lasting changes, in fact, often emerge from long periods of time of “pretty good.”
This morning, I felt personally inspired when I checked in with my closed Facebook group, Habits First (which you can join now, for free!). I had posed this question under the heading of “Monday Motivation”:
How do you manage your motivation when it feels low? Maybe you’re going through a busy time at work, or an emotionally turbulent time at home. How do you re-frame your healthy habits so that they serve you as a whole person, rather than seeing them get shuffled right out of the deck?
Right away, one of my group members, Christina L., responded perfectly:
I control what I can while I’m in the rough patch and take the rest with a grain of salt….try not to be a perfectionist about all aspects of the weight loss/fitness regimen. Then, when the rough patch is over or my schedule isn’t so hectic, I can buckle down and put all my focus back into it. I have learned that you do not have to be 100%, 100% of the time to be able to make lasting changes.
Just to provide a bit of context, this group member has lost 20 pounds this year. In other words, she’s in action. She’s getting things done. She’s got serious momentum.
But she has avoided a trap that ensnares lots of would-be exercisers, keeping them forever stuck – perfectionism.
Excellence, to be clear, is a positive trait. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is the little voice that says:
- “If you can’t do this perfectly, don’t do it at all.”
- “Now that you’ve eaten that donut, the whole day is ruined.”
- “Now that you’ve missed two workouts this week, you might as well wait until next week to start over.”
If you can avoid an attitude of perfectionism, like Christina explicitly did, you have the opportunity to be consistent and create lasting changes.
Let’s break down what Christina is doing right, piece by piece, and how you can apply this to your life right away to create meaningful change:
“I control what I can.”
When people get stressed, a common response is to completely cave. Instead of down-shifting healthy living efforts and adjusting behaviors to fit the situation, all new habits go out the window.
Instead of doing this, I advise clients to simply pick the things they can act on with reasonable consistency, and stick with those things.
Here are some examples:
- If a client goes on vacation and they normally track food, it makes sense to stop tracking food and to increase the focus on other healthy eating habits, like eating plenty of protein and vegetables.
- If a client is boarding family in town for a holiday, it makes sense not to be legalistic about at-home workouts and to simply focus on step count instead, hitting 8,000-12,000 per day.
- If a client has a busy season at work, it makes sense to do temporarily hit pause on a rigorous gym routine and switch to quick at-home workouts.
Picture yourself driving a car. Traffic gets thick – do you completely slam on the brakes, or pull the car over to let the traffic thin out? Of course not. Maybe you slow down and drive a little more cautiously, with more attention.
This is exactly the ideal for hitting a busy period of life. You don’t have to completely stop your new healthy habits, and you don’t have to wait for life to calm down. Instead, you simply can go a little more slowly and carefully, continuing to move forward, and trust that eventually you’ll get out of this bottleneck and into open road again.
“… Try not to be a perfectionist about all aspects of the weight loss/fitness regimen.”
Especially when you’re trying to lose weight, the multifactorial aspect of weight loss can be absolutely overwhelming.
Successful weight loss is usually composed of an orchestration of coordinated behaviors, including:
- Modifying eating behaviors (i.e. decreasing calories, following a diet that works for you)
- Exercising for 30-60 minutes a day, most days
- Getting in more overall steps and non-exercise activity
- Sleeping more consistently
- Learning to plan and execute habits more effectively
- Developing healthier coping behaviors that allow you to deal with stress/emotions/boredom without eating
- … and more!
Although all of these aspects play a part in successful body and health change, I also advise clients that they can keep things simple.
In other words, you don’t have to focus on every single moving piece at the same time.
Let’s return to the idea of excellence as an alternative to – not a cousin of – perfectionism.
My advice? Get really, really excellent at certain aspects before adding others. Master a habit of nailing 10,000+ steps per day before layering in gym workouts. Get really consistent with packing lunch and planning all your meals before tracking calories. Add in more vegetables and protein before stripping your diet of sugar and all processed foods.
In other words, do the easy things first, and then keep adding. Build your excellence and confidence in yourself with each new habit.
“Then, when the rough patch is over or my schedule isn’t so hectic, I can buckle down and put all my focus back into it.”
This is why consistency during busy periods is key. If you keep your healthy living efforts going during a “rough patch,” you’re maintaining fitness and eating habits and won’t have to work so hard when you can put a strong focus back on your weight loss strategies.
Without this important aspect of consistency, this pattern can turn into the “buckle down” / “let loose” cycle that I’ve described before.
On the other hand, someone who stops tracking calories during a busy period – but continues to pack lunch, avoid most processed foods, and watch portion sizes – will have a lot less work to do when they decide to focus again.
These periods of focus can be priceless. You can devote considerable energy to fine-tuning, improving, and investing in your healthy living habits.
“I have learned that you do not have to be 100%, 100% of the time, to be able to make lasting changes.”
Indeed. Perfectly said.
In fact, my experience with both myself and clients is that you only need to be at 70-80%, most of the time.
Consistently being at 70% will yield much better outcomes than being at 100% for 3-day bursts every once in awhile when all the stars line up.
And let’s be honest – running at 70% is much more realistic for everyday life. The better your healthy living skills are, the more resilient they will be for life’s ups and downs, but they don’t have to be at 100% all the time.