By Kris Parfitt
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Every year I make New Year’s resolutions and then I abandon them by the end of the month. But this year I really need to lose weight (my wedding is this June), and I absolutely cannot sabotage the importance of this goal like I have the past 33 years of my life. What’s the best way to stick to one’s resolutions?
- Nervous Bride-to-Be
High five for recognizing your propensity for self-sabotage when it comes to making healthy habits that support weigh loss. That acknowledgement in itself will take you further this year than you have been previously.
At the beginning, it’s easy to be motivated and make changes. The time passed and those habits feel like major sacrifices or unsustainable in the long run. But, let’s be honest, while the transition period of changing a bad habit can feel like a sacrifice, the end result is a long-term benefit. If we let go of instant gratification, we can make progress.
I don’t know what your habits are, Bride-to-Be, but you confess that a few require changing so that you can meet your weight-loss goals.
Let’s look at the breakdown of a habit according to Charles Duhigg, an expert of habit psychology and the author “The Power of Habit.”
According to Duhigg, habits break down into a three-step structure: the “cue” is a trigger that initiates a behavior, the “routine” is the behavior or action taken, and the “reward” is what you gain from that behavior.
For example, let’s say that afternoon stress at work is the cue, and the behavior (routine) is getting a latté and pastry. The reward could be an immediate break from the stress. That habit, however, causes weight gain in the long run.
Duhigg found that bad habits are commonly caused by boredom and stress. The best strategy to change habits isn’t elimination, but, instead, replacement. Cue and reward usually remain the same, it’s replacing the routine that is required.
For example, to change the afternoon snack habit, let’s say the cue stays the same – you’re stressed (or bored) at work. Instead of acquiring a sugary snack, consider connecting with a co-worker and going for a short walk, or finding a quiet spot to do a yoga pose or meditation. If you’re hungry, change the snack from a simple carb to a complex carb with a complete protein, like hummus and carrots with a glass of water and lemon.
One of the pitfalls of resolutions is that people don’t consider what it takes to change a habit. You first must want the change; if a resolution is only “nice to have” it won’t be met. And, having a deadline (like a wedding) and a specific measurable goal to reach (ideal weight), you’ll be more motivated to change your habits.
Here are five guidelines that support the transformation of routine so you can meet your goal of weight by June.
- Keep it Simple: Start with small changes, transforming one habit at a time. I encourage you to find one habit each month that has sabotaged your weight loss goals in the past, and take each month to change that routine, keeping the good, replacement habits as you move forward.
- Write down a plan: Identify the habit you want to change and identify the cue, routine and reward for that habit. Then list inspiring actions to replace the routine. Use a monthly calendar to mark weekly milestones for the transformation process.
For example, let’s say your goal is to change the routine of the afternoon snack habit. On the seventh day of the month, your milestone could be identifying the cues that initiate the habit. Identify a reward if you reach this milestone. Do a similar exercise for the 14th, 21st and 28th day of the month, ending with a celebration if you meet your monthly goal to transform the habit.
- Identify sabotages and create strategies: Sabotage is the prime deterrent to changing habits and reaching goals. As humans, we’re slippery in our integrity, especially when we are the ones of holding ourselves accountable. When you write your plan for changing a habit, include a list of what could sabotage your progress, then come up with a strategy to stave off failure.
For example, identify common negative phrases and negate them with positive reinforcements. “I failed today, but tomorrow is a good day to start again.” Identify certain environments or people that don’t support these changes and avoid or eliminate them during your transition time. We all have back doors that let us easily escape responsibility. Identify yours and share them with an accountability buddy – they can increase your confidence to keep trying even after failure.
- Involve community: The best strategy for habit transformation is to invite your friends, family, co-workers, etc. to join you. Everyone has a habit that they would like to transform, and it’s easier to succeed together than going it alone. Create a community that supports accountability, and you’ll guarantee the fastest path to transforming habits.
- Reward and celebrate accomplishments: Even the smallest accomplishment deserve recognition. Remember to include inspiring rewards when you reach your milestones. Consider a monthly celebration with your involved community. The date can be set at the beginning of the month so that everyone has a deadline to meet.
Remember, too, to provide yourself a healthy foundation during your transitional periods. Get plenty of rest, drink water, practice self-love and give yourself permission to fail and get back up again.