Why Is It So Hard to Make Change Stick?
Having motivation to eat healthy doesn’t come out of thin air. Wanting to live a better life isn’t suddenly manifested in a day dream. The desire to change doesn’t pop into your mind while you’re doing dishes. The desire to change is the result of reflective thinking over time. Change is something you want to happen so why doesn’t it happen? Even though it is a desire, it is difficult to follow through with changes. That’s because change in itself is not just the recognition of wanting it to happen, or the act of performing the new action, it is the formation of new habits. Developing new habits takes time, effort, and it looks different for everyone. That’s why there are countless books, guides, videos, articles and podcasts that describe how to do it. Believe me, I’ve read them all! And through that reading, as well as paying attention to how I’ve been successful in the past, I noticed similar reoccurring strategies. They have come together to become the three specific tips for making change stick. Each specific technique is explained and illustrated using the example of nutritional habits to help you visualize what they look like in action (but they work for any kind of lifestyle change). 1. Identify Your Current Behaviors We are the sum of our behaviors more so than our parts. Paying attention to the behaviors that shape your parts is a great place to start when you’re making a nutritional lifestyle change. Pay attention to both your positive and negative behaviors. Reflect on the process of your current food habits to understand why you do what you do and how you can go about developing new habits. Ask yourself questions like these:
- What do I eat that makes me feel best?
- What usually happens right before I eat something that doesn’t make me happy about my choice?
- How often do I eat?
- What do I eat most?
- What do I have an aversion to?
Knowing yourself will allow you to identify triggers of behavior which will come in handy when you work to create new habits. Knowing where you fall short will also help you develop a stronger sense of willpower. Understanding how we got where we are is the first step to getting where we want to be.
2. Develop Willpower
You know your current behaviors. You know what you want your new behaviors to be. Willpower is the bridge between the two. If you’re starting a new meal plan or thinking about the possibility of starting one (click here for more guidance if that’s you!), it is the ability to say no to foods that aren’t in line with your goals that will help you most. Here are some super specific things you can do to make that “NO” happen:
- Imagine every possible way you could fail and write it down. Doing this will help you be proactive and notice triggers for slipping up on your new diet.
- Remove any temptations that might encourage you to slip up. Clean out the fridge and cupboards and if possible, plan to start your change during a non-holiday season so you’re not as tempted.
- Understand that a mistake isn’t a lack of willpower and you will make one from time to time. Have a plan for getting back on track after you do.
- Prepare. Don’t leave your behaviors up to chance. Make your food in advance, or have a healthy meal service deliver it to you so that you don’t have to work too hard to do the right thing.
3. Create Habits
The first two steps are about avoiding undesirable habits and the final, most important step, is about developing new ones. You can only say no for so long. To make change stick you need to put yourself in a position where the lifestyle change is no longer a change for you, but who you are. Instead of needing motivation to eat healthy, you simply eat healthy when good habits are ingrained. Creating habits takes time, but can be done with these strategies:
- Use the triggers you identified in step 1 to lead to new habits. For example if you always eat chocolate after a bad day at work, put a note on the fridge that says, “eating a healthy snack will turn a bad day into an opportunity to do something good for yourself!”
- Everytime you engage in a new habit, visualize what success will look to help you remember why you’re doing it. If you wanted to drink more water (because hydration is key 🙂 ), then each time you take a sip picture how much better your skin will look (or whatever other reason motivates you).
Although implementing these three techniques may be difficult, the good news is that with time comes practice. And with practice comes ease. You will get better at making a lifestyle change. Then the next time you’re looking to reinvent a habit, whether it deals with nutrition or not, you’ll know just how to do it! In Health,