“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of my own behavior”
Some sarcastic person making a terribly accurate meme
I wrote the title of the piece knowing that it may come across as pessimistic. That’s not the point. I’m not making attempts to use any reverse psychology tricks on you as well (“screw you, Justin, I can do this”). No, no, I promise, this is not my intent. My intention is to be realistic and if anything, empathetic about health changes.
That’s because long term change is hard, like really really hard. So, I want to tell you why it’s hard and then make some suggestions to help you.
But you’re probably not going to do anything about it… (yes, a splash of reverse psychology).
Why is Behavior Change so Hard?
The thing about making health changes is that it is easy to do…once. If I told you that I would like you to eat broccoli for dinner tonight, maybe along with some fish, and brown rice you would tell me you could do it and you’re right, you probably could. If I told you to do some cardio for 30 minutes within the next three days, you 100% could plan it out and do it.
Unfortunately, long term health benefits cannot be accumulated with sporadic behaviors and when it comes to weight loss, six days of strict caloric deficit can be undone with one bad day.
Follow me here:
Doing a healthy thing once = easy
Doing healthy things for a long time = extremely challenging
Let’s consider some interesting ways that people behave:
- We intend to go the gym over two times more than we actually do (i.e. I plan to go to the gym 3 times this week and go once)
- If our friends, family, or significant others gain weight we do as well (not fair I know)
- People often report the presence of saboteurs in the weight loss efforts, usually friends or family (rude right?)
This is all to say that we fail to follow through on our intentions and that we are easily influenced.
Sources of Influence
We are who we are because we do what we do.
People are notorious for not following through on their good intentions and at the same time we fall victim to unhealthy behaviors that go against our good intentions.
We can conceptualize sources of influence as being personal, social, or environmental interacting with our own motivation and abilities.
Think about it like this, you want to lose weight, but your friends want to go out for a beer. Normally you would have six beers, ideally if you are trying to lose weight you would go out for one or two but because your friends influence you, you have four instead. We can observe our own motives and abilities interacting with social influence.
Now take a person who wants to go out for a run (they are motivated) but they don’t have sneakers (ability). This person cannot go out for a run because that would really hurt their feet. This usually is not the case; in fact, it is usually the opposite. We have the capability but lack the motivation to overcome our own personal inertia or the social influences pulling us in the wrong direction.
As we have identified, you can and probably have done a healthy behavior once. If you can do it once, we can 100% rule out ability issues and say it is probably a motivation problem. So how can we overcome the inertia that is making us unhealthy, harness MOTIVATION and continue with a healthy behavior until it is habitual?
What is Motivation?
Motivation is not just what we want. I’m sure there are people out there who could tell you exactly what to do so that you could be making a million dollars per year within four years.
That sounds great right? But we’re not going to do it. The outcome is great, but it involves us doing things we probably don’t want to do.
Apply this to health. All you need to do to be healthy is to move your body vigorously (not just shaking in place, I’m talking about running, cycling, or lifting weights) four or five days per week for at least 30 minutes for a year or so.
All you need to do to lose weight is to be in a consistent caloric.
Motivation is not just what we want. It’s all the things that energize and direct behavior. So why would I want to exercise if the health benefits are in the distant future and I may need to be hungry and plan out days in advance when I am going to squeeze in an hour to go to the gym?
Let’s conceptualize issues with motivation in three ways with a focus on exercise; (1) you don’t know where to start (2) you fail to start (3) you start but fail to continue.
You Don’t Know Where to Start
I recently heard one of the coaches I work with say not knowing where to start is like trying to learn to play the piano but worrying about the paper the music is on. If you’re not sure where to start, try this; think about what you’re doing and decide on a change. If you’re not exercising, just move your body vigorously or more vigorously once per week. Maybe that means going back to the gym and lifting weights for 30 minutes every Monday or maybe it means going out for a long walk. The bottom line is just start moving.
You Fail to Start
Remember those pesky friends who can make you gain weight. Well, you can take advantage of your good intentions and ask a friend who is active to bring you with them the next time they exercise.
Why rely on your own willpower when you can get help? You can also sign up for a spin class or a circuit class. Put down the monetary commitment. Go ahead, do this now, I’ll wait.
…Great you signed up for a class. Pat yourself on the back, you are incredible.
You Fail to Continue
Maybe starting and stopping is your MO. Likely you haven’t found your exercise tribe yet. You haven’t found a place you’re excited to go and exercise. A place where everyone knows your name.
We tend to continue with things we find fun and valuable. We continue with things that give us a sense of identity. If you’re at a place where you’re not having fun, find a new place to go! Find a place where people will be excited to see you, where they will contact you and see where you’ve been if you have been absent for even a week. Ask a friend who has been consistently exercising where they go or what they do. Join a run club, find a yoga buddy, join a weight training gym.
You Can Make Health Changes: Here’s Why
We need to see value in change for it to happen. As a coach of ten + years and a student of health behavior change I can tell you it’s worth it to be healthy. This probably isn’t news to you.
The outcome is valuable, you’re just not doing the things you should and it’s not necessarily your fault. But if you’re not satisfied with where you are health wise, realize this is the result of long-term behavior and long-term behavior can be changed for the better.
Identify what is holding you back and where your motivational issues lie (i.e. not knowing where to start, failing to start, or failing to continue) and if you really want to, make the appropriate changes and realize that in the quest to improve your health there is no such thing as failure, only ineffective solutions because the equation to success looks a lot like this:
Attempt, come up short, learn, attempt.