We are officially in mid-February and this is a make-it-or-break-it time of year. Motivation is starting to be hard to find and old habits are sneaking in. Although we are quick to blame lack of willpower, lack of self-control, etc., I have found that there are only 5 reasons people fall off track. Below I have listed the 5 reasons that people fail to keep their resolutions and the solutions what will get you through that hump 100% of the time.
You didn’t have a plan
Over the past year I have reached out to my most successful clients. The ones who have struggled with weight and health their entire life. The ones who have been on every diet, could write a nutrition book if they needed to and have never stuck to one thing. Until we worked together. Something clicked and there was a difference. As much as I would like to think it was me and that magical nutrition dust I sprinkle on each of my clients, I know that change comes from the individual being ready and having the right tools.
The tool that 100% said was the most important was having a plan. Now that isn’t necessarily a meal plan to follow but rather a thought process that takes them through the following week. It allows you think of how the days will unfold and have a specific idea where your food will come from. Food doesn’t just happen to you, and if it does it comes in the form of a burrito the size of your head.
Download my Weekly Meal Planner and think through your next week. Again, I am using the word plan but it is more of a thought process. Pay close attention to the questions at the beginning of the document that will help you think through your week.
You didn’t figure out your keystone behaviors
There are certain acts and behaviors that act as the keystones of our entire day/week. These are the things that when they don’t happen, everything unravels. Although these keystone behaviors are different for everyone, the most common two I see in my practice (and in my life) are getting to the grocery store and having breakfast.
When we don’t get food into our house we are forced to have to use willpower and healthy decision-making at every single meal and snack. This is exhausting! Moreover, if you were too busy to get to the grocery store you are probably spread really thin and your stress level is high. This is a recipe for disaster. You may be able to hold on for a day or two but at some point you are going to break, make an unhealthy decision and beat yourself up for it and spiral. This is the foundation of the “I’ll start again on Monday” mentality.
To be clear, the keystone behaviors are rarely super fun and are things that you will often want to avoid. This is why you have been stuck in that cycle for so long. In fact, it is really the only time you may have to use willpower in order to get it done. However, the reward is much greater because once that keystone is in place the rest of your week falls into place. Again, for me it is going to the grocery store. I rarely look forward to the grocery store. Especially not on my weekend when I would rather be exploring San Diego, exploring Netflix, or literally doing ANYTHING else. Yet I know that if make an excuse, pretend like I will just go on Monday or skip it altogether I will be paying the price all week.
If you are having trouble identifying your keystone behavior, think back to a disaster week and honestly look at how it unfolded. Resist the temptation to just assume you are a loser and that is why you didn’t stick with your plan. Instead, see if there was one thing that you could have done differently that would have put the kibosh on the domino effect.
Figure out your keystone behaviors and schedule time for them in your calendar. Then guard this time with your life. Again, this may not be the part of your week that you are most excited about and you may have to sacrifice something you would rather do (this happened to me recently with a Super Bowl party). However, this one action will make the rest of your week so much easier and is the foundation of your success.
You didn’t have someone holding you accountable
Accountability is key, although perhaps not in the way that you think. When we think of accountability we often think of someone that will threaten us with shame and pain if we don’t follow-through. This may be effective short term, but I would venture to guess that you are pretty good at beating yourself up. A true accountability partner will not only call you our when you mess up but, more importantly, point out the areas where you are succeeding.
One of the main things that cause people to quit is that they feel like they are failing and don’t see any reason to continue. More times than not, they had a couple of tough meals or a really bad week, but when they take a step back and look at all of the great decisions they realize that they are not quite the disaster they may have thought. An effective accountability partner will be able to incentivize you to improve while highlighting your successes.
Seek out an accountability partner. This can take many forms. It can be a small group of friends on a text chain, a Facebook group, or this is one of the main services I provide in my practice. I would encourage you to choose someone that you respect and feel close to, but not so close that it can damage the relationship – in other words, a family member or spouse may not be your best bet!
You let perfection be the enemy of good
This is a BIG one! I know you. I know that you work hard and are really good at most everything that you do. This is why you are successful in your career, your relationships, as a parent, as a friend, etc. This is an absolutely wonderful characteristic and I encourage you to embrace it and be proud of it.
Except when it comes to your food.
You see, health is not a destination. It is not a place that you get to where you only want to eat kale, think that exercise is way better than a Vikings marathon and that French fries are just plain gross. It is a management issue. Things will not always go your way, life is rarely perfect and even cold soggy French fries are somewhat good. I would rather you be good 100% of the time than perfect for a month, have one bad meal and decide that you will never succeed so now you only eat at McDonald’s.
The goal is improvement, not perfection. When things don’t go your way, ask yourself honestly if there is anything you could have done different, learn from the situation and move on.
You’re using the wrong barometer of change
As you know, I’m a scientist. Which means I LOVE numbers and measurements and graphs and predictability. What you may not know is I’m also a computer scientist (on top of the regular nerdy scientist), which means I love logic, if-then statements and consistent patterned behavior. So nutrition was an obvious choice because it has calories and grams of macro-nutrients and energy expenditure and weight and predictable outcomes.
Except no. Not at all. Not even close. Ugh, it’s actually kind of the worst.
When it comes to nutrition, weight is our go-to barometer. Unfortunately it is also the one with the most variability. More importantly, weight is a symptom, not the actual problem. The behaviors that lead to weight gain are the actual problems and when it comes down to it, the only thing that you can control. So if you want to see true change, focus on your behaviors. That is not to say that you need to let go of wanting to lose weight, but it is important to recognize that measurement is fickle and not only the best indicator of change.
Take a step back from weight and think about the behaviors that lead to it. For instance, perhaps skipping breakfast leads you to overeat at night. Try checking off on a calendar when you eat breakfast and reward that consistency. Now, it is important to remember that behaviors don’t live in a bubble. For instance, maybe you aren’t getting up in the morning to make breakfast because you are staying up late. So perhaps, the first behavior to focus on is getting to bed earlier. Be a detective and get to the source.
Of course if you want to see change you have to make changes. I want you to push yourself and take responsibility. However, if you are finding yourself in a cycle of dieting or starting and stopping, consider it might not be you that is broken. It may be your system.
Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below or head over to my Facebook page to join in the conversation!