Now and again, I speak to someone who is desperate to make changes to improve their health.
Usually, the motivation behind this is a feeling of hitting a low point. We’ve all been there. That dreaded feeling of having enough of living a certain way. You’re overweight. You’re not happy with what you see looking back at you in the mirror. You feel sluggish and tired most of the time. You seem to pick up colds and viruses too easily (and have a hard time shaking them off). You start to worry about running into health problems later in life.
Whilst the moment of feeling at a low point isn’t nice – it’s very powerful. If I could bottle it, I’d be rich beyond my wildest dreams. It’s a rare inflection point that can drive you to take action to make big improvements in your life. But, it’s what comes after that feeling that determines whether any of that action leads to permanent change.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve hit that low moment for my health. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve then sprung into action, but failed to make permanent changes.
In the last eight months, I’ve found a way of making health changes that stick. Just look at the difference below:
This has caused me to think about what advice I could give to someone that is at that low point with their health, and wants to make changes.
I now keep my advice to only two things. The first is around the approach. The second is more practical.
You have to resist the temptation to try and make too many changes – or too big a change. This will almost definitely lead to failure. It’s very hard to resist this temptation. When you’re at a low point, you’re desperate to turn things around. That usually leads to wanting to make big changes, fast. But, what you need to do is the opposite – make small changes, over time.
Rather than build the discipline of doing new things, you actually have to work harder on the discipline of letting mostly everything stay the same – whilst focusing on one or two small changes. The changes I’ve made over the last eight months were made systematically – one at a time. But, combined, they add up to a whopper level of change.
Almost every month, I focused on only one or two things. I had to accept, that whilst the rest would still be measured, they would not be a focus. I had zero expectation of seeing a result. And you know what most people don’t realise? The things you chose not to focus on – actually end up improving anyway. This is because the momentum of creating positive change is infectious.
The bottom line – small changes, over time, add up to very meaningful and permanent changes over the long term. I know this is mentioned in almost every piece of self help type advice – but rarely do people actually do it that way.
When it comes to health, I now always give the same advice. If you’re at a low point, the chances are you’re sedentary and eating badly. So, I would suggest making one small change to each of those.
And I really do mean small. It’s not going to feel enough – and that’s the litmus test. If it doesn’t feel enough, that’s probably about right. It needs to be easy enough for you to have a high probability of being consistent with it. Being consistent with the change is actually more important than the change itself. Remember, your goal at this point is to build consistency and momentum.
When it comes to being sedentary, I almost always advise to start walking. Why? It’s free. You can do it anywhere. Almost anyone can do it. The risk of injury is super low. And it gets you outside. It’s the perfect choice to build consistency and momentum. Of course, it won’t feel enough. You’d probably rather commit to a more ambitious gym or running schedule. Stop yourself in your tracks. Remember, you’re looking for easy and small. You’re looking for consistency and momentum.
Even with something as simple as walking, you’ll likely still need to temper your ambitions. It’s probably not a good idea to set a goal of walking for an hour every day. A better goal might be to walk three times a week for 30 mins. Or, twice a week for an hour. If you end up doing a bit more – that’s icing on the cake. Remember, your modest goal is more than you’re doing now. And importantly, it’s something you have a high chance of being consistent with. There will be plenty of time in the future to build on top of this and be more ambitious.
When it comes to diet, you want to find a change that will be somewhat challenging – but also small enough that you can be confident you can be consistent with it. It’s probably not a good idea to decide to do 30 days of paleo. That’s a gigantic lifestyle change that would be very hard to achieve. Even eliminating desserts might be too big a goal – particularly if you’re already eating them most nights. A better goal might be to eliminate a certain food you know isn’t good for you (i.e I am no longer going to eat crisps). Or perhaps reducing something you do regularly (i.e reducing desserts to only weekends).
The hardest thing about all of this is deciding on goals that are small, and achievable. Every fibre of your body will want to do the opposite. But you know deep down (in your heart, and from experience) this will not lead to success.
Once you’ve identified the small changes you will make to being active and your diet – commit to making them for 30 days. If at the end of 30 days you’ve been 80%+ consistent, pick another one or two small changes to make. You might want to be more ambitious with the changes you’ve just made (i.e go from desserts only at the weekend, to now once per week). Or, you might want to try something entirely new. And then commit to another 30 days. Your goal now becomes to maintain the two you have at 80%+, as well as establishing the new ones.
If you were not consistent enough, or lacked the confidence in maintaining the consistency – go for another 30 days. Then, when you’re successful, you have permission to tackle new changes.
I’ll leave you with one final suggestion that will greatly increase your chance of success. Create a physical, visual chart to track your progress. This is literally how I built 80%+ consistency with six health health habits, over eight months.
If you need any help, or have any questions, hit me up!