The Easy (Really) Way to Rock Your Health Goals
It’s time to embrace easy! Easy is the path to meeting those health goals you’ve been struggling with.
Yes, I really do mean that. Over the years, clients have told me that they have to ride themselves hard and make big sweeping changes. Otherwise, they say, they just won’t move along in the right direction. I totally disagree. And fortunately, I’ve been able to convince a lot of clients – even if it was sometimes a big struggle.
My most successful clients learned what I’ve known for a long time.Willpower is a fickle friend who will dump you when the going gets tough. But success breeds more success. The key then to permanent healthy habits is to build momentum and motivation by experiencing success. Relying on willpower will likely eventually leave you disappointed and send you right back where you started from. Maybe that’s eating greasy takeout for lunch or hitting the snooze button instead of lacing up your running shoes.
Success with your health goals is its own type of motivator
If you make your health goals super easy, you can feel successful pretty quickly. And that leads to more success. Really it does. If you want to get into the lunch-packing habit, maybe you can start by collecting several packaged foods that are better for you than takeout. Think packaged nuts, dried fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt, tuna in a pouch, microwavable soup … that kind of thing. It’s the gateway to a scratch lunch – if that’s your ultimate goal. If your goal is to run a 5k, start with running around the block or even to the mailbox.
Pick your easy, gateway goal
Ask yourself the following three questions to see if you’re on the right track to realizing your health goals. Your easy goal is your gateway goal or starter goal.
- Will I likely be successful with this easy goal?
- Can this easy goal likely lead me to something bigger?
- Does the something bigger have meaning to me?
This is a good place to bring up habits. Habits is really the subject of this discussion. I’m asking you to meet your big health goals by developing the good habits that will take you there. If you’re not familiar with the Habit Loop as described by Charles Duhigg, check out 5 Steps to Build Healthy Habits.
Piggyback that easy goal
If you answered yes to all three questions above, you’re on the right track. Next plan your easy goal attack. Ask yourself this:
- What am I already doing that I can piggyback my new habit onto?
One of my health goals this year is to regain some flexibility in my hamstrings. My easy goal is to stretch my legs for at least 30 seconds every day. I’m rocking that goal, by the way.
- I was pretty sure I could do this.
- I am pretty sure that stretching for 30 seconds is a reasonable way to eventually lead to longer stretching sessions. It’s a gateway strategy to bigger and better things.
- And I am confident that stretching my legs regularly and long enough will improve my flexibility (my overall health goal).
I piggybacked my easy stretching goal onto something I do everyday. I reheat coffee and tea in the microwave everyday. My easy goal: stretch for the 30 seconds that my cup is in the microwave. Easy peasy! And success brought me more success. I now stretch my legs multiple times a day, and sometimes I do it for a lot longer than 30 seconds.
- I picked an easy gateway goal (behavior or routine) that would lead me to a bigger goal (stretching for more than 30 seconds a day) and that would eventually improve my flexibility. And I linked it onto an existing routine (cue) and gave myself a pat on the back each time I did it (reward). Lot’s of people forget about (or choose to ignore) the praise/reward part. But it’s awfully important. It’s a critical part of the Habit Loop.
Check out my suggestions for embracing easy on Coast Live on WTKR. The Dairy Alliance was my sponsor for this TV segment. I have easy tips for getting more protein at breakfast, more fruits and vegetables throughout the day, rig your snack time to nearly guarantee good choices, and to fit in exercise any day!
Another example of creating a gateway goal for your bigger health goals
Let’s say your bigger health goal is to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less highly processed foods and desserts. Start with something easy. As an example, let’s say that you’ll begin with eating more vegetables. Your easy goal might be to eat vegetables with every lunch and every dinner. But only if that really is doable for you.
Maybe you’ll write out your gateway goals this way:
- Whenever I pack my lunch, if I don’t have another vegetable, I’ll toss in either a can of vegetable juice or a few raw carrots.
- When I sit down to dinner, if I don’t have another vegetable, I’ll grab a bowl of packaged salad from the refrigerator.
For many more easy ways to add vegetables, take a look at Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables. There are some surprisingly simple ways to meet this valuable health goal.
7 more ways to make easy your best friend
These 7 strategies are based on Duhigg’s Habit Loop – cue, behavior/routine and reward.
- Identify a cue or a trigger: When I reheat my coffee in the microwave. When you’re about to sit down to dinner.
- Remove a cue or a trigger: By keeping chocolate out of sight, I’m less likely to indulge.
- Make easy even easier: If your goal is to eat a piece of fruit everyday for a snack at work, line up 5 pieces of fruit on your desk every Monday. Choose one each day. If your goal is to cut back to 6 chocolate-covered almonds (okay that’s my goal), pre-portion your treats into little baggies, so all you have to do is grab a single serving.
- Make easy hard to do to when breaking a bad habit: It’s easy to eat a bowl of ice cream after dinner if ice cream is in the freezer. Make this habit harder by not keeping ice cream at home. It’s definitely more work to get in the car and drive to the store, yes?.
- Pat yourself on the back: Praise might seem a little silly, especially if your gateway goal is truly tiny (like stretching for 30 seconds), but don’t underestimate the power of telling yourself “good job!” Those feel good neurotransmitters help to wire that new habit into your brain. And sometimes the only immediate reward we have for performing a task is our own, “you’re rocking this.”
- Redesign your environment: This deals with your cues and so much more. I put my morning muesli away as soon as a scoop some in my bowl. Otherwise, I might grab an extra handful. If you want to eat more vegetables, keep canned and frozen varieties on hand. Eat more fruit by filling a beautiful fruit bowl each week. Serve yourself on smaller plates to trim portions. Avoid second helpings by putting extra food away immediately or by serving dinner from the kitchen rather than at the table. Likewise encourage seconds on vegetables by serving only vegetables at the table and the other dinner items from the kitchen. Keep an extra pair of sneakers at work, so you can take a 10-minute walk after lunch. You get the idea – there are lots of ways to set up your home, office, car and other spots to make healthy goals easier to accomplish.
- Hang out with people who have similar habits and values: Peer support and peer pressure are both pretty powerful motivators.
Cheers to making easy the path to great! Please tell us your easy goal.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.
Leave a Reply
Welcome to my Blog
Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.