7 steps to making your health your No. 1 priority
If you’re like many of us, you make well-intentioned health and fitness resolutions — perhaps on Jan. 1 — only to break them days or weeks later. We asked Betsy Mendel, a Los Angeles personal trainer and author of “Move a Muscle. Change a Mood,” for tips to help get back on track when we lose our way. Here’s what she had to say:
Instead of resolutions, let’s talk about commitments. Commitment involves an actual action plan. Really making a commitment and holding yourself accountable is critical. Personally I don’t make resolutions. I am committed to being my best, feeling and looking my best, all year round.
Here are six simple steps for accomplishing this:
1. Don’t try to change everything at once. Pick one thing and stick to it.
It seems like we try to change everything at once — our weight, our relationship, our career, our family and our finances — rather than prioritize. But it is completely unrealistic. In fact, sometimes the more we try to do, the less able we are to make any of these changes, and everything suffers.
So the first step is to prioritize. Make a list of everything you want to change. Then take time to really look at your list. Think about how each item on the list affects the other, and which makes the most sense to start with. Arrange them in order of importance. Now look at the first thing on your list and set a tangible and achievable goal you know you can attain. For instance, you could say “I want to lose 10 pounds by summer.” Look at this commitment each and every day. You are now on the pathway to success, taking one small step at a time.
2. Aim to create a positive new habit, not just a result.
Focus on the new behavior you want to achieve, not the outcome. Let’s go back to that goal of losing 10 pounds by summer. There are two ways to obtain this goal: Cleaning up your diet, and exercise, just getting up and moving. That’s more effective that just focusing on the scale.
3. Change your environment.
This will change depending upon your goal. But if you want to lose weight and get healthier, you know that you need to stock your kitchen and pantry with healthy, wholesome foods that you will actually eat. Go through your kitchen, pantry and cabinet. Look at each item, one by one and put them into three groups: Foods that are healthy, foods that you’re not sure about, and foods that are unhealthy. The first group contains fruits, vegetables, lean meats and so on. Use your smart phone or computer to look up foods you’re not sure about, and decide whether they go into the healthy or unhealthy category. And you know what do to with the third group of food: Take unopened, non-perishables to the food pantry, and the rest goes in the garbage.
4. Recognize that small changes add up.
Park your car so you have to walk a little farther rather than wasting time hunting for “the perfect spot.” Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Think of each step as a calorie burned. Ditch the diet drinks and drink water instead. (There have been so many studies and reports that show that diet drinks actually make us hungrier.) Create an exercise plan you can commit to four days a week.
5. When you slip, get back on track quickly.
There are times when we will make choices that we know are not good for us. We grab that super sugary dessert or skip a few days of our workout. One of the hardest things to do is to forgive ourselves and move back into our best behaviors as soon as possible. You don’t need to overcompensate to try to undo the damage that was done. This only makes getting back on track harder. Just get back into your healthy routine. Get back to your small changes, back to your positive behaviors and right back to achieving that outcome.
6. Schedule your new habits into your life.
Now, how do we make sure we follow through? First, we need to remember we are talking about a commitment. A commitment to ourselves. Commitments are not meant to be taken lightly. They are how we can truly judge ourselves. Are we strong enough to make a commitment and follow through? Of course we are, if we make and use the realistic plan we’ve outlined. But it’s not automatic. We are trying to changing behaviors that we’ve had possibly for decades. I suggest you use daily reminders to stay on track. Take your calendar or your smart phone and note all the positive behaviors you are committing to for the day. Maybe it’s wake up earlier to work out, or make a healthy smoothie, or walk a mile during your lunch break. Do this every day.
Your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your character. Add some positive thinking in this entire process, and your character becomes your destiny. And your destiny is plain and simple: Lose those 10 pounds, or whatever your goal was. If you follow through, you’ll find that achieving your goal was one of the easiest things you ever did because you did it through small, achievable steps.
Use this process over and over again to achieve all the goals you laid out at the very beginning. Step-by-step, day-by-day, you will live your commitments and see the strength of your true character.
The bottom line is there’s no secret sauce, no quick fix.
Commitment to good habits is the “magic bullet.”