By Michelle Jenck, M.Ed., Certified Behavior Change Coach
Every day we hear the results of another study telling us “Eat this, don’t eat that,” or, “Move like this, not like that.” While it is good to learn about adopting healthier behaviors, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Change is hard. Crazy hard. It’s really inconvenient. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.
It is human nature to take the path of least resistance. It takes time and effort to change the way we live our lives. For most of us, this is where we end up – in a state of knowing we need to do something but not truly believing we are capable of doing it.
Being open to the possibility of changing is key. To be successful, we need to make the changes to our habits small, easy-to-adopt, and even enjoyable. Yes – that’s right. Change can be fun.
It helps to become aware of our habits and begin associating those with how we feel. How do I feel when I eat this and don’t eat that? How much energy do I have for daily activities? If the answers to these questions are not the ones you’d like, then it is probably time to start making some changes.
It is important to explore what is and isn’t working and examine what factors are in play. We tend to look only at the negative – what isn’t working. Looking at our “bright spots” may be a better option. What are we good at? When do we feel energetic? Happy? Fulfilled? How do we use this information to get more of that feeling in our life?
Why we want to make changes is almost as important as what we want to change. The “why” often determines our chances for success. If we are making a change for our spouse or boss, or as a quick fix (think high school reunion), we might not be as emotionally invested as we need to be successful over the long term.
Getting married and having kids are enormous life changes, yet, people make those changes every day. Maybe you want to see your kids or grandkids grow up. Maybe you want to improve your quality of life. Whatever it is, it needs to be meaningful to you.
Work with your strengths and interests when approaching change. If you like to cook, then it makes sense to find healthy recipes you would enjoy making. If you hate cooking, it will be important to simplify nutrition changes so that you can still be successful. Consider choosing the prepared veggie tray and a container of hummus from the grocery store.
This principle is especially important when it comes to physical activity. If you enjoy being outdoors, consider walking or hiking. If you like people, music and dancing, try a group fitness class. If you want something more mindful, try Tai Chi or Yoga. The key is to look for ways to integrate a positive, healthy change with your personality, interests and strengths.
Don’t worry about meeting some “ideal” behavior you saw on Pinterest or Facebook. The important thing is to start somewhere and start with something you like. It might not have to do with nutrition or fitness at all. Maybe you want to learn how to play the piano or knit. If the change is enjoyable and makes you feel better, you will be more likely to try new things later.
Adopting one new health habit successfully, no matter how small, usually leads to another and another. All this eventually opens a door to a much healthier, happier new you. And that’s the kind of change we can all get behind!