“I know I need to exercise and eat better, but I just can’t seem to get myself to do it.” I’ve heard similar comments over and over again in my work – supporting women to create healthy habits and heal their menstrual cycles, naturally.
“Just do it.” The Nike motto is the simple and straightforward answer, of course.
But we are rather complex features. And in reality, it’s always easier said than done.
From my experience, there are some common barriers to creating healthy habits. Understanding what they are can help us find solutions to overcoming them.
Barrier #1: Lack of strong motivation
You can only lead a horse to water. You can’t make it drink. The horse will drink when it’s thirsty. In the same way, we can only change an unhealthy habit and create a healthy one when we’re ready.
Anais Nin put it beautifully, “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
When we’re compelled to change, either by pain or by a vision, we will change. Otherwise we won’t.
Barrier #2: Feeling overwhelmed
Somehow we see the upcoming change as this huge, insurmountable mountain ahead of us. It takes more willpower, discipline and strength of character than we currently have.
So we procrastinate. We put it off until it falls off the horizon.
Barrier #3: Trying too hard
Maybe we’re overly ambitious and we push ourselves too hard. We get burned out or discouraged and then we gave up completely.
Once I set a goal to get up at 5am and run for an hour every morning. It was too challenging for me and I gave it up after two attempts.
Barrier #4: Too abstract
Eating healthy and exercising are abstract concepts until you incorporate them into a concrete plan. It’s much easier to eat broccoli twice a week than to simply say you’re going to eat healthier.
Barrier #5: Not enough fun
It’s human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. So often we associate the new habit with pain and our old habit with pleasure. It’s inevitably a losing battle. Who wants to have more pain and less pleasure? Not me!
As hard as it may seem, there are some tips that can help us overcome these barriers and create a healthier lifestyle. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years:
1. Find your motivation
Why do you want to change? What will you gain by acquiring this new habit? What will you lose by letting go of the old habit?
Writing them down can help you gain clarity on your vision, motivation, and any potential obstacles that may stand in your way.
If you have a strong enough why, you can always figure out the how.
2. Make a plan
Translate your goal into a specific plan. Write it down.
As I mentioned earlier, you’re much more likely to eat broccoli twice a week than to eat healthy. And you’re much more likely to eat broccoli for dinner on Wednesday and Sunday when you cook at home.
Be concrete and specific. Plan it around your current routines.
3. Take baby steps
The Grand Canyon was not created in one day. Lasting changes do not happen overnight.
Focus on taking small and incremental baby steps. If you’re just starting, going for a 5-10 minute walk every day is a lot easier to implement than going for an one-hour run three times a week.
The beauty is that there’s a momentum to change. One small step will lead to another, and another. Baby steps taken consistently can carry you much farther than random, infrequent leaps.
4. Make it pleasurable and fun
The reason you have not given up your old habits until today is because it has satisfied some of your important needs.
So to let go of an old pleasurable habit, you have to find an equally pleasurable habit to replace it – only this time a healthier one.
The benefit of a new health habit may take a while to realize its full potential. So it helps to find something you enjoy from the start.
A while back I discovered the fun of Zumba dancing. It was a very easy habit for me to adopt because it’s so fun and I really enjoy it.
5. Track it
Keeping a daily journal is a great way to help you stay motivated and on track.
6. Share with others
It’s wonderful to have a buddy who can help motivate you, hold you accountable, and pick you up when you fall. It’s also more fun that way.
7. Don’t expect perfection
Don’t expect to follow your plan perfectly. “No shame. No blame.” Remember this phrase whenever you fail to follow your plan.
Simply pick it up and continue on the next day. Or maybe you need to adjust your plan. Just do your best and take it as a learning experience. Because it is!!
I’ve learned these lessons from years of trials and errors, from the health habits I successfully adopted, and from those I miserably failed. I hope you find them helpful.
Do you have any good tips to share?