You know what comment I hear tons and tons? “I love the way you take such good care of yourself. I wish I could create an awesome healthy lifestyle too, but it’s just too hard…” And oh goodness, I get it. Change is hard. And the idea of eating and living differently can be overwhelming at best and down right terrifying at worst… even if the changes are ultimately amazing for your well-being.
But it’s not impossible. And it’s not even as difficult as you might imagine.
Let’s take a peak into why we’re often so resistant to change and how we can work around that. Because you can create that awesome healthy lifestyle. And it doesn’t have to be as hard as you might think. <3
Are we wired to be resistant to change?
Not to get all bad news bears on you, but our brains are not huge fans of the whole change thing. We’re creatures of habit after all. And even when the change is good we will sometimes stubbornly avoid it at all costs. But why?
Inertia can stop us in our tracks.
And I’m definitely not talking physics! Don’t worry. No textbooks required (and there will not be an exam ;)).
In this case, behavioural inertia is our tendency to do nothing and avoid change. This has to do with our need to maintain our homeostasis (our natural state of healthy equilibrium). Anything that causes physiological changes in our heart rate, metabolism and even respiration disrupts our homeostasis. Which can include changes in diet and exercise. Our bodies aren’t fans of this disruptions and that can sometimes lead to some resistance. (source)
Neurobiology also plays a role.
There’s this awesome part of our brains called the basal ganglia that’s all about routine habits. It loves routine. Change is basically it’s enemy. When we try to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes into our routine our brains don’t always like it. It goes against all of those awesome, pre-set neural pathways. And that often leads to us falling back into old, familiar behaviour (source).
But it’s not all bad news. We can actually use this to our advantage when we want to change things up. While consciously deciding to do something is harder, takes some motivation and doesn’t initially make the basal ganglia a happy camper, if we keep it up it eventually becomes a habit. And you know what that means? That means that it’s pre-set in those wonderful neural pathways and the basal ganglia is on board! It just takes a little time.
So how do we make the best use of that time and work on creating lasting habits? Is there a certain approach that we can take to get past the change bummers and make healthy lifestyle changes that stick?
Here are 5 awesome tips to help you on your way:
How to Approach Change and Create a Lasting Healthy Lifestyle
1. Our Motivations Matter
You know what never fosters long lasting healthy changes? Negative motivations. That idea may seem a little out of place, but it actually makes a ton of sense when you look a little closer.
How often are we motivated to make major lifestyle changes out of feelings like guilt, fear or regret?
I can certainly vouch for this one. When I first started to change things up after my Graves Disease diagnosis fear was my main motivation. All of my self care and dietary changes were fueled by fear. Did that feel good? Uhm… heck no. No matter what I did, feeling fearful all the time felt pretty crumby.
It didn’t take long for me to re-examine my motivations. And when I instead moved my focus to self love and made all of my changes from a place of a deep love and respect for myself it was a heck of a lot easier. And a ton more fulfilling. Six years later, I’m still eating and living well (and feeling pretty happy and excited about it every day!) My mindset adjustment was a key factor.
Why does mindset matter?
According to the awesome brains over at Harvard Medical School, long lasting change is more likely to stick when it’s fueled by a positive mindset and is self-motivated (source). This is because you are far more likely to stick to something if you’re doing it for you and you feel damn good about it.
Mindset is so important that a meta analysis of 129 different studies on behaviour change by the Economic and Social Research Council found that attitude has an incredibly meaningful impact on our ability to make lasting healthy changes (source). It’s more often than not a factor in our success.
Rethinking our motivations and making sure that they’re positive is key. Don’t let guilt, fear or regret be your guide – they’re not going to lead you to a healthy place.
2. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Total change buzzkill? Too much all at once. When you set out to change everything you basically set yourself up for failure. I know it’s really temping to totally revamp everything and create the healthy lifestyle you want and deserve tomorrow. But change is a process; it takes time, effort, love and care and to foster long term healthy changes. Be patient with yourself.
Sometimes this can even apply when we’re only making one change. Like wanting to eat healthier or exercise more. Think about it this way – wanting to exercise regularly is pretty broad and can seem a little daunting. But if we break it down into more manageable steps it becomes a heck of a lot easier to achieve. Making walking 30 minutes a day or doing 30 minutes of yoga before bed your daily goal is more bite sized and do-able.
In the end you’re still making that awesome change. You’ve just changed the way you’re approaching the target (change inception – queue the music!)
When you break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces and take it one step at a time you make it a heck of a lot farther. People don’t just wake up and run marathons, right? They start by learning to run around the block. They work on their breathing and build up their endurance. It takes time. But you’ve got this!
3. Realize that Setbacks aren’t Failures
Any move that you make in the right direction is awesome. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t experience a little backslide. And that’s ok! Making large, life changing adjustments takes a lot of time. It’s not an event, it’s an adventure. And there are bound to be set backs. But we can cripple ourselves if we expect perfection.
Perfection is a schemer that sets you up for failure. It takes away your permission to stumble. And it often stops us from even trying in the first place. So let’s do our best to throw that pesky ideal out the window, shall we?
Remember how important mindset was to achieving change in the first place? That mindset needs to start with how you plan treat yourself. Be kind, be brave and be patient with yourself as you embark on this awesome healthy lifestyle journey. If you miss a workout or forget to buy greens with your groceries that doesn’t mean you failed.
Our friends at Harvard refer to change set backs as relapses. And I adore what they have to say about it:
“Relapse is common, perhaps even inevitable. Experts urge people not to be derailed by it but to think of it as an integral part of the change process. You learn something about yourself each time you relapse. For example, you may find that the strategy you adopted didn’t fit into your life or suit your priorities. Next time, you can use what you learned, adjust, and be a little ahead of the game as you continue on the pathway to change.” (source)
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to find yourself taking a couple step backwards. It’s ok. Just keep trying. You’ll get there.
4. Be Open to Change
This one may sound kind of funny. I mean, we clearly need to be open to change if we’re trying to change. That much is obvious. But I want you to go a little deeper than that.
Like those smart cookies at Harvard said – sometimes your strategy just isn’t working. Sometimes you have to change how you change. And since it’s difficult enough to open yourself up to the idea of change, it can be even harder to change your strategy or idea once you get going.
If you find yourself stuck at an impasse, pause for moment and reflect on your progress. Is this working for you? Is there a better way to approach things? There’s always a ton of wiggle room if you’re open to it.
Need a little real life example? What if your first goal was to add more exercise to your routine and you broke that down by trying out 30 minutes of yoga every day. But it turns out that you hate it. Major setback, right? But does that mean that we give up entirely? Heck no! We just have to change our approach. Screw the yoga – it’s time to look into what other workouts interest you. It’s easier to stick to things when you actually like them after all!
There are always plenty of options out there. And if you’re willing to keep trying you will find a way that works for you.
5. Comparison is the Thief of Joy
Your changes, your motivations and your progress are yours and yours alone. They will not look the same as mine or anyone else’s. In the end, the healthy lifestyle you create will be unique too. And when you get a case of comparison-itis all you end up doing is hurting yourself.
It’s great to look to others for advice, inspiration and even motivation. But if you find yourself comparing your progress with others and feeling bummed take a step back and (figuratively) put blinders on for a hot minute. Log off of social media, put your laptop and cell phone away and change your focus.
This is a great opportunity to reflect on your awesome progress again. Look at how far you’ve come, how much awesomeness you’ve accomplished and what you’ve set out to build for yourself in the first place. It’s easy to forget that we’ve come a long way when we’re staring at all of the people that seem to be miles ahead of us. And we don’t tend to see their struggles either, which makes our own setbacks seem so much bigger.
But, newsflash, everyone has setbacks and struggles. We just don’t tend to advertise them. I promise that you definitely aren’t the only one who’s struggled to make changes (I have). Or even the only one to compare their progress to others and feel like they fall short (totally been there!) We just need to work on realizing that it’s apples and oranges; we really can’t compare two separate journeys.
You’re doing an amazing job, one step at a time.
Feeling better about changing things up? What are your current healthy lifestyle goals? Any tips that you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments below. Looking forward to hearing about your journey with change.
Health and love,
Thought of the day: Every step that you take in the right direction is a win!