At the start of the year, there’s always an urge to reform ourselves, commit to living a healthier lifestyle and take better care of ourselves. We gym, we run, we juice, smoothie and detox.
But how do you decide what “healthy” is and how do you get there? More often I’m seeing people who are confused by the choices they have in the health, fitness and well-being sector and I’m being asked “what should I be doing to lose weight/be healthy/feel better and how much should I do?” When did looking after yourself get so complicated?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Information is everywhere. The choices when it comes to health and well-being are limitless and sometimes conflicting. How do you choose between paleo or vegan, intermittent fasting or elimination diets, high intensity intervals or lengthy endurance sessions?
Combine your endless choices with information overload, the pressure to do all the “right” things and this idea that if doing a little of something is good for you, then doing more is better and you’ve got a case of healthy living fatigue.
So if this is the year you’ve decided to put yourself first, be healthier and take better care of yourself, how do you choose between liver detoxing and bulletproof coffee, CrossFit and pole dancing?
The answer is, as any good answer always is, “it depends”. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve, your motivations, lifestyle and capabilities, and your constraints – financial, time, location, family – whatever they may be.
Here’s some considerations when you’re looking to improve your heath and you’re bewildered by the choices in front of you:
What’s your goal, what’s your motivation?
Your goal and the motivation must matter to you if you want to succeed. For years I focused on the goal and encouraged my clients to do so too, with varying rates of success. It’s become clear to me now that by doing so, I was missing the bigger picture.
Our success and ability to stick to a goal lies not in having a goal, or in the goal itself, but in recognising and acknowledging the reasons behind it.
If you can articulate why you want to lose weight, get fit or run that marathon, if your reasons for your goal resonate with you, your chances of sticking to it suddenly become a lot higher.
Of course, identifying your why may also lead you to conclude that the goal you had in mind doesn’t necessarily fit with your why. It’s good to be clear on this before you get too far.
If your reasons for setting a goal revolve around some kind of lifestyle change, your goal should recognise that you’re looking for a new “normal”.
How many times have you seen someone resolve to enter an event, achieve it and then revert back to the way things were? If completing the event was the aim, that’s great – goal achieved, but if that person was actually looking for a new, more active lifestyle the goal should reflect this and recognise the event as a step along the way.
Consider also if your motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic. Extrinsic or external motivators – for example, losing weight for an event, looking good for someone else, or to earn a reward – while often beneficial in the short term, are usually temporary in nature.
While there is a place for extrinsic motivations, especially at the start, they generally (though not always) tend to be less successful in the long term than intrinsic or internal drivers which arise from a person’s core beliefs or an internal need to participate or perform an activity for its own sake.
Intrinsic motivations often lend themselves to feeling a sense of accomplishment and purpose, and increased self-awareness and autonomy. That’s not to say you must have an intrinsic motivation but giving consideration to this may help to maintain a long-term behavioural change.
If your motivation doesn’t resonate with you, sticking to your plan will be much harder, and losing your way will be much easier. Spend the time to articulate what it is you actually want and why you want it.
Is the plan sustainable for your lifestyle?
Your plan should involve activities that you enjoy and should also slot easily into your day and week. If the fitness choice, eating plan or lifestyle change you choose is something you simply don’t like or it doesn’t allow for your job, family and other commitments, it’s going to be harder to implement and continue on an ongoing basis.
If you’ve chosen an activity or action that’s not enjoyable for you, it’s just a matter of time before you slip back into old habits. For example, you decide to “get fit” and running is the way to do it but you hate running. It’s clearly going to be that much harder to get yourself out there. Avoid this by choosing activities to get to your goal that are fun for you.
Making small changes progressively over time will be much more manageable than a complete lifestyle overhaul which, aside from being hard to fit into your already busy life, can lead to mental and physical burnout and erode your motivation.
What are your challenges?
It’s never smooth sailing and you’ll always hit roadblocks on the way, so anticipating your challenges and having strategies to address them will keep you on track.
Travelling for work, staying late at the office, corporate functions and school holidays are common reasons given by people for getting out of routine. The reality is that’s just life. Stuff happens and a mindset of repeatedly “starting over” or “getting back into it” after each of these interruptions will only make you feel like you failed time and again.
Planning for what you can do in these situations or being mindful of the best option available at the time instead of thinking of these events as disruptions to your healthy lifestyle, may be more useful and keep you from deciding it’s all too hard.
Consider what has stopped you reaching your goals previously and how it can be different this time. What you can do to overcome your roadblocks in the future? Making a plan that addresses these will make the journey less daunting and you’ll feel prepared when the inevitable comes up.
Make sustainable changes
If you want to avoid healthy living fatigue, gaining clarity around your goals and motivations, making sustainable lifestyle changes over time to improve health and planning for the challenges you will face on the way will get you further than complete sudden overhauls.
Raewyn Ng was formerly a legal advisor at Historic Places Trust, now Heritage NZ, and before that worked for Parliamentary Services. She is now a movement coach with an interest in wellbeing and holistic health, managing stress and living a balanced lifestyle. See www.mybod.co.nz.