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The One Question You Need to Answer for Successful Change

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’ve survived another holiday season! You have now entered January, that time of year when we wipe the slate clean and take what I like to call the X Games approach to changing your health & fitness. Every form of media encourages various extreme approaches to eating and exerise: cleanses, eat-kale-with-every-meal, no.carbs.EVER, insane 30 day workout, or maybe a 12 minute beg-for-mercy workout. Fast forward a year from now, and where will you be? Patting yourself on the back for never eating carbs or sugar? Or will you be full circle, vowing to try the next latest and greatest approach to a healthy 2020?

It’s not your fault. For one thing, it’s confusing out there. We have information overload in our digital age. We’re also sold a false bill of goods every January in the form of 30 day, or 3 week, or perhaps <gasp> a 12 week plan to achieve our healthiest, most shredded self. People often ask me if the plan they’re considering will work for them. I ask all of them this question, THE ONE you need to answer yes to, in order to be successful:

“Is this plan one that you are willing to stick with forever?”

Because if I’m being totally honest, the only change that sticks is the one that you are ready, willing, and able to keep doing for the rest of your life. I can hear audible groaning at this point, but stick with me for a minute. If you take it step by step, and focus on the following 5 things, you can make effective changes within the context of real life.

Meet Yourself Where You Are

If you’re not an elite athlete, you’re probably not planning on competing in the next Olympics. So why would you go all in for kale when you haven’t eaten a vegetable in the last 6 months? Think of your fitness and eating on a continuum, decide where you are now, and what a little better looks like. If you’re not exercising at all, begin with walking. If you’re already working out and not getting the results you want, try a different type of exercise or class. If you rely on the drive thru for most of your meals, try making some meals at home. If you’ve been eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly and aren’t making progress, hire a qualified personal trainer or nutrition coach to help you form a plan. Continually striving for better instead of a hardcore extreme gives you the best chance for long term success.

What is Your Why

Whatever your goal, really dig in. Aligning your actions (e.g., eating healthier) with your values (e.g., I want to continue to be mobile and healthy as I age) helps you stay focused on your purpose. Start by stating what you want to do and then answering the 5 Whys:

For example, let's say you want to lose weight:

  • Why do I want to do this? (Because I want to improve my health and take some long hikes with my family.)

  • And why is that important to me? (Because I'd like to lower my health risks and spend time enjoying our national parks.)

  • Why is that important? (Because I want to be around to enjoy my family for as long as I can and be a positive role model.)

  • What difference will that make? (It will bring us closer together and hopefully help them to have healthy lives.)

  • Why does that matter? (It will allow me to live my life to the fullest with fewer regrets.)

We all set some goals this time of year (e.g., exercise more), but without deeper context (e.g. I want to keep up with my kids, I want to stay active as I age), it’s hard to stay the course. Having a destination that is more meaningful to you helps you to keep calm and carry on, i.e., be consistent. Give yourself some time to work through this one. You will thank yourself when the inevitable monkey wrench gets thrown into your plan and you have a clear reminder of what's important to you.

Consistency is Key

Consistent action is the key to any change you want to make. There's no need for perfection (which actually gets in the way), just an overall trend of sticking to your plan over time. In case I'm not being clear, CONSISTENCY IS KEY!

Patience, My Dear

You already know this deep down inside. Our current culture is all about the quick fix and immediate gratification. You can get answers to almost any question by just asking Google or Alexa and there are reality TV shows showing transformation for all aspects of our lives in just a matter of weeks. Especially if you have long term health or weight loss goals, it’s going to take TIME. Just keep breathing and revisit your 5 Whys. Staying the course with your daily actions is the most important factor. You can do this!

Make Every Day a Success

It’s far easier to stick to your plan when you are feeling successful, even when those successes are small. How? By making small changes that you are confident you can achieve. Being successful not only feels good, but boosts your ability to make further change. Look at every day as an opportunity to make a deposit into your healthy life account. Just like interest on a bank account, these small practices will compound over time. The positive feedback loop of success will keep you on track today, next month, and for all of the new years to come.

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