We always find that when someone chooses to lose weight, they create a list in their mind of the things they should do in order to reach their goals.
Eight years ago, mine were:
Run 10km a day
Avoid carbs as often as possible
Do weight sessions on top of my 10km run
Avoid Ice cream
Weigh 57kg or less
Just reading this list exhausts me, and trust me when I say willpower runs out! The results never came, or if they did they didn’t last because I didn’t enjoy the process - and nor was it sustainable. In hindsight, all of these “shoulds” were the reason I didn’t get/maintain the results I wanted.
When I stopped thinking about what I should do and started thinking about what I wanted to do, then I started to see a difference. I went from doing hours of cardio and weights a day to just doing weights, because that’s what I enjoyed! I went from never allowing myself to have ice cream to incorporating it into my diet. I stopped worrying about a specific number on the scales, and instead focused on building a healthy lifestyle that I actually enjoyed. I went doing what I felt I should do to instead basing my routine around things I actually wanted to do (with a few sacrifices here and there over the last three years) - and through this process I managed to achieve and maintain the results I wanted.
Getting healthier and fitter is hard, and motivating ourselves to do the necessary isn’t always easy. However, we have a tendency to go about it the wrong way. We feel like we need more discipline, but what we really need is more self-compassion and internal motivation.
Let’s be honest, if being fit and healthy was easy, we would all be doing it! There wouldn’t be fad diets around and there wouldn’t be 12 week body transformations around. Developing healthier habits takes time, they take consistency and commitment; and because we can’t get super fit and healthy in 12 weeks, it means we need to find sustainable and enjoyable methods so that week after week it doesn’t feel like a chore or punishment.
When we tell ourselves we should be doing something, it can indicate that it is not something we really want to do, but rather something we feel obliged to do. If what we “should” do feels like a job, then the chances are we won’t stick to it.
Internal motivation is more effective in changing habits, building long-term behaviors and instead of thinking you should do something you start thinking how you are going to make it happen.
For example, doing exercise always makes someone feel better at the end. Children run and jump for fun, kids playing football in the playground do it because they enjoy it! When your friend gets up at 6 am for a fitness class, the chances are they also enjoy what they are doing and the motivation comes from the pleasure from performing the activity rather than purely health or weight loss. When you are told you have to exercise to lose weight, the chances are that if you don’t enjoy it, the internal motivation will plummet and you will struggle to stick to it long-term.
If you are struggling to the build the habit changes you need (of eating better or being active), start by focusing on the things you enjoy. For example, if you enjoy cooking, try and find healthier alternatives to your favourite dishes and have fun in the kitchen trying new recipes. As for exercise, find an activity that you don’t mind doing. For many people that don’t enjoy exercise, finding a partner, friend or even coach that you enjoy spending time with makes it easier to get started and stick with it consistently.
Find ways to get healthy that add to your life, that make you feel energised, that still allow you to enjoy your food and that help you thrive in your quest to give your body what it needs to build a healthier you.
Start on the inside to build the changes you want to see on the outside.