- Set the right kind of goals. The first should be to stop making any more resolutions. While conventional wisdom recommends the SMART acronym for goal-setting (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-oriented), take this a step further and focus on goals that lock into forming habit, rather than outcomes. For example, instead of “lose 25 pounds,” try “walk to build a salad daily.” The latter begets the former. Having both short-term and long-term goals is a great idea (daily, weekly, monthly) as is having less-tangible, yet more meaningful goals such as being able to keep up with children and even grandchildren. Another overlooked aspect of goal-setting is the two Fs — “flexible” and “forgiving.” We all fall short on our goals. It’s important to cut yourself some slack and recalibrate expectations to something more realistic.
- Nail the basics. Rather than getting caught in making sure every morsel you eat was around 100,000 years ago or getting exactly 4.5 servings of arugula, focus on mastering the fundamentals. Eat as many veggies as possible, get adequate protein, challenge your muscles through resistance training and move often and with intent. Apply all your mental resources to the nitty-gritty and return as often as necessary. Think less about setting goals and more about committing to a process.
- Change your self-talk. That internal conversation can work both for and against you. Part of changing your mindset is evaluating the messages you are delivering to yourself. Simple substitutions such as “I choose to/choose not to” rather than “I can’t/won’t” can be empowering. “I am eating to fuel my body” rather than “Will these calories make me fat?” or “I’m training today because I love my body, not because I hate it.” When you catch yourself saying, “I’ll just eat the whole bag of cookies,” remind yourself “these taste great, but they are not part of my plan.”
- Change your environment: Setting yourself for success means manipulating your surroundings to nudge you towards healthful actions. This might include putting workout gear in a bag at your front door, leaving healthy food front and centre on your countertop/fridge/cupboard or keeping empty-calorie foods out of your house (or at least your immediate eyesight).
- Prepare for lapses. We lead busy and imperfect lives. One of the hallmarks of long-term success is the ability to keep lapses as brief hiccups on our road to continued health. The biggest key to this is letting go of dichotomous thinking. One cookie, a couple of slices of pizza or a cream puff won’t matter in the greater scheme of things. Saying “to heck with it; I’ll just finish the bag” will. You will err. Enjoy guilt-free and move on.
- Find support. Friends, family and co-workers can do wonders to keep you accountable. Online communities offer a wide variety of people sharing tips, suggestions and similar struggles. Hiring a qualified personal trainer can also be a sound investment to guide you through safe and effective exercise programming.
- Don’t succumb to the hard-sell. The diet industry has tried to persuade us that fat loss and optimal health is easy, fast and permanent. Changing habits and losing fat requires a sustainable lifestyle change that is multi-faceted, prone to roadblocks and anchored by an evolving shift in thinking. Cleanses, detoxes and other unnecessarily restrictive diets are the antithesis of healthy and lasting change. They are a ticket to disappointment, and long-term failure.
Mike Howard is the owner of Core Concepts Wellness in Vancouver, which specializes in fat loss, youth fitness and online coaching, and author of Talking Back to Diet Gurus: An Un-revolutionary and Un-sexy Guide to Fat Loss. Visit www.coreconceptswellness.com.