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Have A Plan And Make Bad Habits Utterly Inconvenient

03/13/2017 05:03 EDT | Updated 03/13/2017 05:03 EDT

Consistency is paramount when working toward any health goal; abstaining from cake one time will not shed stubborn pounds.

To lose weight, help lower blood pressure, improve energy or decrease anxiety, you need to change your preferences -- your daily habits -- so that more often than not you are making healthy choices.

woman gym bag

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You need to be consistently healthier. It sounds obvious, but consistency falls into the life category of "simple, but not easy."

The ability to be consistent is fostered by adopting the health goalposts of clarity and convenience.

By clarity I mean clarity of your goals and purpose. By convenience I mean orchestrating your life so that it is easy to make healthy choices and inconvenient to make unhealthy choices.

Make healthy habits convenient and unhealthy habits utterly inconvenient!

Clarity

Establish clear (i.e., specific) goals and have a strong "why." Use metrics to help set clear goals; without metrics the parameters of your goals and choices are murky and hard to measure and stick with. Don't just say "I want to lose weight" or "I will work out." Specify how much weight you want to lose or when and how often you will work out.

Remind yourself of your 'why' when you want to deviate from your health goals.

Ensure your goals align with your values. If family togetherness is most important to you, don't aim to go to the gym five days a week at dinner time -- too often you will just end up ditching the gym to be with loved ones. Instead, harness and respect your value of family. Be active with them, work out at home after dinner or do body-weight exercises as you watch your kids play sports.

Decide on your "why." Have a clear reason why you are making a particular habit change -- maybe the ability to play with your grandkids or the fitness and dexterity to participate in a sport. Remind yourself of your "why" when you want to deviate from your health goals.

Convenience

Healthy choices require energy, concentration and mindfulness. Maybe you can force yourself to train at lunch when you have energy, but after work -- especially if you go home before the gym -- mustering the motivation to train might feel next to impossible. Feeling hungry, exhausted, angry, sad or thirsty lowers resilience, which means it takes more energy and resolve to make a healthy choice.

Make bad habits as inconvenient as possible so you can't impulsively deviate from your health plan.

Instead of being surprised by your physiological needs and emotions -- we all get tired and hungry -- normalize this aspect of life and take the necessary preemptive steps.

Set yourself up for success by making healthy choices convenient.

Ensure your workout length, location and timing are realistic; the yoga studio around the corner might be conveniently located, but if you never make a class because they are too lengthy to be convenient, the benefits are moot.

Make completing your goals as easy as possible. Put your clothes out the night before you plan to train so an early workout is relatively easy, have a training bag at work so you can always duck out to train or set regular training dates with friends to create accountability.

gym alarm clock

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You also need to disassemble future roadblocks by making unhealthy habits utterly inconvenient.

Most of us can be objective about our health when temptation is low. At 3 p.m. today it might be easy to say you will get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, but actually getting up at 5 a.m. is a whole other story. Instead of expecting your future self to be superhuman and have the ability to resist all temptations, set yourself up for success. Make bad habits as inconvenient as possible so you can't impulsively deviate from your health plan.

Recognize your natural biases and emotional food triggers. Create a plan that makes it next to impossible to fall into usual bad habits. For example, I love fudge bars. I can eat the whole box in one sitting. When I am at the grocery store, the devil on my shoulder says, "Kathleen, you have enough self-control to ration these out." My rational self knows that the future Kathleen -- the tired and bored Kathleen -- will not be able to resist. So, I don't keep the bars at home. If I want a fudge bar I have one at my mom's. That way I can enjoy one with her without consuming all six in a late-night binge.

Stop looking for excuses. Instead, start to look for solutions.

Decide in advance -- when you are level-headed -- what you will do when your future self wants to deviate from your health plan. Create "if ... then" statements in advance about how you will handle any "landmine" health situations. If I want to eat a treat at a party, then I will make myself wait 15 minutes before indulging. If I decide to indulge after 15 minutes, then I will restrict myself to a portion the size of my thumb. If I want to eat in front of the TV, then I will knit instead. If I book a dinner out, then I will look at the menu before I go and decide in advance what I will eat. When I arrive I will not look at the menu; I will just order my predetermined meal.

Main take-away

Set yourself up for success. Have clear goals and reasons why you are making a health change, then orchestrate your life so that healthy choices are "easy." Demand more of yourself. Don't beat yourself up when you fall off your health horse but commit to always learning why you made the unhealthy choice and figuring out what you can do differently next time. Stop looking for excuses. Instead, start to look for solutions. Commit to something realistic -- anything -- and do it!

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