How to restart your healthy living mindset

This year, I will.

You might have said that before about some aspect of your life at the start of a new year. Now, I don’t know about you, but just because I say I’m going to do something doesn’t mean I’m truly motivated to do it. Motivation is something that waxes and wanes. We tend to talk about motivation as a constant when, actually, it fluctuates.

When we understand that motivation is constantly changing, we can harness our new year’s eagerness and plan for when motivation is down. Most of our resolutions require change. And change is a process, not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Many times we go straight to action and don’t realize there’s a whole process before change can happen. We try on pants, notice they don’t fit anymore, and we say, “Okay, I have to go on a diet.” But it’s not that easy.

To be good at change, it helps to be good at preparing for change. However, most of us are impatient: “I’m ready, I’m gonna do this.” When you slow down to plan, it might take longer, but the change tends to be more solid.

Plan for change
Each of us is different, but I’ve seen that it often helps to draw out a diagram with the costs of change. This is more than a list or pros and cons: This is about the costs of you making that change versus not changing, and vice versa.

Sometimes, people see what they wrote and come back to me and and say, “You know what? I’m not ready to change.” Or maybe, “I’m not ready to make this big of a change.” Some people realize that, before they can change, they’ll have to change their routine, or take all the junk food out of the house, or change their friends. If you’re able to anticipate obstacles, you won’t be undermined by those obstacles, and you will have a better chance of implementing the change you want.

How’s your thermostat?
As you embark on a process of change, avoid labels and self-judging. Observing your own behavior in a neutral way allows you to stay away from shame. You’re less likely to say “might as well” if you slip. From an all-or-nothing perspective, a slip can send you into a full blown deviation from your goals. This is common with eating patterns after the holidays: You find yourself so far from your goal that you think you’ve failed. Instead of learning from your slip, you might think, “I blew it.”

A metaphor you might find useful is an AC thermostat. When you’re in good balance you are a “good thermostat.” The purpose of a thermostat is to maintain an even, consistent temperature. As you know, your thermostat at home sometimes gets cooler or warmer. Our behavior is similar. When you’re good about self-regulating you notice more quickly (and objectively) when you start to deviate. You can then correct more quickly and without judgment. Whereas, if your “thermostat” deviates by 10 degrees or more, you might begin to judge your behavior and wait longer to bring yourself back to baseline. When you observe your behavior and make small corrections each day, you fare better.

Pat yourself on the back
Research shows that the act of self-monitoring actually leads to change even if you’re not trying hard. If you write down what you ate, you’re likely to review your habits and start modifying your daily diet.

Oftentimes, you don’t realize the progress you’re making. You might come to counseling, or to a doctor’s appointment, with a failure report. I’ll point out that maybe you waited longer before eating that piece of pie. Or I’ll look at your self-monitoring log and I see that on Monday you had a stressful day and you didn’t even smoke a cigarette. So, I’ll ask, “how did you do that?” It’s a learning opportunity. Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve accomplished because you’re focusing on what you perceive as failure.

A key to regaining your healthy mindset is removing judgment. Instead of judging yourself, look at how far you’ve come. Pat yourself on the back for choosing to live healthier.

The Good News

Start 2015 with the resources you need to achieve your goals. Join Kym Dunton, RN, at free, small group gatherings during January and February on how to stick to your resolutions.

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