Have you ever set yourself some goals and then struggled to achieve them? Maybe you’ve decided you want to quit smoking, reduce your alcohol intake, lose weight, do more exercise, go to bed earlier, save more money or make healthier food choices. Or maybe you’ve decided you are overdue for a new job or you need to learn some new skills. Perhaps you’ve promised yourself you’ll be more committed from now on.
As a naturopath and health coach, I work with my clients to help them make sustained healthy changes to their diet and lifestyle, so this is stuff we work on all the time. It’s extremely common for many of us to say we want to do something (usually involving making a change to our routines), maybe stick to it for a while (days or weeks) but then drift back to our old habits. Can you relate to that? Tough isn’t it? Whatever the change is, it can be very demoralising when you realise you’ve slipped back to old habits and it can make you feel like giving up altogether.
But what if you could identify and address the reasons why it’s so tough to make changes?
From working with my clients and from my counselling studies, I believe there are four critical factors to making successful and sustainable changes in your life…
First, find your WHY!
What is your real motivation for wanting to change? And I mean the reason that gives you goose bumps.
I think that for many of us, we say we want to change something but the reason we tell ourselves is sometimes not all that real for us. It’s superficial or perhaps it’s what we think people expect us to say or what we feel we “should” be doing. In my experience, that’s not enough to sustain you. We have to find your true, deep down motivation (sometimes easier said than done but we can get there with a bit of digging).
The way I see it, when it comes to living your best life, better health is not the goal…it is a pre-requisite!
Good health is the thing you need to achieve your real goals. So how do you work out your real goals? Knowing and desiring the WHY is what will really drive your motivation and keep you going to make those changes.
How do you work out what is really motivating you?
Take these examples…I want to lose 10 kg…why? I want to quit smoking…why? I want to exercise 4 times a week…why? I want to drink less alcohol…why? Get the idea? And what I find is, you need to keep asking yourself the WHY. The real answer is generally not your first response. Peel away the layers until you get to the answer that gives you goose bumps (or maybe even brings you to tears)….there’s your motivation!
So, when you are setting your goals (be they “SMART” or otherwise), keep asking yourself WHY until you get to the real, underlying core of what is driving you. If you can do that, you’ll find the motivation to do what’s necessary to achieve those goals.
I wish I could remember who said this….
the difference between those who achieve and those who don’t is the next decision….i.e. to keep going.
It’s my belief that if you can find your WHY, the decision to keep going is much easier. If you are finding it hard to work out your WHY, let me help you. That’s what I’m here for.
Second, planning, planning, planning
“Failing to plan is planning to fail”. It’s a cliché but it’s true. Just saying that you want something to change will not make it happen.
Once you’ve identified your WHY, you need an action plan…preferably written down and put somewhere where you will see it multiple times a day.
Whether it is your eating plan, your exercise plan, your savings plan…write it down and put the steps in place to make it happen. Do you need to clean out your pantry of unhealthy food, toss out the alcohol, replace with alternatives, buy some exercise gear?
Write a shopping list and do your shopping at the same time every week, set up a direct transfer to your savings account, schedule your exercise in your diary, enrol in a course. There are always things you can do to create new habits and make it less likely that you will fall down. Start small and build from there.
Third, overcome procrastination
Assuming that you have found your WHY, could the stumbling block be procrastination? What is it that is causing you to put that change off? Whether it be getting fit, quitting smoking, going to bed earlier, getting help for your health concern etc etc.
What’s stopping you? You have everything to gain and nothing to lose, right?
Maybe that is the problem….you have nothing to lose; there is no immediate, tangible consequence for not starting. Things will just stay the same. Unless the consequence of not changing is dire, life will just carry on as it has been. This is sometimes referred to as “status quo bias”. Not great but not awful either. You’ll struggle on as you have been doing, having adapted your expectations of yourself to cope. Who cares if you don’t lose that weight, get more sleep, eat more vegetables, do more exercise, save more money now? You’ll start later.
It is difficult to appreciate the long term consequences of not acting now when you may not see them for years to come. In that case, perhaps focus on smaller, more immediate benefits. So instead of saying to yourself “I need to work on my sleep habits in order to reduce my risk of dementia” think of it in terms of ” a good night’s sleep will give me more energy tomorrow to get through the day”.
If you want to overcome procrastination, try putting something at risk.
What are you prepared to put at stake to achieve your goals? For example, I pay to train with a personal trainer which costs me a lot more than a regular gym membership but the BIG difference is that I never miss a scheduled session. Occasionally I have to cancel or reschedule but I never just not turn up because that would be money down the drain and I also feel an obligation to my trainer to turn up given that he has set aside that time for me. So, for me, I have money at stake and also my view of myself as a reliable person. These are two things I value so I’m not going to let them go easily.
So, if you are serious about achieving your goal (whether it be a health goal or otherwise) put something at stake. Work out what it is you wouldn’t want to lose and then put it at risk. If you stand to lose something in the immediate time frame you are far more likely to follow through instead of putting it off yet again.
Is fear holding you back?
Are you subconsciously putting change off because you are afraid you won’t succeed…again? If you feel like you have tried before but without success, it can be hard to front up again. No-one likes to fail but that’s not a good enough excuse to not try. Perhaps you need to reframe your measure of “success”. For example, maybe the measure of success is not how far you can run but the fact that you went for a run. Maybe that is where you start.
Maybe it’s fear of the unknown that’s a bit scary so you’ll stay at a job you dislike or put up with some aspect of your life because the devil you know is better than the one you don’t, to coin a phrase. Are you taking the path of least resistance?
Or could it be that you are afraid of success? What if you did find yourself with more energy or less pain and no longer could use pain and fatigue as an excuse to get you out of things.
Having a buddy or coach to support you while you find your way can be extraordinarily beneficial.
Fourth, identify the saboteurs
Is there someone in your life who is consciously or subconsciously sabotaging your efforts? Is it a partner, a family member, a work colleague, a friend, someone in your circle? Is it possible that they don’t want to see you make changes (because those changes might have an indirect impact on them)?
I see this happening a lot in my naturopathic clinic when I am working with my clients. When we start to explore reasons why they might be struggling with their health goals or struggling to make the changes they desire we often discover the hidden saboteurs in their life.
Do you recognise any of these health saboteurs?
- a mother or partner who believes they are showing their love by providing you with an endless supply of cakes and desserts or insists that you have an extra serve…you end up eating more than you want so as not to hurt them.
- a friend who says “let’s have another drink” or “we may as well just get a bottle” so instead of having just that one glass of wine you were planning to have, you end up drinking more (and then feeling angry with yourself or resentful of your friend)
- the guy at the petrol station who offers you that 2 for $2 chocolate bar deal just when you are feeling hungry or a bit stressed
- or it’s those big displays at the supermarket that lure you with the “cheap” junk food special offers
- maybe it’s the friend who goes for a walk or run with you, suggests you stop for coffee and then orders a muffin (“to share”) and then makes you feel bad or somehow wrong for not wanting to eat it
- the partner who resists your suggestions of new healthy food ideas or recipes and only grudgingly eats them
- the work colleague who makes you a cup of tea and just assumes you want a biscuit with it
- the boss who organises those lunch meetings then thinks they are doing you a favour by having the caterer provide a “less-than-healthy” lunch offering but it’s there so you eat it
- the social club that provides charity chocolates for you to snack on in the office (but it’s for a good cause so you eat them)
The list goes on and I’m guessing that if you stop to think about it you will be able to identify some saboteurs in your life.
Of course as a naturopath, I am thinking about your health goals but these people can pop up in all areas of your life (quietly stopping you from achieving your goals and dreams). More often than not they don’t realise what they are doing or they genuinely believe they are acting out of love or in your best interests but ultimately their actions serve a purpose FOR THEM not you.
So think about what’s in it for them?
Now here’s something else to think about…Maybe you are the saboteur of your own health….Now that’s a scary thought! Is it possible that you are sabotaging your own efforts? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I using other people as an excuse for my own behaviour or choices?
- Am I complicit in that decision to order a bottle instead of a glass?
- Is my current situation serving me at some deeper level? Are those cravings a subconscious replacement for something that’s missing in my life?
Making changes in our lives is really tough. There’s no doubt about it. Most of us are creatures of habit and even though we know that particular habit may not be serving us well, it can be a tough habit to break. Using someone else as an “excuse” is the easy way out.
So, is your team (and that includes you) with you or against you? Do you have a saboteur in your life?
Top tips to end sabotage to achieve your health
Knowledge is power when you want to achieve your goals.
Recognising your saboteurs is the first step to dis-arming them. Work out who they are and why they might be sabotaging your best efforts. (This might be easier said than done. It can be a little uncomfortable acknowledging saboteurs and you might need some help).
Remove yourself from temptation
A few ideas to get you thinking…
- that friend who always pushes you to drink more than you want? – suggest a breakfast catch up instead, offer to be the designated driver, or have another commitment to go to so you don’t get talked into staying.
- Find places for catch ups that don’t involve eating or drinking such as going to a gallery or museum, seeing a movie (bypassing the snack bar), going for a walk etc.
- Instead of sit down meetings (with food on tap), can you suggest a walking meeting, or simply bring your own food.
- Make sure you keep a supply of healthier snacks in your desk so you aren’t tempted by the office chocolates.
- if you know your mum (or someone else) is likely to fuss over you and serve you more than you want, step up and get involved in serving your own meal.
- If your goal is to save money, don’t spend your Saturday afternoon at the shops. In other words, take yourself out of the tempting environment.
- Be clear on your goals and write your own rules. It’s much easier to walk past the confectionery displays and ignore the marketing of junk food when you have your eye on the prize.
- Share your goals and your “why” and ask for support. If your mother (or sister or friend) always visits with cake when you are trying to cut back on the treats, explain your desires and tell them you will still love them if they come empty-handed. Who knows, you might inspire them to make some changes too.
- Take the opportunity to (quietly and without fuss) set the example, ignore the initial resistance and slowly watch others come on board.
- Reward yourself every time you manage to dodge the saboteur. Well done! The more you do it, the easier it will get.
- Have back up. When people hear you are trying to change something in your life, they can be resistant because of the effect it might have on them. So you need reliable back up…your naturopath, personal trainer, accountant, business mentor…whoever is there for you with no vested interest other than to help you achieve your goals. This person should be your trusted “go-to” resource. Reliable, knowledgeable and able to help you find ways around the barriers and blockers. There is no doubt, the path of change is tough so having some back up is important.
What if you are your own saboteur? How can you overcome your own sabotage?
Look inside…what is your current situation giving you? What would be the downside of the changes you want to make? Your trusted adviser should be able to help you work out the answer to these questions.
Don’t fall for the “all or nothing” approach. You might be one of the rare few who respond well to “all or nothing”, but for most people this is a quick path to failure. You perhaps have one slip up and use that as an excuse to give up entirely or you put yourself under so much pressure that you are just miserable and give up anyway. Start small and build some “wins” along the way.
So…is your life and your health where you want it? Are they better or worse than they were this time two years ago?