About a month ago I sent out a survey. One of the questions I asked was: "What is your biggest frustration with your health?" The most common answer I got was along the lines of being consistent. Here are a few of the responses:
"Making better health choices consistently."
"Creating structure and consistency"
"Consistent eating and sleeping schedule"
"The strength to stick to my improved habits and putting my health and wellbeing first!"
"Implementing good practices and sticking with them"
"Staying motivated in making change"
"Consistency! I know what to do, I just have difficulty sticking to it"
"It's challenging to keep the momentum"
"Sticking to a plan"
"Creating a solid routine that lasts more than 3-6 months"
"Following through with a solid morning routine every day"
"Maintaining dietary change"
"Sticking with a routine that lasts for more than 6 months"
The number one challenge we have is being consistent. This is a big problem because I would say the number one factor that contributes to success is being consistent!
As we transition from summer into fall we tend to be pretty gung ho (spelling??) about getting back into a routine and feel motivated to start fresh with healthy habits and set intentions to do things better "this year". However, as usual we hit the ground running and then peter out and fall back into old habits and struggle yet another year with keeping up with our good intentions.
So, the big question is "how do we stay consistent with our best efforts??"
Here's a quick and dirty guide to keep you on track so you make real headway this year in improving your health or any other area that "needs improvement".
Set specific goals. "Eating better" is not a specific goal. Having a green smoothie every morning is. Specificity helps you know what actions to take and prevents procrastination. What do you want to be consistent with? What specific action do you need to take?
Create clear lines. Let's take the "eating better" example. I use the general rule – try to include something green at every meal. Setting boundaries for yourself helps you know what to say yes to and what to avoid. Give yourself clear and specific guidelines to follow.
Make your environment do the heavy lifting. Your environment is stronger than your willpower. The best thing you can do is to avoid situations and people who will derail your efforts. Get the junk food out of the house and don't buy the alcohol or chocolate if you're trying to stop indulging. Hang out with people who have the habits you want. Your environment will trigger you to engage in certain behaviors. What behaviors do you want? How can you design your physical space to prompt you to do those behaviors?
No guilt. Silence the self-defeating mental talk. Guilt erodes willpower so beating yourself up is actually counterproductive. Speak to yourself like you would a good friend or child. Buddha said "You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Track your progress. My husband is trying to lose weight. So he made a chart and taped it to the fridge. Every day he weighs himself and writes it down. The number on the scale doesn't lie. Tracking, scoring and measuring is the reality check we need to know if our efforts are paying off. If not we can course-correct measure. It's how you hold yourself accountable to your goal.
Slow and steady wins the race. We're often good starters but bad finishers. We start out motivated and excited and take on more than we can sustain for the long term. Once the motivation runs out (which it always does) we can't maintain what we started so we end up paralyzed with overwhelm and procrastination. Instead, make miniscule changes and build on them over time. Want to build a daily yoga habit? Do one sun salutation every morning this week., next week do 2. Small gains lead to big results.
Revisit your vision often. In a moment of inspiration, we'll set a goal and make a plan. And then life happens. We get distracted by the plethora of bright, shiny objects and our goals get lost in the rubble. Every quarter I mind map my intentions and goals and then that sheet of paper stays by my side for those 3 months, reminding me where to point my attention.
Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Research from Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal has shown that the number one reason why willpower fades and people fail to remain consistent with their habits and goals is that they don't have a plan for dealing with failure. Failure is inevitable. Instead of letting it derail you, make a strategy for possible obstacles and a plan for what you will do to get back on track. Cleaning up your diet? What will you order if you go out to eat?
Abandon perfection. Perfectionism is the ego in disguise. When we set impossible standards we end up procrastinating because we can’t do it "perfectly". Aim for "good enough". Consistent improvement is all you're looking for.
Make a plan and follow it – whether you feel like it or not. Your inner rebel might be strong and you might pride yourself on "going with the flow". But if you want to go somewhere specific you need a map. Your plan is your map. Stick to it and you can’t NOT get there.
Progress breeds motivation - not the other way around. We might wait until motivation knocks on the door to make changes. Little secret – motivation is a rarely there when you need it. Harness it when it comes but don't depend on it. Stick to your plan and you will make progress – which is the best motivator around.
The key to long term consistency is building momentum. The hardest part is always getting things started. But once you’re moving, staying in motion and picking up speed becomes a lot easier. Take the first step and the rest are easier. And the first step is never as hard as we think it is.