Let’s face it, our plans for the near future are out the window. In many states (and countries) people are finding themselves restricted to their homes and away from normal activities. This confinement or isolation, whether self-imposed or otherwise, can play havoc on our mental and physical wellbeing. We are now in new territory. How can we manage our behaviors and stay healthy?
Start With Journaling.
In order to manage what we do, we need know what it is that we’re doing. Patterns are going to start to emerge and writing down what you do will help you decipher the good from the not so good. Set an alarm on your watch, your phone, Alexa, or other device to go off every hour. Stop what you’re doing and just note what you did in the last hour. i.e. 9-10am watched TV for 45 minutes, got up, made a cup of coffee and grabbed a danish, sat back down and continued watching TV. After a couple days of journaling, you will start to see the patterns, like grabbing that danish with your coffee each morning. Then, with it laid out in front of you, you can start to determine what needs to change. Make a list of those changes.
ITTT: If This, Then That
Take that list and come up with contingency plans. If this, then that (ITTT). Write down those plans.
Say that you know that danish is going to catch up to you and pack on a few pounds. ITTT, “If I get up for your coffee, then I will have a piece of fruit instead of the danish.
Maybe you realize that you’re sitting too much. ITTT, “If I sit for an hour, then I will go outside and walk around the house for 10 minutes before I sit down again.”
What if you find yourself feeling very anxious and fearful about what’s going on in the world. ITTT, “If I find myself thinking about COVI-19 and am fearful for myself and others, then I will take five minutes and meditate, focusing only on my breath. (Try the Headspace app)
You could also find yourself feeling very isolated these days. ITTT, “If I don’t talk to anybody outside of my household by the time I finish dinner, then I will call or face time one of my friends before I do anything else.” After all, social connection is very important to our mental health.
The use of ITTT is very much like stacking habits, but, hopefully you’re managing these behaviors before they actually become habits.
I hope this helps. It’s a new and stressful time for everyone and you’re not alone.
Stay safe. Stay healthy.
I’ve been doing a deep dive in the area of motivational interviewing (MI). While I was trained as a wellness coach over 15 years ago, the techniques of MI add another layer to my ability to help people change. In fact, I’ll be presenting the topic to other personal trainers at a conference in March on how they can use it to help their clients. I also believe that if you learn the concepts of MI, it can help you create your own change. Here are a few basics of MI to assist you in making changes in your life.
Let me start by saying that MI is a tool in overcoming ambivalence, or the uncertainty when being pulled in two different directions. This is seen when there is a desire to change and a desire to not change. We’ve all experienced this. I would like to spend more time writing and I want to binge watch my latest Netflix series (which happens to be the 2nd season of the new Lost In Space). Both desires are there in me. I am ambivalent about changing. So, when we find ourselves ambivalent about changing, what can we do?
Change Talk and Sustain Talk
In MI, the practitioner listens to his or her client talk about what they would like to do. The practitioner is listening for change talk (talk expressing why change is important) and sustain talk (talk that supports them not changing). The practitioner acknowledges the sustain talk to the client when it is heard and when he or she hears change talk, they will likely ask you to get into more in depth with it. In example, if you say, “I know I should be exercising (change talk), but I don’t have any time (sustain talk).” The practitioner might reply, “Time is tight. You don’t seem to be able to fit anything else in (acknowledging sustain talk) and (not but, they are are not mutually exclusive) you know you should be working out (acknowledging change talk). Tell me more about why working out is important to you.” (asking you to dig deeper into change talk)
Dig Deeper Into Change Talk
Talking about your reasons to change in greater depth accomplishes a couple of things.
- It helps you discover or bring to light more reasons why the change is important to you. Say you wanted to lose weight and were asked to say a little more about why losing weight was important to you. Maybe your doctor said that your blood pressure was high and that losing weight could help lower it. Maybe you want to stay healthy so you can be an active father or mother for your kids.
- As you articulate more reasons why change is important, you strengthen your resolve to change.
You Can Accomplish Big Things When You Set Your Mind to It
Is changing too difficult? That thought pops into all of our minds at some point. “I can’t. It’s just too hard!” Of course, as the saying goes, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” – Henry Ford. To help you have more confidence in your ability to change, explore past times that you have accomplished something challenging. As you find situations that you were able to overcome, it helps you recognize that the traits that you had for those challenges can help you with upcoming ones.
Nobody Knows You Better
There are experts in the world that know more than most about a particular subject. They will tell us that we should be doing this or that we shouldn’t be doing that. I have been a personal trainer for 40 years and have never stopped learning. So, my knowledge of exercise prescription is very good. However, no matter how well equipped I am to dictate what behaviors can create change for Joe or Jane Average, I am not an expert on you (nor is anyone else). Only you are. I don’t know your full history, or what really drives you, or your internal battles, or what ultimately is the best path for you. MI practitioners are facilitators, getting you to explore your own feelings, reasons for change, and strategies to make that change happen. If you find yourself without the answers, MI practitioners can help you fill in the gaps.
Knowing yourself as you do, decide what the next step should be. Create an action plan. Start with, “Tomorrow (or other set date), I will…” (Remember, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”- Yoda) That doesn’t mean you can’t fail. However, if a strategy doesn’t work, simply modify it and start again.
Now, let’s discuss how you can implement this for yourself. A large part of MI is that the act of hearing yourself, your words, talking about why change is important, that you have the traits that can help you overcome challenges, and your action plan for that change, creates a greater willingness and confidence in sticking to that plan and reaching your goal. Since you won’t be with a MI practitioner, how can you “hear” yourself? Find a recording medium of your choice, video, audio, record it by typing it into a document, or write it by hand in a journal. Then go through the process of:
- Talk about what you want to change or accomplish
- Note your sustain talk and your change talk
- Dig deeper into the change talk. Ask yourself more about what reaching your goal might mean, how your life might be different
- Talk about times you’ve overcome obstacles and what traits allowed you to do that
- List some strategies that you could implement that would help you on your way
- Give a specific time when you will begin
- Reassess weekly. Repeat any steps needed and record what went well, what did not, what alterations to the plan are needed, and reaffirm what changing will mean to you
Give It a Shot
and let me know how it goes. Best wishes, Mark
Disclaimer to MI Practitioners:
In being a very brief, static, one-sided blog post to a general population of which I know no specifics, I have broken many of the rules of MI. Please allow me a little leeway. I am writing about this in an attempt to empower the reader to make their own path for change.
Are you thinking about making resolutions for 2020? According to History.com, the practice of making new year resolutions has been around for thousands of years and what we now call resolutions used to be promises made to the gods to behave better in the upcoming year. Resolutions are now made to ourselves in an effort to better ourselves and/or our lives. While 45 percent of Americans make resolutions, only 8 percent are actually successful. If we’re so bad at keeping them, why do we keep on making them?
Well, there’s something very attractive about new beginnings. So, a new year, a new month, a new day seems like an ideal time start something new. I personally believe that so many people fail because they’re making this resolution for the year, “this year I will…”, and have given themselves a year to accomplish it and therefore make the goal a big one. That, in itself, is not the problem. A year is actually a good amount of time to make some real changes, but, people don’t create a gradual plan for the year. They create a crash course that they intend on keeping until they reach their goal. “I will run 5 miles every day.” “I’ll only eat salads.” “I will meditate for an hour every day.” Starting from square one, each of these are too severe to expect to be able to maintain them. They end up falling off the wagon and, feeling defeated, give up never having reached their goal. The best way to reach your goal is to start with a small behavior to change, one small step forward. Then, as your body and your mind are ready for it, you can progress to something more challenging. Running 5 miles might begin as walking a half mile every other day. See how it feels after the first week and maybe add a day or progress to a half mile walk/run.
If you want to achieve your resolution, create a progression. Rather than trying to take one giant leap, start with a small step. The idea of committing to smaller steps is easier on us physically, mentally, and takes less time to chisel out of our schedule. Once the first small step is taken, a second one can happen, then a third. Sustainable change is the accumulation of small progressive steps.
As the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu
There’s something out there that nobody is telling you. It’s the secret to living a healthier, more active, more productive life. It can completely change your body, it can give you more energy, make you disease resistant, help your brain to function better, turn back the clock and keep you younger longer. Sounds great, right? Well, I’m going to share that secret with you and it won’t cost you a thing.
Move more and eat a balanced diet!
I know you’re saying, “Wait? What? That’s not a secret.” Darn right, and there is no secret. Don’t you think that if there really was a secret formula, workout, miracle food, or cream, we would all know about it by now. It just does’t exist. Sure you can probably workout more effectively and eat healthier, but there is no miraculous product or potion being kept from you.
Why is it that people keep looking for that magic pill or shortcut then? Well, we live in a world where we can get so much instantly (so, it becomes an expectation) and there are so many salespeople out there promising us that they have the secret formula that we think they can’t all be lying (without calling them liars, they are, at least, misleaders). Finally, people want desperately to believe there is a quicker, easier way and (sorry to say) there just isn’t.
Don’t be sucked into the hype of mystery and the dream of a shortcut. If you want to reach your goal sooner, start and commit to the journey sooner. This requires an attitude adjustment.
You need to give yourself permission to:
- not reach your goal overnight.
- take baby steps so that you won’t be overwhelmed.
- fail and fail again. Just recognize what went wrong, adjust and keep coming back.
- stay the course and not get pulled away by “the grass is always greener” of new product or diet.
Don’t wait around for the next big thing. Get started now using the tried and true. It may not be exciting but, ultimately reaching your goal will be.
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills
Most people understand that they should exercise. They know that they would be healthier if they did. They also know that if they could make healthier food choices and manage their stress. So, why don’t they?
Well there are plenty of reasons for not working out, changing your diet, or trying to combat stress. The explanations typically start with, “I know I should ________, but…” These “buts” are actually “ands”. You may think that they are mutually exclusive, but, they’re not. “I know I need to start exercising and I am too busy to go to the gym.” Both can be true.
Let’s look at some real reasons for not changing:
- Making time to workout will be hard.
- My body aches and I don’t feel like working out.
- I’m tired all of the time and I don’t feel like working out.
- When I get stressed or depressed, eating comforts me.
- Eating is one of my pleasures in life and I don’t want to give that up.
- I don’t like the taste of “healthy” food.
- Meditation is too weird for me.
- It’s easier to just keep doing what I’m doing.
All of these things could be true and they cannot just be ignored for “the better good”. These are also strong anchors keeping us moving forward with change. To get beyond these and begin the change process, address your reasons for not changing. In example, say your body aches and you don’t feel like working out. Start by asking yourself how you could make your body hurt less. Maybe it’s by warming your body up through a short series of mobility or stretching movements. Try it. Don’t worry about working out yet. Simply try to lessen the hold that the aching has on you. Another example might be not liking the taste of “healthy” food. Start by looking at what you do eat and like. Surely something there is healthy. You can eat more of the healthy food that you are already eating. Then take a look at where you might be able to make small tweaks in other foods that you are eating. Maybe a little less sugar in your coffee or a smaller portion of that pizza.
The key to overcoming obstacles to change is to acknowledge them, tweak them to lessen their hold, and then, when you know they are no longer holding you back, add a small amount of the behavioral change you want. Add a little more activity. Throw in a small amount of healthier food on your plate. Take a few minutes to just breathe and relax at your most stressful point of the day.
Give it a try. If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments below.
Having the right habits in place is important to our businesses and our lives. When it comes to breaking old habits or creating new ones, one thing that can help is to use existing habits as cornerstones to change. The idea of stacking habits is when you add a new habit directly after something you already do habitually. “When I do “X”, I will then do “Y”.
To use this you first have to acknowledge those things that you do automatically throughout your day. Say your alarm goes off in the morning, what do you do first? Second? Third? In example, I know I 1) get up, 2) go to the bathroom, 3) make myself a cup of coffee, 4) sit down and read emails, then 5) go through social media, yada, yada… Once you have created a list of your habits, you can start to tack on an additional task in the appropriate place.
Say, you want to start writing a blog. Your evening routine is to eat dinner, clean up the dinner dishes, watch tv until 11pm, brush your teeth, and go to bed. You could stack writing into that schedule. “When I finish cleaning up the dinner dishes, I will sit down and write for 30 minutes before I turn the tv on…” You’ll have to keep reminding yourself for awhile, but this will soon become habit.
That’s to add a new behavior. You can also stack habits to help break or change bad habits. Maybe you come home from work and, before you even change out of your work clothes, immediately snack on chips or some other junk food. You could insert a behavior to help break that one. “As soon as I get home, I will go to the kitchen, take 5 minutes and eat an apple, then change my clothes, and then, if I still want chips, I can have them. The fact is that once you’ve cut your hunger by having an apple, and stalled the routine further by changing your clothes, you will find yourself in more control and be less likely to want the junk food.
By linking a new behavior to something you are already doing (stacking habits), you create an anchor for the new behavior and are much more likely to stick with it then if you just tell yourself to do the new behavior at some random point.
Try it out. I’d love to hear how this works for you.
“Arrgh! I just blew my diet! I can’t do this! It’s too hard for me. I’m such a loser.” “Working out is too hard. I’ll never be able to keep it up!” Have these statements or something similar ever crossed your mind? We can be very cruel to ourselves when it comes to our inner voice and just because it’s us giving the verbal abuse, doesn’t make it any less damaging than if it was someone at home or work dishing it out. Just like abuse from an external source, this kind of negative self-talk can have some pretty serious effects on an individual.
Some of the harmful effects include:
- increased stress and anxiety
- increases feelings of depression
- decreased self-esteem
- limited success in whatever you’re trying to accomplish (let’s face it, you’ll talk yourself right out of trying)
We are what we believe ourselves to be. So, don’t diminish yourself. Change is difficult and you will have ups and downs. Expect that. It’s part of the process. However much you do, it’s more than you’ll be doing if you quit and every little bit helps. Tell yourself how well you’re doing as you challenge yourself to change. Be your own friend.
Note: maybe you start a negative self-talk jar (like a swear jar) and every time you talk down to yourself, you have to put in a dollar. Save the money up to do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
I know this sounds a little flippant, but the point I’m really trying to make is that the act of getting more fit doesn’t require a major time commitment, or gut wrenching effort, it just requires you to do a little more than you are currently. That increase in activity will start you on your way to change.
When thinking about doing more, there are a few variables that you can consider. Choose one to start with.
- More Frequency – This could be more times per week or even more times per day. Maybe what you’re currently doing is a five or ten minute walk in the morning with your dog. More frequency might mean taking an extra five minute walk at lunch and/or before dinner. If you’re actually hitting the gym twice a week, maybe you squeeze in one more workout in the week (even a short one).
- More Intensity – This essentially means making the effort level higher. This can be done by increasing the speed of movement, the resistance, or, if you are doing intervals or sets, decreasing the rest in between.
- More Duration – Do what you’ve been doing, but longer. This could be more time or more repetitions (which will also take more time).
So, no matter what you have heard about the time and effort it takes to get fit, changing your fitness level doesn’t require endlessly long or endlessly intense workouts. It just requires that you do more than you are currently doing.
“Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You’ll Ever Need” was a book I read on networking by Harvey Mackay. The premise is that, because both digging a well and building a network take time, if you wait to start until you need it, it is going to be too late to help you.
Recently, it occurred to me that many people do the same thing with health and wellness. They wait until they have problems before they seek a solution. Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.” and that certainly holds true with our health.
Now, while it’s never too late to start, it can be a lot more difficult fighting your way back from injuries or illness than if you had begun before there was a problem. Proper nutrition and exercise can help with so many health and wellness issues, that the sooner you start, the more likely you are to avoid or postpone them.
If you’re not currently working toward better health and fitness, what are you waiting for? Move more. Better your diet. Manage your stress. Dig your well(ness) before you’re thirsty.