Struggling to Follow Through on Your Health or Nutrition Goals? Read this!
Two basic strategies to aim for better outcomes in the health journey.
Setting up goals can be hard.
But implementing strategies to stay accountable and motivated is extremely difficult.
You are not alone if you think the daily grind of habit development seems impossible at times.
It takes effort..
It takes time…
It takes commitment…
But mostly, I find, it takes perseverance and simplicity.
Let me approach this with a little bit of vulnerability. Since being a mom, I have found it VERY hard to stay active. There is just …. NO… time. So over the years I have worked hard to persevere in this goal. I would like to share with you these two strategies that helped me be successful in maintaining a somewhat active lifestyle.
1. Don’t underestimate the power of struggle.
Ever set a goal only to find yourself giving up as soon as you find the first obstacle? Human nature likes things to be easy; and yet, we take delight in accomplishing things that take time, effort, patience and commitment. Think of how rewarding it can be to eat lettuce from your garden or set up your baby’s nursery. Finding purpose shapes our life; we are wired to attain meaning through the struggle in acquiring things we find true and beautiful. Health habits are one of those things that we pursue with grit and toil; and also one of those things that we find ourselves wanting to give up altogether.
But that’s just it. There is true wisdom in struggling. For it is only by trying and failing that we can learn what worked, what did not work and where we are stuck. Struggling means you are giving something a shot. Struggling means you are trying to implement something and are having to put more effort and more thought into it—struggling means showing up, vulnerably. Struggling really means living authentically.
In a world so deeply entrenched in perfectionism it is so easy to confuse struggling with failing. But it is most certainly not! The main difference lies in that struggling implies the resilience to BEGIN AGAIN as soon as you have gone off the course, to start anew, to keep trying. At the next meal, in the next opportunity to swap take out for that deliberate homemade meal, in the next impulse to fill your fear, or your worth, your boredom, or your daily stress with emotional eating, or in the next trigger to give in to eating disorder thoughts, just take a deep breath and BEGIN AGAIN. There is deep power in willfully choosing at the very next opportunity to try to implement that goal you have so carefully crafted. It requires the immense courage of letting go of guilt and shame, the humbling capacity to forgive yourself and gently find ways to get back at it again. I often think of my stumbling toddler, with what ease and joy he gets up again, he assures me that falling is just part of the fun.
On days where I have struggled at every opportunity to get activity in, I have found the best approach is to laugh at myself and resolve to keep trying tomorrow. I stop myself from reciting a mental litany of self-pity, and instead I embrace the wonders of my breath as I sink into my bed. This moment, though silly, is comforting enough to not sabotage my future efforts. Tomorrow is a new day – I think – and recommit concretely to my SMART goal (or revamp it if need be).
2. Through the hussle; plan, think, evaluate and most importantly, simplify.
When I realized how hard it was to stay active while raising four little ones, I recognized a big part of the problem was that my goal was too vague and too complex. So I learned to specify it by simplifying or decluttering my environment.
I simplified the goal.
Setting SMART goals is certainly effective, the more concrete the goal is the more we have specified the what, the how, the why, the where, the when, which then triggers and re-triggers the best possibility of action.
Starting very small is one great way of simplifying.
In my case, saying I would exercise for 30 min everyday was doom for disaster, it was unrealistic; yet saying I would exercise for 30 min 3 days a week also was too complex, because life with kids is full of distractions and unpredictability. Instead, to initiate action I opted for a goal which considered the most basic consistent unit of action. So, I set the goal to be “I would exercise EVERY day for 10 minutes only”. The great thing was that because 10 minutes was mentally manageable, once I got going, generally I would end up exercising 5, 10, 15 even 20 minutes more than intended.
I simplified the environment.
Organizing your space, while a time-consuming task, can be instrumental in gaining momentum with habit development. In my case, this meant reorganizing the entrance closet so that my shoes, yoga matt, dumbbells and props were very accessible. Since that untimely tantrum or sibling argument could get in the way of meeting those 10 minutes, I knew I had to be prepared whenever the opportunity arose.
I also simplified the steps.
Going upstairs to get changed for exercise was a big obstacle: was it even worth it for 10 minutes? Often, as soon as I was finally dressed I would come down to that bombastic meltdown. A game-changer was investing in clothes that had a beautiful everyday fit but that I could exercise in at any moment (lululemon is a charm that way). This meant one less step in the equation.
I also simplified my screen time.
Think about it, how easy is it to waste 10 minutes on instagram, facebook, tik tok, you name it! Boom, while intending to set up the timer for my exercise, one notification led to zero time for exercise, and 30 minutes lost in idle phone time. I soon recognized the only way around this was by sticking to a screen time schedule. I also bought a cheap ironman wrist-watch so that I could look at the time and set the timer without the distraction of apps, instant messages, chats, etc.
I hope this reassures you that acquiring new habits or letting go of bad ones is a process not a destination. When I get thrown off balance, I realize that as they say, the struggle for today is the strength for tomorrow.
Do a little experiment on yourself
- Write a SMART health goal.
- Simplify your (physical, mental, technological, etc.) environment to implement that goal.
- Choose a way to track your progress. An APP or a paper calendar, a visual post-it in your bathroom mirror, whatever works!
- If you don’t meet your goal for a day, smile at yourself, take a deep breath, drink a cup of tea (or whatever gives you peace!) and BEGIN AGAIN at the next opportunity.
- Put a phone reminder 3, 6, 9 and 12 months after you started your goal, and trace the journey of where you have gone. It may help you see how valuable it is to simply struggle.
Looking for more support with your health goals? We are here to help!
As Registered Dietitians that specialize in meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health, heart health, diabetes, pediatric nutrition and sports nutrition we can help you with YOUR health goals in a way that works for you.
We offer in-person services at our local Calgary office or as an Online Dietitian by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counselling.
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Daniela O’Brien is known for her contagious smile, warm approachability and collaborative approach to nutrition counselling for individuals and families. Her non-judgemental, calm demeaner mixed with confidence and clear direction is especially helpful when families are struggling with meal planning challenges, picky eating, health issues and complex eating disorders. Daniela specializes in Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Weight Concerns, Pre/Post-natal, Infant/Kids/Family Nutrition and offers services in both English and Spanish.