If you feel like the stress and nature of the pandemic has caused your healthy habits to take a backseat over the past year, you're not alone. But if you're getting the itch to make your health a priority, certified trainer Sohee Lee, MS, CSCS*D, shared this post about the most important things to do to when restarting your health journey.
What Should People Focus on When Restarting Their Health Journey?
Focus on what you can realistically do that will nudge you in the right direction, Lee told POPSUGAR. Perhaps you've been told that nothing is worth doing unless you're going all in and make a huge life overhaul. But if you think back to your previous attempts, it's likely the case that you burnt out or quit because you were trying to be too ambitious to begin with, Lee said. She added, "You'll actually go further in the long run by scaling back to start off." Think about what health-promoting behaviors you can keep up on most, if not all days, even when you're not feeling very motivated. That's where you should begin, because it's important to simply get the momentum going, even if progress feels slow at first.
What Mindset Is Helpful When Restarting a Health Journey?
In order to inspire you to stick with it, Lee said to "adopt a growth mindset and stop thinking of a health journey as an on and off switch." There's no "wagon" you have to be on; you simply have to repeat the right behaviors over and over and and over, she said. If you "mess up" for one meal, no worries! Just dust yourself off and make your next meal better. Lee said there's actually a good amount of research that shows those who are able to exercise more self-compassion with themselves will see more effective change. "Don't be a jerk to yourself, in other words."
What Small Steps or Healthy Behaviors Are Best When Restarting a Health Journey?
While there are certainly weekly health behaviors you can implement, most of the healthy habits that you should focus on should be daily or near daily. "It's the actions that you repeat over time that determine your trajectory, after all, so the more you can practice a behavior, the better," Lee said. You're one healthy behavior away from moving this back in the right direction, Lee added, so no need to make a drastic lifestyle overhaul. Lee recommends going with one to three small changes and making sure they're something you actually enjoy so you can realistically keep them up. Many small steps will add up over time! Small behaviors that most people should be able to do could include:
- Go for a 10-minute walk after breakfast
- Do a five-minute mobility routine before sitting down to work
- Drink a tall glass of water first thing in the morning
- Have a cup of fruit after dinner
- Write in your journal before bed to release anxiety and help you sleep better
- Wake up 10 minutes early to do some stretching
Why Shouldn't People Make Big, Drastic Changes?
People often think they need to make big, drastic changes because they think anything less extreme wouldn't be effective or worth their time. And people commit to big, lofty changes when they feel highly motivated, well-rested, well-fed, and they're in a good mood, Lee said. "A common psychological error is what's called the hot-cold empathy gap, in which we do a terrible job of predicting how we will feel in the future when we're not as motivated, when we're tired, hungry, and cranky." We see this often with New Year's Resolutioners, for example, who vow that they'll work out seven days a week, then they've quit the gym before February. Drastic changes are usually less effective in the long run because they're nearly impossible to stick to!
Setting behavior goals that depend on high levels of motivation and self-control is not recommended for this reason. Instead, it's better to start small with something more manageable, so you're still willing to do the behavior even on days when you're not feeling great. "Consistently executing behaviors is akin to keeping a promise to yourself, and this can build self-efficacy, your belief in your own ability to do things, which can increase motivation," Lee said. Then you'll build the confidence and momentum to eventually tackle bigger and harder tasks down the road.
What Should You Do if You Re-Start, but Then "Fall Off?"
"Don't wait until next week, or next month, or next year to begin again," Lee said. You don't have to "wipe the slate clean," because this kind of all-or-nothing mentality actually does a lot more harm than good. It leaves no room for mistakes, learning, or growth, so try again at the next opportunity you have! Don't let one mess-up derail you completely.
Tips For Success When Restarting a Health Journey
Behavior change doesn't have to be nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. Usually, the process becomes harder when people lack the right mindset and the right tools. "Perfectionism and the all-or-nothing mentality are two big red flags to look out for," Lee said, so remember to keep your goals manageable and to forgive yourself if you make a mistake.
The more specific and realistic you can be with goal setting, the better off you'll be. Start with anywhere between one to three habits and try to do them every day. "Remember that one missed opportunity in isolation is not the end of the world and has zero negative impact on the habit-forming process," Lee said.
Lastly, if some behavior is not "sticking," get curious rather than frustrated! Think about what's making that habit so difficult to stick to. There is almost always something you can tweak or improve upon, and all of this is an ongoing learning process. So be proud that you're making your own health a priority.