What’s on your to-do list today?
Here’s what’s on mine:
- Schedule pest control
- Pay bills
- Write thank you note
- Hair appointment
- Order dog treats
- Buy light bulbs
Not much in the way of inspiration, with the exception of the hair appointment — which doesn’t really count since it’s a reminder of how much grey hair I have.
Do you know what’s not on my list?
Exercising. Drinking water. Eating leafy greens. Sleeping 8 hours. Taking a multivitamin.
The reason why is that those health habits are now effortless for me. I don’t have to write them down and check them off — or even think about them at all. They’re part of my daily life.
The reason they are is because I know from experience how my day will go if I don’t do them — and, more importantly, how it will if I do. I have no trouble engaging in these habits because I know how they make me feel.
One of the reasons we have such a hard time losing weight is that we do everything backwards. We focus on the doing rather than the feeling. We try to do to get, rather than feel to become. We try to fix ourselves from the outside in, rather than from the inside out.
We force ourselves to “work out” or “eat greens.” We say “I need to” and “I have to.” We make health something to do rather than a way to be. We make it something to be accomplished rather than lived.
Basically, we approach health as if it were one big, uninspiring to-do list.
The Problem with Checking Off Health Goals
One of the problems with approaching health this way is that this mentality pushes us to set all-or-nothing goals. We think if we push ourselves extra hard for a short period of time, we’ll be “done” and can then pull back.
But think about it: you didn’t get the body you have now because you went all out and ate 16 cartons of ice cream for a week straight. Your current body developed over time — slowly.
So when we set these massive health goals like run 5 miles a day or eliminate all carbs, we rarely accomplish them. We’re using force to gut it out and get it over with, but this approach backfires because we eventually run out of willpower.
Also, because we’re using willpower, we fail to associate these activities with pleasure, joy, or excitement. We “need to” juice for a week or we “have to” work out for an hour every day.
So there are two problems: we’re approaching whatever we’re trying to do with resistance, which requires willpower, which runs out, which means that we quit. And because we fail so quickly at the unpleasant experience of going all out, this means that we never get to see how good it actually feels to do the thing we’re trying to do.
What you want to do instead is convert these healthy behaviors you’re trying to force yourself to do into things that you can’t live without doing.
Make Your Goals Part of Your Life
Here are 8 steps to turn tasks on your health to-do list into habits that become part of your life:
1. Have a contrast. Fully engage in the opposite of what you’re trying to do — without feeling guilty. With guilt removed, you can objectively see just how badly you feel when you binge on potato chips or skip three days of workouts. You’re just gathering intel to use for future decisions.
2. Set up the scaffolding. Part of what makes it so hard to establish healthy habits is that our environments aren’t set up to make it easy. And in some cases, they’re actually set up to make us fail.
Even the littlest things like setting out your workout clothes, setting alarms, or stashing bottles of water around the house can dramatically increase your chances of sticking with healthy behaviors long enough to make them habits. Your environment can actually make decisions for you if you set it up the right way.
3. Commit to one week of engagement. Do something every single day for one week. If your goal is to exercise more, take a walk, do some pushups, or do 10 minutes of stretching. It doesn’t matter how small the action is — your goal is to consistently engage in the healthy behavior and not break the chain.
But if you’re up for it, do a balls-to-the-wall version on day one. This gives you the contrast of what you did in step one, showing you just how good it feels to be supremely healthy.
4. Focus on outcomes rather than measurements. If your goal is to exercise more often, make note of how much better you sleep rather than how many calories you burned or steps you took. If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, notice how much more sharp and focused you are rather than how many servings you ate.
5. Let your feelings guide you. Take it easy, and don’t use force. If you’re not feeling it that day, then don’t push yourself. Do as much as you can and honor your inner wisdom (and yes, you have it). On the flip side, when you feel great, keep at it for a few more minutes and see what happens!
Also, try to associate different feelings with the behaviors. You don’t have to dread working out or feel deprived eating a salad. Create new associations and let them fuel you to make the right choices.
6. Watch your language. Stop saying that you “need to,” “have to,” or “should.” Or that you “don’t have time” or “don’t feel like it.” Speak consciously instead of parroting the same tired phrases.
You choose to exercise because you feel ready to take on the world when you do, and you eat greens because they make your skin glow (two of mine if you want to steal them!).
7. Visualize your higher self. What does the best version of you look like, and what does she do? Your highest self has no trouble consistently taking the right actions that bring mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Get a visual of your ideal self and recall this mental picture in as much detail as you can, as often as you can. And whenever you have a choice to make, let her guide you.
8. Reward yourself. We hear a lot about rewarding yourself, but it is super important, especially since we’ve been conditioned to punish and bash ourselves. Whenever you successfully change a habit or establish a new one, make sure to reward yourself. You deserve to feel good about yourself and to celebrate yourself!
Weight Loss Starts in the Mind
I say it over and over again, and I will continue to say it: weight loss starts in the mind.
Your body is a physical manifestation of your past thoughts and actions — there is a time delay between what you previously thought and what you see now. So when you start changing your thoughts today, what you see in the (near) future will look very different.
You just have to change your mind. Literally.
The reason you feel like you have to keep beating your body into submission is because you’re up against your current mindset — the same one that created the body you see now. But if you change your mind, your body will change on its own, without having to use force.
We make it so much harder than it needs to be. And we suck all the joy out of everything with this negative, backwards approach.
Your health isn’t something unpleasant to be to be checked off on a list. It’s part of who you are. And once you start seeing it this way, your body will adjust to match.
Remember, health isn’t to do — it’s to be.