“Design your life to minimize your reliance on willpower ”Behavior Scientist, Stanford University
This is it. This is the year you will become more physically active. You will go to the gym five days a week and in six months you will be magically transformed into a thinner, happier, and more toned version of you. The fleshy additions of the holiday fun will magically melt away and you will take full control of your fitness…Sound familiar?
How about this year, instead of beating ourselves up with unattainable resolutions, we all practice a huge dose of self-compassion and start exactly where we are. Let’s keep the goals small, manageable, and sustainable.
I’m a huge fan of making small, steady changes to improve health. I know that this type of change, especially when matched to an existing habit, really works!
So, here are some realistic, “micro” but effective things you can do to get on the road to a healthier you, right now.
1. Clarify what you really want to change. What I mean by this is that having a goal like “I want to get more fit” destines you to fail. If we don’t first articulate exactly what we want to change, change is made much more difficult. Be specific.
Did your doctor tell you to exercise for your health? Are you living with chronic pain? All of these reasons require you to get more fit but require different considerations in your approach.
2. Think about your motivation. Most behavioral researchers suggests that people who start a healthy behavior change usually do it for external reasons. Researchers also suggests that to maintain the change, the motivation has to eventually become internal. Think about how your intended change will make you feel.
3. Think about the most painless changes you can make first. You could start by just thinking about ways to integrate more movement into your week. There are simple things that you can change long before you need to go to a gym. How about making a rule with yourself that you never take an escalator if there are stairs available? Or start by just finding a parking spot farther away from your destination than you would normally choose. What about taking public transit one day a week?
4. Match your change with another regular behavior. To be most successful, match the behavior you are trying to change with one you are really good at already doing. Try doing a balance exercise every day while you are waiting for your coffee to brew. Try doing some squats while you are brushing your teeth. Stand up and move every time you take a phone call.
5. Plan for obstacles. Let’s face it, it’s January and unless you are one of those fortunate people who live in a warm climate (p.s. I want your life), you will need to at the very least, plan for inclement weather. If you plan to do activity outdoors, what will you do if the weather is less than ideal? Put a plan in place now.
6. Become opportunistic. I fit in exercise as much as possible as a mode of transportation. I run to work. I take public transit so I can get in some extra walking. I drop off my car for repairs and I bring my bike to ride back. I transport in rain, snow, and the dark by foot (a lot). Yes, the conditions can be a bummer, but armed with a small backpack and some earbuds (and on rainy days, my phone in a ziplock bag), my workout is over by the time I get to my destination.
7. Be mindful in your change. What I mean by this is to use mindfulness as part of your approach to change. If you are trying to exercise regularly, take in as much as you can about your environment. Write it down.
Record the weather, the time, and the time you spent. Make a point of giving yourself credit for getting out there. Maybe while exercising you didn’t always feel fantastic (newsflash: even those of us who have exercised for decades still feel crappy on some days), how did you feel afterwards? Focus on that.
8. Enlist a friend(s) to make a change with you. We are social animals. Positive changes are best shared with others. Friends can also commiserate in the tough times, or just when you hit a plateau.
9. Make physical activity a part of your work and social life. Suggest a walking meeting at work. Meet your friends for a hike rather than for coffee or a drink (have a coffee afterwards when you’re feeling virtuous for having exercised). Focus on ways that you can make physical activity part of your day rather than something you have to fit in around your life.
10. Be kind to yourself. No one will care if you can only make a small change. Start where you are and set small manageable goals. All we care about is that you’ve made the decision to nurture your health. It takes courage to not accept the status quo.
So that’s it for now. Once you’ve committed to regular activity, come on back and we’ll talk about how you can move up to the next level.
Your sister in health,
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