When this post goes live, I will celebrate my seventh wedding anniversary. My husband is likely my biggest supporter for everything in life. He has always been there for me, helping to boost my confidence and ease my anxieties, and encouraging me to stay positive and focused on my goals.
No matter how excited you are about creating healthy habits, you need supporters who will be there for you. When you have support, you have people who believe in you—even when you have a hard time believing in yourself. You have people who will be there for you, whether it is your workout buddy who says "sure, I'll meet you at 6 a.m.," or your spouse who offers to watch the kids while you shop for healthy foods.
Several of my clients have found themselves struggling to find support. They include, for example:
• The "social butterfly," who is known to throw back a few too many cocktails and doesn't want to disappoint friends with his or her new health-conscious lifestyle;
• The mom who does it all but has no "me time" for exercise and feels too guilty to ask anyone for help;
• The dad who doesn't want to burden his spouse by asking her to prepare food more healthfully or add more veggies to family meals; and
• The person who isn't motivated to exercise unless they have an appointment with a trainer or a friend.
If any of these sound like you, or you easily come up with your own examples of difficulties with change due to lack of support, you may want to take note of how getting support can help with your long-term success.
Why Consistency Is Crucial
When it comes to behavior changes, the key is consistency. There are no "quick fixes." You can't do anything for two weeks and expect life-long benefits. When you set goals to change your behavior, it's like getting married. You make a commitment for the rest of your life. For better or for worse. In my opinion, you can't do it alone. Everyone needs someone (or more than one person) to rely on to help you consistently meet your goals. Maybe you do better with a workout buddy. I know I do. It's more fun, and having a scheduled commitment means I won't end up skipping my workout. Maybe you need someone to take the kids off your hands. You are not a bad parent for needing a couple hours for a rejuvenating yoga class. Or maybe it is easier for you to prepare a few family meals when you aren't worried about what the kids are doing. Maybe you need someone who can help keep you accountable, someone to whom you can say, "You know, I'm really eating out too much and would like to bring my lunch every day this week. Will you brown bag it with me?"
How to Physically Create a Habit
You may have heard that it takes 30 days to change a habit. In fact, it could take a lot longer. While 30 days is a great start, building a habit means rewiring your brain—literally. When you start out, you don't have much past experience with the "new" habit, or maybe you tried a new approach and it didn't work. Your confidence is usually low in the beginning, even if you are excited about a different way of doing things. You aren't 100 percent sure the habit is going to stick. If you could open up your brain, you would see that your brain doesn't have the "wiring" yet for that habit. This is why it is a challenge. But when you consistently create a routine, the brain learns the habit, making it easier for you to complete your intended task. With consistency and time, it eventually becomes second nature. Think back to when you first learned to ride a bike. Did you pedal away like Lance Armstrong? No! You fell a few times before building the skills.
Aim for Progress, Not Perfection
Having an understanding mindset that you should set goals and work at them consistently, expecting progress and not perfection is essential for successfully building your new habits. It is literally how your brain operates. If you really want to assess your progress toward your goals, give yourself a good three to six months of consistent effort and progress before you start measuring the impact of your changes. Sure, you can (and should) set tangible goals each week and track your progress. They might include, for example, three hours of exercise, a half-plate of veggies at lunch and dinner, and a one-hour limit of T.V. time so you can get more sleep. Each week, make sure you have the time and resources to complete the goals you set for yourself. It is quite possible that you have something that is a higher priority that week; you will do your best to keep your other goals on your schedule, but you might not do as good of a job as you would like. Guess what? That's OK. You have your support system to ask for help and you have next week to refocus.
Finding and Using Your Support System
1. Take out a sheet of paper, and draw a line down the middle.
2. On the left side, write down the names of people you feel are already your supporters or could become supporters of yours.
2. On the right side, make a list of people you feel could be saboteurs—get in the way of your goals. (Yes, the same person could be in both columns.) Don't worry, you can turn a saboteur into a supporter. You just need to talk to him or her. A saboteur needs to hear you explain your goals and ask for help. You don't need to "call out" this person as a saboteur. You just need to express your needs. True friends and people who care about you will jump at the chance to help you. Don't be surprised if they ask you for support as well.
3. Make a short list of your goals, and identify what already feels easy to you now and what is more challenging. Write down what types of things are likely to get in the way of your success.
4. Enlist your cheer team. Now that you have barriers, you know where you need supporters. Pick at least one area where you will ask for specific support. I bet you will find that your supporter-to-be appreciates that you value their help, and you will realize how much better it is to have a supporter on your team.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, helps empower people to build healthy lifestyles. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C., based registered dietitian and fitness expert who encourages clients to find exercise that feels great, learn to manage stress, and establish lifelong eating skills that balance individual nutrition needs with hunger and pleasure. Visit her blog at: www.rebeccathinks.com.