By LMQC Battle of the Bulge blogger, Alan Sivell, St. Ambrose communications professor, RAGBRAI-er, pizza lover and longtime weight watcher.
November weather often puts the brakes on outdoor activities, forcing us inside … where the couch and mountains of tempting treats await us. By spring, sadly, many are uncomfortable in their clothes.
This year, as every year, we swear it’s going to be different. We are going to the gym. We are not going to overindulge.
Fine sentiments, but how do we make it happen?
St. Ambrose University Psychology Professor John Stachula says there is no trick to keeping your promises to yourself, but there are some techniques that can help.
A Powerful Reason
One thing you need, Prof. Stachula says, is a powerful reason to get healthy. The reason has to outweigh (so to speak) the reasons to stay on the couch.
He says when you find your powerful reason, you swing the balance of the battle in your favor.
The desire to be a healthy role model for your kids could be one. The desire to walk up a flight of stairs without stopping could be another. Maybe there’s a high school or college reunion coming up in the next year.
Maybe you have created a new self image that is fit and lean, and want to support it.
Stachula says writing your goals or making a public declaration can begin the process of helping you hold yourself accountable.
And while some people have the motivation to do this on their own, many more find success if they make the change with a friend or a group.
“Social reward and affiliation are valuable parts of motivation,” Stachula says. “It helps when you find models to help shape your behavior.”
Bottom line: it’s harder to skip the gym if you know someone is meeting you there!
Tips for Achieving Your Goal
Achieving a behavior change by setting a big goal is a good idea, but, in addition, Stachula suggests setting a lot of small, achievable steps along the way that can help you succeed.
And he says to remember you can only control what you can control.
That is, you can control going to the gym or on a walk or watching your food intake. But you can’t control how the scale responds. If it doesn’t go down, don’t get discouraged. Maybe you are building muscle and that weighs more.
Just keep taking small steps – meeting “Jeff” at the Y, brushing your teeth immediately after dinner to allay the temptation of more food – and control what you can control.
*Frequent Little Rewards
Stachula suggests not focusing simply on the big goal with an attendant reward (take it from me, there is no end!), but on your progress.
That is, reward yourself in small ways as you go.
You might give yourself a new piece of fitness apparel for achieving your goal of 3 days at the Y last week. Or treat yourself to a new tea mug to enjoy your newly established afternoon tea break.
Stachula says setting aside a daily moment to remind yourself of what you are doing (and why) is another helpful technique. You might do this every day, for example, as you wait for your coffee or tea to brew.
If you’d rather reflect on your changed lifestyle throughout the day, that works, too.
Whenever you do it, reflection reinforces your commitment to your powerful reason.
*Lapses are NOT Relapses
Don’t view a lapse as a relapse. Prepare for the time you will mess up!
Professor Stachula has counseled folks with substance abuse problems and this is a message that fits anyone trying to change a behavior.
There may be failure, but have a plan for recovery. (For me, even after Thanksgiving pie, it begins with a mantra: I’m healthy and fit and go to the Y to remain so.)
Everyone who has attempted a lifestyle change knows that the psychological work is just as hard – or even harder – than the physical work.
This year, try Prof. Stachula’s techniques for the strength you need to push past the buffet line!