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Some Well-Intentioned Goals Don’t Last
“New year, new me!”
“From now on, I will eat clean six days a week!”
“I want to get in shape and lose weight this year!”
Sound familiar? How many of these New Year’s resolutions fail? Apparently only 8% of people actually achieve their resolution. Think of all the meaningful goals you could achieve if only you followed through on these resolutions.
Let’s revisit that phase for a typical person and see what goes wrong. Here, we’ll consider fat loss. Maybe you planned on losing X number of pounds/kilograms this year. Maybe you also wanted to get in shape. Those are respectable goals, but see if the next steps resonates with anyone you know.
At this point you’re on your way. You’re stocking your fridge up with healthy food like kale and organic grass-fed beef. You went ahead and signed up for a gym membership (or chose to use a gym that you have access to). Everything seems on track, and you feel motivated as you should be. You’ve been doing all the right steps so far.
The first Monday of the year kicks off into full swing, and you go back to class or your work. After you are finished, you are somewhat tired from the day but find enough motivation to get to the gym. After the gym, you spend time cooking (or learning how to cook) some of the food that seems unfamiliar to your fridge. By the time you are done with food, you clean the dishes, exhausted. If you’re a student, maybe you spend the rest of the night trying to get a head start on your homework. What a productive day!
By Wednesday, you’re slightly worn out from everything that’s going on. Maybe work is starting to pick up again, or school assignments are piling up. You got your workout in today, but you didn’t want to deal with cooking, so you bought some fast food on the way home.
By Friday, you are exhausted. Classes haven’t been easy, you missed another workout because you feel too tired, and making your own food again seems far too time consuming, so instead you order pizza. Oh well. Maybe next year you’ll get in shape and get healthy.
By the end of January, the once-excited gym newbies seemingly disappear and go into hibernation. In fact, this phenomenon is widespread enough to the point where satirical meat head videos point out this spectacle. (note: BroScienceLife is not meant to give out actual advice and plays on gym stereotypes. Take what you hear/see in that video with a grain of salt.)
So, what went wrong? You were off to a great start! By the second week, however, there was no progress.
Think of your ability to make decisions as a finite resource. In fact, it has been shown that your ability to make high-quality decisions fades over time. This explains why you begin to follow your impulses after making difficult decisions for extended periods of time. By Friday, you’ve been making decisions all week. Do you relax in your room or get another workout after work on Friday? For most people, unfortunately, willpower doesn’t last that long. Good luck with that workout.
Let’s reassess that previous scenario with your newfound introduction to the idea of decision fatigue. When you make those new year resolutions, you’re motivated and filled with willpower. A few days later, all those decisions to live a healthy life are wearing you down. By the end of the week, making those high quality decisions seems impossible. After all, you’ve been using up so much willpower. At this point, before you can make any more high quality decisions, you need to rest.
However, it’s clear that people have gotten around this. If being fit and in shape takes so much decision making, shouldn’t there be a smaller number of fit looking people? What’s going on?
When was the last time you had to force yourself to do something out of habit? Probably never, except maybe in the early stages of making the action become a habit. For example, some people read or watch the news at the same time every day (usually in the morning or around the evening). Some people look at their phones the first thing when they wake up or look at their phones before they go to bed.
You may not even think of some of those. It’s just something you do at the same time each day- which is precisely how you’re going to approach your goals. Make the pursuit of those goals a daily habit, and you are far more likely to succeed. Some examples:
“I will lift weights at 5:30PM three times a week.”
“I will make sure to go on a 20 minute walk after dinner.”
“I will have spinach with my scrambled eggs every day for breakfast.”
“I will do 50 push ups as soon as I get out of bed in the morning.”
The important key here is that once you do it enough times, it will become a habit. For some people, this could take a few days. For others, this could take weeks, or even months. It also depends on how drastic the change is to your current lifestyle.
Drastic changes to one’s lifestyle are big decisions. If you switch to a starch-free diet after being used to eating some kind of grain during every meal, the change will be difficult. Going from zero exercise to working out five days a week is also a drastic change (and also increases your likelihood of injuring yourself). So, which changes are most likely to stick?
Part of the brilliance of Headspace, a guided meditation app, is that it only requires ten minutes of your time every day. Even the busiest people can find ten minutes each day to meditate if they really wanted to.
The Five Minute Journal promises to increase your well-being by only taking up five minutes of your life every day. It’s no wonder that they receive such fantastic reviews from their customers- it’s very easy to follow.
Key Takeaways on Implementing Healthy Habits
Small, incremental changes are the way to go. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your dream body.
For example, let’s start with nutrition, because people put food in their mouth two to three times a day anyway. An easy way to get into a healthy diet is to replace one meal at a time, which looks like this:
Breakfast: Spinach and eggs
Breakfast: Spinach and eggs
Dinner: Chicken, beef, or fish with some kind of vegetable
The rationale here is that people typically eat breakfast at home. Lunch is usually eaten with friends, so there may be less flexibility with healthy food options. Because of this, dinner may be easier to have control over than lunch.
You can apply the same principle to working out as well. However, to tip the odds in your favor, get on top of your nutrition before you start working out. You can lose bodyfat by eating healthy without lifting a single weight or spending hours on a treadmill.
In the end, it’s better to choose a good program that’s easy to follow than a great program that people abandon due to limited willpower (think back to the typical new year’s resolutions). Let’s make a comparison:
Chimichanga and Pineapple are two friends. They decide to walk a 100-mile trail. Chimichanga, excited, walks 3 miles a day for one week. Chimichanga then gets tired and quits. Pineapple is more patient. Pineapple walks a mile per day but continues to stay on the trail at a comfortable pace. After 21 days, Pineapple reaches the point where Chimichanga stopped, but Pineapple still feels fresh. Pineapple continues until reaching the end of the trail, enjoying the hike along the way. Meanwhile, Chimichanga feels guilty and bitter.
Don’t be like Chimichanga. Enjoy the trip like Pineapple.
A healthy lifestyle should be approached as a marathon and not a sprint. Keep the changes incremental and you will end up losing fat without even thinking about it.
Ready to take action? Take a look at this post!