3 Ways to Make Your New Year’s Health Goals Stick (you won’t expect number 2)

2020 has been a real humdinger.

After bushfires ravaged the country, we all thought that was bad enough. But the year sure outdid itself by unleashing a plague that overwhelmed hospitals, torpedoed family gatherings, and even crippled the economy.

It’s been a year of surviving. A year of looking forward to 2021.

I’ll call it now, there will be a bunch of ‘2021 is my year’ resolutions happening soon. Especially with the usual suspects - your health and fitness. We’ll call 2020 a whitewash, 2021 is going to be different.

… is it?

Can you do anything to increase the likelihood of a merry, healthy and fit year?

According to Prochaska and DiClemente, behaviour change moves through a series of stages. Each of the stages has different processes, decisional balance (how you weigh pros and cons) and levels self-efficacy.

What does this mean for you?

1. If you’re contemplating an improvement in your health and fitness next year - START NOW

The stages of change model moves a person from contemplation to preparation to action. This means if you go from contemplation straight to action, it’s likely there will be a relapse.

‘Start now’ means start preparing now.

The contemplation stage is all about knowing there is a problem and seriously wanting to do something about it. There’s just that niggling distress about all the things you may have to give up to make the change happen. The constant tussle between advantages and disadvantages usually means nothing happens.

Preparation means you’ve started the process. You might still be ambivalent about the whole thing, but in the literature starting with a few things like the below can improve your chance of success.

  • Consciousness raising (increasing information about yourself and problem). This means start researching solutions, do your due diligence and start building up a bank of benefits.

  • Self re-evaluation (assessing how one thinks and feels about themselves with respect to a problem) Assess the way you think about your health. Is it important? Do you like exercise, and if not, when did that start? Challenging the story you tell yourself is critical.

  • Environmental re-evaluation (assessing how one’s problems affect the physical environment). What are the effects of your poor health on everyone and everything around you?

  • Self-liberation. Making the decision, such as a New Year’s resolution, and both committing to it and believing you can achieve it.

2. Plan for Relapse

As you can see in the picture above, relapse is part of the process. It can happen at any time. Successful ex-smokers on average try 5-6 times before successfully quitting.

You can expect relapse to happen on some level… it’s how you react to it which counts.

The best thing to do is treat relapse as a learning process. Learn from the feedback. What caused the relapse to occur? Was is the physical or social environment? Something else? How could you control for this in the future?

It’s almost a guarantee that a person with a weight loss goal will eat/drink something that’s not part of their ‘plan’. You plan on snapping off one row of chocolate and end up smashing the whole block.

Welcome to one of your biggest threats - the ‘what-the-hell effect.’ The what-the-hell effect describes the cycle you feel when you indulge, regret what you've done, and then go back for more. ... It's the feelings of shame, guilt, loss of control and loss of hope that follow the first relapse.

But if you’ve planned for relapse and acknowledge it as part of the process, you can approach it from an “alright, that was a little speed bump, but I’m back on track now” rather than “oh screw it, WHAT THE HELL.”

3. Think of sustainability as the ultimate goal

There’s no point reaching your goal and then rebounding back to where you started.

Unfortunately, this is what most often happens.

It’s the stage of maintenance where most of us want to end up. If the techniques and strategies used to reach your goal aren’t sustainable, then you simply won’t be able to achieve maintenance.

What goes up must come down.

There’s a psychological process to cognitive-behavioural change. Results for life will come from an approach which integrates these. Not 30-day detox challenges or cutting out all your favourite foods for 8-weeks.

To get things moving, I like to refer to the ‘low-hanging fruit’. What are the simplest, smallest changes you can make which will give you the biggest return?

Low-hanging fruit examples:

  • Liquid calories

  • Alcohol

  • More vegetables

  • Cooking at home

  • Snack less

  • Plan your week

  • Simple food swaps

  • Keep processed foods out of the house/out of sight

You have the ability to change. Here’s to a fantastic 2021 which looks nothing like the year just gone.

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