New Year, New You, Can you start by changing just 1% of what you do?
"That’s it, I’m giving up alcohol/smoking/chocolate/[insert whatever it is you feel you’ve overindulged in here]"
Following Christmas, many of us feel driven to make drastic changes and ambitious goals in retribution for our December indulgences.
Whilst our motivation is in the right place, these goals tend to put us under unnecessary pressure where we feel we have to make all of the positive changes at once and do them perfectly without any slip-ups, otherwise, it’s all been in vain.
This isn’t effective and frankly, it’s not an enjoyable way to live your life. This cycle of crime (overindulging) and then punishment (restriction and deprivation) is just too hard to maintain both physically and mentally.
Self-control is like a muscle, try to exercise it too much and you will become exhausted and dissatisfied when your goals are not achieved in the manner you had hoped for.
Hence, why after a few weeks we tend to give in to temptation, fall off the wagon and end up feeling like we are back to square one again.
The research repeatedly shows that setting goals enhances your likelihood of success in developing healthy habits (Stretcher, 2005). The trouble is many people don’t go about goal setting in the right way and therefore are less likely to succeed. People tend to focus far too much on the outcome ‘losing a stone’ rather than the daily processes and systems they need to get there.
It is better to go to the gym once a week for 7 weeks (this helps build a habit) than to go 7 times in one week only to injure yourself and never return.
The truth is adopting healthy habits needs be a gradual process in order for it to be maintainable, it needs to be achieved through consistent, small, but positive, changes in your lifestyle.
So how do you get started in the right way?
Instead of focusing on making giant leaps towards a lofty goal, look at paring back.
You can do this by asking yourself, what is the smallest step I can take today for my health?
One principle that encapsulates this approach is the Japanese principle of Kaizen. Kaizen is based on the efficacy of making small but incremental improvements over time. The principle of Kaizen details that instead of forcing big changes that can put you under too much pressure and de-motivate you if you do not achieve them, making small but consistent changes is more likely to lead to the long-term results you desire.
All whilst not feeling like you are missing out or being deprived of the things you enjoy.
Instead of a big audacious goal, the principle of kaizen helps you to design a great system or process. Even when your short-term goals are achieved, your next goal won’t be a struggle. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process makes a huge difference.
When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the now and improve at the same time.
How can you apply the Kaizen principle to your healthy habits?
- Focus on 1% improvement: The idea here is to focus on consistent improvements in your dietary and exercise practices, every day. No matter how small the step you take, the aim is to be a better than you were yesterday. To quantify this, each day try to do 1% better than the day before.
Be that eating 1% less processed food than normal, leaving 1% dessert behind on your plate, having 1% smaller portion of wine (maybe using a smaller glass or not having a refill), doing 1 minute longer exercise session or 1% higher intensity.
- Be consistent. It might not seem like much, but those 1% improvements cumulatively result in big changes over time. In the beginning, your improvements will be so small that they seem practically nonexistent. But gradually and ever so slowly, you’ll start to notice the improvements. It may take months or even longer but the improvements will come and they will come without you feeling like you have had to sacrifice too much.
- Be specific – pick 3 things. Think of the smallest steps you can take every day that would move you incrementally towards your goal. Make a list for this week, what 3 things do you wish to make 1% improvement in? And try to do these 1% better each day.
Before you dive in ask yourself am I 70% confident I can achieve a 1% improvement each day in these three things? If not maybe pare back. If 3 things seem too much maybe look at doing 2 things. What 2 things can you make 1% improvement on, all week? This could be as simple as having 1% less sugar in your tea, using the stairs 1% more, whatever best applies to your lifestyle that fits in with your health goals.
Be it January or June successfully achieving your health goals requires two things, patience and consistency. If we rush towards the finish line we are unlikely to be able to sustain the changes we have made long term. If you put too much pressure on yourself to get results too quickly you will just as quickly give up. So why not try and start by simply making each day 1% healthier than the last?