A lot of people love meal plans. Busy women come to me all the time and say “just give me a meal plan that will get me to my goal and I’ll do it.”
But if you’ve ever tried to follow a generic meal plan, you know it’s not that easy.
To be honest, I find generic meal plans to be a waste of time. That’s because a meal plan is a list of tiny habits over the course of a week.
Think about it – changing the way you eat might mean shopping for ingredients at a different store, buying things you’re not familiar with, cooking foods you’ve never had in your kitchen before. It might even mean getting up earlier to make breakfast before work, when you’re used to grabbing a coffee and banana on your way out the door.
In order for you to stick to a healthy habit (in your diet or lifestyle), it needs to make sense in your life and be designed around what you’re currently doing.
A habit is an action you take. Routines are containers for healthy habits.
When you’re looking to make a shift in your habits to get a different outcome, you’re really looking to create new routines to hold those habits in place. Suddenly we’re talking about shifting your schedule, to make one small habit change. It’s a bigger deal than you think. But it can be done.
What Habit Change Really Is
In our minds, there is a 3 step pathway our actions follow:
- Trigger – something triggers you. This is often a signal from your body (I’m hungry) or emotion you feel that leads you to take action.
- Action – what you do in response to the trigger. If you’re hungry you might reach for a snack. If you’re sad you might call a friend to talk.
- Reward – is the payoff you get from taking action. To put it simply the reward is the shift you make away from pain or toward pleasure.
For example, you get hungry in the afternoon at work (trigger) and you usually reach for a coffee and a muffin (action) to make you feel a boost (reward). But now you’re focusing on weight loss and stabilizing your blood sugar throughout the day, so you want to change your action (step 2).
Your new pathway might look like this:
You get hungry in the afternoon at work (trigger) so you drink a cup of water and pull hummus and veggies out and move away from your desk to eat and take a break (action). Now instead of feeling wired all afternoon from caffeine and sugar (previous reward), you feel calm, satisfied, and energized (new reward).
But you’ll need to create a routine around prepping your snack the night before, and discipline around responding to your trigger in a new way.
Now that you know the basic framework for how habits work, here are some strategies to stick to your health habits:
- Know your reason why (and revisit it often)- you have a greater chance of success when you have a deep enough reason for making change and it’s connected to something you value.
- Choose a habit with confidence- to stick with a habit you need to pick habits that are worth sticking to. Part of that is understanding the actions you’re taking and how those will get you to your goal. Making sure your actions are sustainable over the long-term is part of setting yourself up for success here. It’s helpful to talk to a coach or health practitioner to help you get clear on the actions that will get you to your goal.
- Identify your pattern and create a new routine- using the three-part framework above identify your trigger and the action and reward that follow. Get clear on what new action you could use to achieve a reward that feels fulfilling to you.
- Ask for support- having allies in pursuit of a goal makes the process much more enjoyable. But if you don’t have someone who’s making a change along with you, don’t let that hold you back. You can enlist friends or family members to share your progress or talk about your wins along the way.
- Track your actions and progress- what you measure you can control. When you track your progress you’ll be able to see the results you’re getting along the way. Remember that this is not about instant gratification, habit change is for the long-term, so celebrate the small wins along the way.
- Set up accountability- having accountability set up will help you stick to your actions. One of my clients uses dusting her house as an accountability task. She’d rather get up and head to the gym than dust her house, so this works well for her.
- Reward yourself – by telling yourself you’re doing a good job. A reward can also look like pairing a challenging task (say a 5k run) with something you enjoy (listening to your favourite podcast). This way you’re looking forward to some part of the activity you’re motivating yourself toward. Be careful not to reward yourself with something that will take you farther from your goal. The reward is more about acknowledging and celebrating your effort so you feel motivated to continue doing well.
These 7 strategies will support you in sticking to your health habits long-term. Sometimes the habits you need to change to get you to your goal are not what you think. This is good news for you if there’s a result you want because you might not have to give up your favourite things to get there.
For example, wanting to lose 10 pounds doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop drinking wine. There are likely ways to get you to your goal that doesn’t involve depriving yourself of the things you love if you have a proper strategy.
I help busy women find ways to reach their health goals and actually enjoy the process. Request a Body-Love Breakthrough Call with me to get clarity on your goal and a sustainable path to get you there.