The same pattern repeats year after year. Each January the gyms are packed with new, enthusiastic sportsmen and -women. After making a New Year’s resolution, they’re all super-excited to start their new lives with – at least – 10 portions of veggies per day and 5 sessions of spinning, aerobics, and Bodypump per week.
Come February, half the people have vanished from the gym. By March, things are back to normal, the way there were before the New Year.
Why is it like this? And more importantly, does it have to be this way?
The reason why so many people fail to sustain the new life they’ve just started is that they don’t plan ahead. They may have pictured the perfect beach body that they want to achieve, but when the reality hits and they realized it’s actually hard work to reach that goal, they quit.
Studies actually show that people are the most excited about starting a new life or changing their habits one day before they actually get started. For example, if you’ve made a decision of turning a new leaf in your life on Monday, then Sunday is the day you are the most excited and confident about your decision. You’ve decided to lose weight/build muscle/stop eating junk food/quit smoking or whatever and pictured yourself healthy, happy and with a perfect body, but still today you can eat whatever you like, continue doing like you’ve always done and don’t have to do a single push-up. It will all change tomorrow.
And then the hard work starts and the harsh truth is exposed.
It’s true that it takes lots of guts and courage to lose weight, build muscle or stay in a great shape, but for sure it can be done.
How to do it then?
Well, the key to success is in your habits. It’s way too easy to slip into your old lifestyle unless you meticulously work towards the change and build new habits to replace the old ones. This, on the other hand, should be done in two parts:
- Step 1: Become aware of the root cause that makes you slip into your old habits.
- Step 2: Define a clear goal and an action plan for achieving it.
- Step 3: Act.
So, identify the causes of trouble, then come up with better habits to replace them. If you think it’s easier said than done, you are probably right. That’s why, in order to help you get started, we’ve collected a few practical suggestions for you.
Take the First Step
Let’s start with Step 1.
In order to identify the underlying trouble-maker, you should pay attention to small details. What it means is that instead of going full speed ahead without a proper plan or a goal, it’s worth taking a moment to evaluate your current habits. If you’ve ever started “the new life”, but then gradually slipped back to your old habits, think about the underlying reasons why this happened and remember to be honest to yourself.
For instance, maybe you quit going to the gym because you’re just lazy. There’s no shame in that, most people are! I mean, who wouldn’t find their own sofa more comfortable that the leg press machine in the gym? Or maybe you’ve developed habit of rewarding yourself with pizza and ice cream after a hard day at work because it makes you feel – momentarily – better and soothes your stressed nerves. It’s cool, as long as you can identify and admit that this is the case.
One practical technique for determining and understanding the root cause is the so-called 5 Whys technique. Asking yourself 5 successive questions is said to help you understand the cause-and effect relationships related to the problem you’re facing as well as guide you in the right track for fixing it.
It could go something like this:
Problem: I’m unhappy with my body.
- Why? – Because I’m overweight.
- Why? – Because I haven’t been working out.
- Why? – Because I’m working long hours and find it impossible to go to a gym after work.
- Why? – Because I don’t have energy to exercise in the evenings.
- Why? – Because the days are so hectic that I don’t have time to eat properly, so in the evening I’m tired and hungry and end up eating something quick and often unhealthy.
Problem: I’m really out of shape.
- Why? – I don’t have time to work out.
- Why? – I’m working long hours and don’t want to spend my limited free time in the gym.
- Why? – I’d rather lay on the couch and watch my favorite TV shows in the evenings than spend that time working out.
- Why? – I find watching TV more interesting than doing sports.
- Why? – TV has a higher priority in my life right now than exercising.
So, in Example 1, in the end, the biggest problem wasn’t actually the lack of exercise or the lack of time initially suggested, but uncontrollable eating in the evenings. Although exercise plays an important role when the goal is to lose weight, in this case it would be worth first improving the eating habits, rather than trying to work out when tired and hungry.
In Example 2, it is a question of priorities. If the person was truly determined to get in shape, he/she would find a way or make time for exercise no matter what. If giving up watching TV is not an option a good way to get started would be to introduce short (10-15 min) periods of exercise to the daily routine. That would leave time for other things, too.
When you have identified the problem, whether with the help of the 5 why’s or some other tactic, it’s time to move on to step 2.
Step 2: Fixing the Problem
Based on the root cause that you have now identified, you should come up with a goal as well as an action plan for reaching it. Both of them are equally important: if you don’t have a clear goal in mind, it’s hard to keep up the motivation and, vice versa, if you have a goal, but no plan how to achieve it, you might be wasting your time doing things that don’t really matter.
Here are some tips for you on how to do this in practice.
First, set up a small goal.
Always a good way to get started is by setting up a small goal at first. Instead of deciding to turn your whole world around for good, first go for 7 days, then continue for 30 days, and so on. Setting your goal to “bite-size” pieces makes it easier to handle, as you can always see the next finish line. It’s like eating an elephant: not with one huge bite, but bit by bit, right?
In addition to being achievable, a good goal is easy to measure and includes both the outcome as well as the way to get there. For example: “I will lose 5 lbs by working out 4 times per week and replacing sugary desserts by fruits”.
Then, tackle the problem.
Step 3: Act
Moving on to Step 3. Say that your goal is to lose weight and your main problem is related food and unhealthy eating habits, your action plan could be to find healthier alternatives to put in your mouth every day or if you can trace down a specific day or time when you are most likely to consume something unhealthy, see if you could switch the temptation to something else.
For instance, if it’s always on Friday night that you feel the craving for pizza and ice cream, why don’t you try going for a walk instead or call a friend and go bowling together. If it doesn’t help, you could search for a substitute, something healthier to eat. Or if you just can’t live without the pizza, you could try baking it yourself and making it a bit healthier than usual. For example, make the crust of just eggs, no flour (separate the whites and the yolks, whisk the whites until hard, then mix in the yolks and season with basil, bake in the oven for 10 minutes. It’s good, I promise!), which adds the pizza’s protein content and makes it healthier. Instead of ice cream you could try of bowl of berries with whipped coconut milk on top and seasoned with vanilla. Yummy! …Or anything else (healthy) that makes you happy. These are just to give you ideas.
Also remember that if you manage to eat right and clean 90% of the time, treating yourself with your favorite food 10% of the time is totally ok.
If your biggest problem is uncontrollable binge eating like in Example 1 above, you could try to eat a proper meal every 3-4 hours in order to avoid the ravenous feeling. If it’s not possible to eat properly, at least always keep some snacks such as nuts, dried figs or dates with you to keep the hunger away. Furthermore, when eating, don’t gobble down the food so quickly that you can hardly even taste it. Instead, eat slowly and stop as soon as you’re 80% full. You’ll feel much better afterwards.
If your biggest problem is choosing the sofa over the gym (as in Example 2 above), you could start by doing a little something 3 or 4 time per week and find a way to include only 10-20 minutes of workout out to your daily schedule.
For example, you could join one of our Challenges! What’s best about our fitness programs is that all the workouts can be done at home, so there’s no need to get up and go anywhere. You can just check the workout of the day online and get started right where you are. Start with the free 7-Day Program and then continue to the full Home Workout Challenge fitness program. Quick and easy!
If you tend to lose interest in a workout routine over time, learn to get your kicks from the euphoric feeling that you get after a good workout. It’s much better than the short good feeling resulting from slouching on the sofa!
In all of our Challenge workout programs we stress the importance of habits and goal-setting. In fact, our new, up-and-coming Take It Easy Challenge is entirely based on the idea of gradually building a new, healthy lifestyle and making it a habit, which makes it really hard to go back to the old lifestyle. The new habit can be as simple as eating only until you’re 80% full. It may not sound mind-blowing, but it works! When a person learns to control his or her cravings, eat slowly and stop eating before their stomach is too full, some excellent results in terms of weight loss have been accomplished. You can find more information on the Take It Easy Challenge here.
“Never, never, never, never give up.”- Winston Churchill