“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Chinese Proverb
Change takes time. There is no such thing as an overnight success story. Everyone you hear about focuses on the big grand moment of finally breaking through. What they never talk about is the years and years of work and countless failures that it took for someone to reach where they are when their big moment finally arrived.
The retelling of these overnight successes always gloss over the struggles along the way because they are not as sexy as one big moment. The successful get their big break because of a cumulation of small wins over a long period of time that occur because of their perseverance through innumerable failures along the way. Health and fitness are no different. There will be failures along the way but what matters most is persistence.
Especially in our modern world of instant gratification, we are all looking for a quick fix. The health and fitness industry capitalizes on this by marketing these amazing rapid weight loss stories and body transformations. Unfortunately, these quick fixes do not work. If they did, why would over ⅔ of American’s chose to be overweight?
We reach a point of being unhappy with our bodies because of a lifetime of building bad habits. Just as it takes years to build bad habits, it will take months, or even years, to undo them. Rapid weight loss, without fixing the bad habits that created the need for the weight loss, will only ever give temporary results.
This is why millions of people struggle with losing and regaining the same weight over and over again throughout their life. Temporary diets will only give temporary results. For results that last, they must be built on a solid foundation of good habits. Otherwise, a healthy lifestyle change will fail once the going gets tough and motivation ceases to be a strong enough influence.
This is demonstrated in the show, The Biggest Loser, where obese contestants are pushed through strenuous workouts and put on extreme calorie deficits. This leads to rapid weight loss but it is also extremely stressful on the contestants and does not teach them good habits to replace the bad habits that made them fat. This is why once the majority of contestants leave the show, they fall right back into their bad habits and immediately put back on the weight they lost, plus some.
Everyone knows what they should be doing to get or remain healthy. Eat more vegetables, stop eating fast food, exercise regularly, limit alcohol consumption, etc. This is why when someone makes the choice to lose weight, they can usually lose at least some of it. However, the healthy choices never persist because they are forced actions instead of good habits that have been built up over time.
Forcing yourself to do something requires willpower, which is a limited resource that can be exhausted when used too often. This has been demonstrated in numerous studies  . By trying to change too many habits in our life at once, we strain our limited willpower and reach a point where we have none left to spare to continue forcing a change. This can be exasperated by other stressful or hard situations in our life that require increased willpower, such as an extra tough day at work, leaving even less willpower for the habit change. Eventually, something will give out and we will slide right back into the comforting bad habits we are used to.
Fortunately, willpower is like a muscle and it can be improved with practice. Just like you cannot step into the gym on your very first day and bench press 315 pounds, you cannot use willpower to change too many variables in your life without first working up to it.
By starting with a small, easily obtainable habit, we can begin to strengthen our willpower to create a successful habit change. This first new good habit should be something that you can keep doing consistently without fail. It can be something as easy as choosing to go for a 5 minute walk every day or eating a vegetable with at least one meal a day. The only criteria is that it must be a good habit and it must be something you will not give up on and if you do miss a day, you get right back to it. You have to want to succeed. You have to have a strong reason for why you want this change to happen.
Big goals are great to have, but they can often seem like a looming mountain off in the distance. Losing large amounts of weight or training to run a marathon takes months and years of progress. These long time horizons can seem extremely daunting and will often cause people to give up. By establishing small goals along the way, it will be much easier to have an obtainable habit that can be accomplished in a few weeks instead of a few years. In order to lose 100 pounds, you must first lose 1 pound and in order to run a marathon, you must first be able to walk a mile. Set yourself up for success by striving for small habit changes and goals along the way to help you reach your larger goals.
Other examples of easy to start good habits:
- Take pictures of everything you eat.
This helps build an awareness of what you eat. Helps eliminate mindless snacking. People have success with this without any other changes because over time it can subconsciously affect your decisions
- Weigh yourself every morning.
Whatever gets tracked, gets improved. This is another awareness technique to help the subconscious make better decisions. This also helps keep your goal in your awareness. Keep with it for a few weeks. The number is not nearly as important as the habit. Try not to let it beat you up mentally because the scale can be misleading if you recently started lifting weights though. More on this in a future post.
- Take an hour or two one day on the weekend to prepare lunch or dinner for the week
Great way to eat healthier options for lunch, as well as save money and time. Get creative and have fun with it. Anything to keep it from feeling like a chore. You will get better meal ideas the longer you do this.
- Go to the gym twice a week
Studies show that two 30-minute full body resistance training (i.e weight lifting) workouts a week are enough for a beginner to receive the positive benefits, such as increased muscle mass, strength, and bone health. Two sessions a week is something we can all make time for. Plan out your week with two days you plan to go every week so that the consistency helps you stick with it. You do not have to know what you are doing at first. That can come later as you continue building the habit change (or reach out to me and I can help you get started with a custom program and assist you with accountability ☺).
- Record your workouts/walks on apps like MapMyRun, Nike+, or Strava
Communities are great for adherence. Join a group on one of these apps and start recording your workouts. These apps keep awesome stats so you can compare your improvements over time, which feels amazing. Plus, you see what others are doing which can push you to push yourself. Try to track at least 5 because that is when the addiction kicks in to keep you going. It’s contagious with a good group of peers.
- Best Forms of Cardio for Weight Loss
- Best Diet for Health and Weight Loss
- Best Food Hacks for Weight Loss
As these habits become something you can do automatically every day without fail, you can start to build on it. This could be something like increasing the walk time to 10 minutes a day, or something new, like bringing a healthy lunch to work at least once a week. Whatever it is, it has to keep building on the habit that you just formed. Odds are, if you can stick to the small first habit, you will automatically keep looking for ways to keep improving because progress feels so good. Give yourself credit for each accomplishment. You deserve it.
Over time, you can keep increasing the difficulty and forming new habits. As momentum builds, each subsequent change will become easier and easier.
These small changes may not seem important at first. One walk a day or a vegetable at each meal will not change your life by itself, but that is not the point. The reason for these changes is to keep building small wins. Over time, these small wins start to compound at increasing rates with the addition of each new good habit, bringing you closer and closer to the “overnight” success story win of changing your life to become a fitter, happier you
You will not go from obese to six pack abs in a few weeks. Or from sitting on your couch to running a marathon in a couple months. But with enough time and challenging yourself to achieve small goals along the way to a bigger goal, you can completely change your life. These changes will carry over to all parts of your life, as you prove to yourself that you are capable of things you would never have thought possible. It does not happen overnight, but it does all start with a single step.