It is good to have a goal or two that you have set for yourself, but beware of the “this is the last time I am doing this” or the “I will do this for the rest of my life” trap when you are trying to change your health habits and when you are setting goals for yourself. It is easy to say “this is the last time that I will ever eat an oreo”, but is it ever really the last time?
After roughly 3000 failed attempts at losing weight and making promises like that to myself over and over again, I realised that being unrealistic when setting my goals and being too enthusiastic about the strength of my own willpower was part of the problem of why I never really lost the fat.
I have made promises to myself to not overeat ever again, to exercise every day for a month, to go to the gym every morning before work, etc. And do you know what giving myself these challenges and promises have resulted in? It only resulted in me feeling like a failure.
Luckily, I am quite stubborn, and if it takes 4000 attempts before I reach my goal, that is okay. I have at least learnt the following about how to change habits realistically:
Do Not Make Resounding Statements When Setting Goals
The key is to not make resounding statements. That way, you are not setting yourself up for failure. Give yourself realistic goals. Set up your goals, so that you can still do the things that you have always failed to stop doing in the past (for me, it is overeating). You can first try and reduce the frequency of which you do give in to temptation and drink too much, or eat too much, or eat the wrong things.
If you used to eat your favourite chocolate every day, then you can start by just going down to doing it every second day, until you eventually reach a point where you only eat it once or twice a week. Rather say that you will do it less often than never.
Because, unless you have epic self-discipline, giving something you live up for eternity does not sound realistic. Obviously, if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, your case is different, but I am talking about bad habits that more people struggle with, such as not overeating, eating sugar, spending a day in your pyjamas on the couch (which is only unacceptable if you do it every day), etc.
The problem is that when you are stressed, depressed, sleep deprived, or in a social situation, you are more likely to be unable to resist temptation. Having an “it is okay now and then” mentality will help you to not be hard on yourself if you do indulge or overindulge, skip a workout or meditation session, or do nothing but watch TV all day.
Follow the 80/20 Rule
If you want to give yourself freedom from the guilt of being a human in the future, allow yourself to adopt an 80/20 rule with regards to any goal that you set for yourself. If you eat well 80% of the time or do 80% of the workout sessions you plan, that is already a tremendous improvement if you used to eat junk most of the time and never worked out.
This approach is much better for your mental health. When you set an unrealistic goal of never eating your favourite food again, you will feel like a failure if you give in. You will feel like a failure less often when you do not expect yourself to be perfect or do things perfectly all the time.
Be Inspired by The French to Improve Your Health and Influence Your Goals
I like to think of the French paradox when it comes to still being healthy, but living a life where you allow yourself to indulge.
The French paradox refers to the fact that people in France allow themselves to indulge in cheese, cream, chocolate, desserts, wine, butter, etc. and yet, they are still generally healthy. This goes against what many of us have been told, but there are various reasons why they are able to stay well, and these include:
Practising portion control
Not eating while distracted, such as in front of the television or computer
Making meals a time to socialise with friends and family
Choosing high-quality ingredients
Not eating a lot of processed foods
Allowing themselves to indulge, so they do not feel deprived
What the French paradox proves to me is that you do not have to be strict with your diet 100% of the time, but that you can still indulge and allow yourself room to have the things you crave every now and then and practise portion control when doing so.
Set a Realistic Timeline for Yourself
One thing that is also important when trying to set realistic goals is to give yourself a realistic amount of time to achieve it. Instead of saying you want to lose all of your fat in three months, six months could be more realistic. You need to leave time for the unexpected. If you reach your goal before the intended date, that is wonderful, but the last thing you want is to overreach and to just end up disappointing yourself.
Hopefully, these tips on how to set goals and change your habits will help you get closer to optimal health.