“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)
Happy New Year!
Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions is to lose weight. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit their resolution, and will probably make the same resolution next January. In fact, only about 20 percent of those who set New Year’s resolutions have stuck with them by the end of the year.
Why are so few in successfully following through with their resolutions? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals or resolutions are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop that are most important to our success.
I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to lose weight, or in achieving any other New Year’s resolution that you made.
On important key to your success in losing weight, or any other goal or resolution that you have set for yourself, is creating an identity for yourself consistent with this goal or resolution. Then focus on becoming the person consistent with that identity, instead of fixating on a goal or resolution. Thus, instead of focusing on losing X pounds of weight, you might shift your mindset and identity to becoming a “healthy person.” Once you have identified that you are a healthy person, it can become easier to develop the habits consistent with becoming a healthy person, and in the process you will automatically lose weight and feel better.
With your new identity you can now ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?” or “What do I need to do in this situation, as a healthy person?” You will then simply act like the type of person you already believe yourself to be. The process of building habits is really the process of becoming yourself.
This can help you avoid the “yo-yo” diet effect that many who try to lose weight experience. In this case, people focus on the goal of losing weight and not developing the identity and habits necessary for sustainable weight loss.
Awareness of Current Habits
The process of behavior change always begins with awareness. Therefore, it would be beneficial to list all of you daily habits. This would include things like brushing your teeth, showering, etc. Then ask yourself, “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Is this habit consistent with the identity I have of myself as a healthy person?” Then be on the lookout for unsupportive habits and verbalize this habit when it occurs, as well as what the outcome will be if you allow the habit to continue. For example, “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and I’m reaching for that candy bar, like I always do at this time. I know if I eat it, I will feel satisfied for a few moments, but later will feel tired and feel bad that I ate the candy bar and start eating chips.” You might begin replacing this with, “At two o’clock I will eat an apple.”
Design You Environment To Support You Being a Healthy Person
Your environment can provide cues that trigger your habits. So, it is important to design your environment to support that habits you want in your life and eliminate those you don’t want. Such examples would include: eliminating foods that don’t support you being a healthy person, such as candy, chips, cookies, etc. from your house or at least removing them from view. Instead, have healthier food choices in view, like a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. Another example would be to have your workout clothes, shoes, and water bottle ready and in view the night before, so when you wake up, you just put them on and start exercising; no thought or significant effort necessary.
Start Small and Include an Appropriate Reward System Until the Habits Are Automatic
The great thing about building effective habits and behaviors is that you can start with small steps. For example, eating dinner on a smaller plate, so the portion sizes you eat are smaller. You might also start drinking more water and develop the habit of having your water bottle with you at all times, and drink a little more each day. Or, start walking 5 minutes a day, and maybe add 30-60 seconds every couple of days. Make walking enjoyable by doing this with a friend, with family, or your favorite music. The great thing about small habits is they have a compounding effect when performed daily; a one percent change daily leads to being 37 times better at the end of the year! This is the same extraordinary compounding effect that occurs when you invest in mutual funds. As a result, you can build momentum begin developing other good habits that can support you being a healthy person. The key is to start with small habits that are easy to do and which you could do on a consistent basis.
In addition, it can be helpful to set up a reward system, so if you walk at least 5 minutes a day 5-7 days per week you reward yourself appropriately, such as getting a massage or going to the movies. It’s important that these rewards are in the short-term because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. Weight loss is challenging because it can take months, or even years, to see significant weight loss, and this can be demotivating because you are not being rewarded for your efforts until months or years. Thus, it’s important to acknowledge and reward the small wins along the way.
You will most likely find that the small habits you begin become automatic over time, and you can then incorporate other habits that can help you become a healthy person, and then shift your reward system to these new habits.
Give Yourself the Gift of Movement
First, view all movement as beneficial; it doesn’t have to be structured exercise at the gym or performed for at least 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Second, change your mindset on movement from “have to” to “get to”. Start associating movement as a gift you give yourself. In addition to the gift of health you are giving yourself, you also give yourself the opportunity to spend time with a friend or your family on a walk, or walk by yourself in a favorite place or listen to your favorite music while walking. Giving this gift to yourself will allow you to better show up for loved ones in your life because you will be happier and more energized.
There are many other habits and tips that can be beneficial for weight loss. Many more than I can fit in one blog article, but I do want to leave you with a few more habits and tips that might help. Weight loss is complex and therefore it can be easier to identify as being a healthy person and develop habits consistent with this identity. I will share more tips in future articles.
Other Habits That May Help
- Eat on smaller plates to reduce portion sizes and calorie consumption
- Put vegetables on your plate first and they should fill up at least half of your plate
- Chop up fruits and vegetables on the weekends and pack into containers, so you have easy access to them during the week
- Purchase food in individual packages rather than bulk size
- When eating out have the waiter box up half of your meal before you receive it, so you only eat half the portion size
- Get at 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night
- It’s better to do less than nothing at all, for example with movement
- Keep a scoreboard of the good habits you have performed
- Never miss a good habit more than once, simply do something (such as walking one minute instead of 5 minutes)
- Acknowledge and appreciate the nonscale victories of living healthier such as skin looking better, waking up earlier, having greater sex drive
- Have someone who will hold you accountable
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.
Your friend and coach,
Note: I am not promoting any specific diet for weight loss. In fact, I feel this one-size fits all approach does not work. You should consult with your physician before starting any weight loss program.
James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery: New York, 2018.
Michelle Segar. No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. AMACOM, 2015.