We’ve all been there.
You see green smoothies on Instagram, feel inspired by a friend’s recent health breakthrough, browse the aisles of Whole Foods, and walk by yoga studios filled with happy-looking wellness devotees. You get really excited about filling your refrigerator with fresh greens, and your pantry with quinoa and raw nuts.
But then after a couple of weeks of choosing lemon water over coffee, and zoodles over noodles, things go awry. Life gets in the way, and slowly but surely—one treat at time—you slip back into old habits.
Fret not! You are NOT broken.
It’s inevitable that old habits occasionally rear their Twinkie-loving heads, but this doesn’t mean that you are failing. Building healthy habits and changing your lifestyle is often a three-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of process.
Instead of feeling blue or berating yourself, remember that negative self-talk can have the same unhealthy side effects inside your body that fast food and artificially colored icing create.
With that, here is a list of proven strategies to get on track, re-engage, and stay motivated to stick to your health commitments.
This small tweak to your internal language is scientifically proven to yield better results. (1)
Instead of saying, “I can’t have ice cream for dinner,” tell yourself, “I don’t have ice cream for dinner.”
You can even add a qualifier and reframe, because hey, it’s ok to have a serving of good-quality ice cream after a healthy dinner one night each week. Something like, “I don’t have ice cream for dinner, and I don’t have ice cream after dinner unless it’s Friday night.”
Repeating “I don’t” statements vs. “I can’t” statements can retrain your neural pathways to help you make better decisions over time.
A few “I don’t” statements that really help me:
And trust me, I still very much enjoy myself. I love a high-quality flatbread with a glass of wine on the weekends, and use things like almond flour bread and brown rice tortillas. There’s so much good food out there to enjoy—and when you crowd out unhealthy items with healthier options, you’ll find that you like the healthier options even more!
Which leads me to #2…
Rather than imposing strict rules on yourself, the easiest way to introduce new healthy habits is to add them in and allow them to crowd out the bad stuff.
For example, instead of thinking, “I can’t have any pizza on pizza night,” shift to “I always have a big healthy green salad before pizza.” Let the salad crowd out some of the pizza. Trust me, if you have a big delicious green salad (a good one—not a sad, boring one), you’ll most likely be completely satisfied with one slice of pizza instead of three or four. Let a big bowl of fresh, real food crowd out a few slices of the pizza.
For me, I’ve trained myself to look for at least one low-sugar protein smoothie and one salad/veggie bowl each day. That usually means a smoothie for breakfast (or lunch, if I have eggs for breakfast), and a salad/veggie bowl at lunch or dinner. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for things like noodles and bread (my personal vices).
Make a list of your daily must-have’s, and let them crowd out the pastries and processed carbs (or whatever your vices may be).
There’s a saying, “The easiest thing to do is the easiest thing not to do,” and it really speaks to the simple yet powerful act of writing things down.
Putting pen to paper solidifies your commitments by engaging a group of cells in your temporal lobe known as the reticular activating system. Your brain intensifies the amount of focus on the information that you are writing down. (2) #ScienceForTheWin
Get out of piece of paper and write down your health commitments. It’s better to use real pen and paper instead of typing if possible, as the kinesthetic movement of your thoughts adds another layer of learning to your brain. Use “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” statements where needed.
Even better, tape it to your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or vision board. Make it your phone or computer screen saver, or keep it next to your bed on a notecard. Seeing your commitments regularly creates micro-visioning sessions to aid your efforts.
Which leads me to #4…
I’ve written about this before: vision boards aren’t woo-woo, airy-fairy exercises. Visualization is scientifically proven to work. (3)
Olympic athletes have been using it for decades to improve performance, and Psychology Today reported that the brain patterns activated when a weightlifter lifts heavy weights are also similarly activated when the lifter just imagined (visualized) lifting weights.
A vision board is one of the easiest ways to consistently remind yourself of what you want to create. Whether you decide to create one or not, whenever you feel yourself making excuses and losing enthusiasm, take a moment to visualize what you want to achieve. Having a clear vision of what you want will get you through unclear moments.
Create a vision board filled with inspiring photos, images and words that will help you visualize the healthy lifestyle that you desire. If you want to learn more, after you read this post, check out my original post about vision boards called how to create a vision board that works.
If you’ve been doing a brilliant job of eating clean, and then experience a moment of weakness, you’re not back at square one.
Healthy habits and willpower are just like muscles; they will get stronger and stronger the more you work them, and they will get weaker if neglected. If you fall off the wagon, take a deep breath and hop back on without making yourself feel guilty. Neglecting the muscle once isn’t what makes it weak. Neglect over time is the issue.
Be proud of yourself for the progress you’ve made thus far. You’re human, not a robot. Maintain a goal of progress, not perfection.
First off, having daily rituals and routines in the first place help create habit loops, which will naturally help you stick to your health commitments.
Next, writing down affirmations on sticky notes around your house and space also creates mini visualizations that work. Affirmations help train your brain to make better decisions. For instance, reading, “Healthy choices come easily to me” every morning on your bathroom mirror, or looking at “I attract what I want” stuck to your entryway every time you leave the house will start to train your brain to believe in your good habits.
If you’re new to affirmations, check out the work of the late and beloved Louise Hay. Her book You Can Heal Your Life is a must-read, even if you don’t think you need “healing.”
Here are a few affirmations to get you started:
Follow healthy accounts on Instagram or Facebook, and subscribe to wellness-focused newsletters. However, don’t just follow accounts because they look healthy. Really check in with yourself and see how you feel when you see posts.
Last year I realized that I was following a bunch of healthy-looking accounts, but every time I saw the posts, I felt like I wasn’t good enough. It was a strange realization: I thought I was following them for inspiration, but instead they were making me feel like I wasn’t good enough.
Check in with yourself about how social media makes you feel, and audit your feeds. Unfollow accounts that trigger feelings of unworthiness or comparison. Even if that’s not the goal of the account owner (I’d say it just about never is!), you have to determine how you feel. What inspires one person might trigger another. Even if the account owner has the best of intentions, if it doesn’t leave you feeling inspired and happy, then unfollow. You are in charge of your social media feed—stay diligent on how you curate it.
If you like this post, you can find me on Instagram @elizabeth_rider, or on Facebook here. You can also sign up for my free ebook 30 Healthy Recipes Every Woman Should Know and newsletter here. But again, only follow or sign up if it feels good to you.
Your relationships greatly influence your habits. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Make your best effort to surround yourself with people who are like-minded, supportive and inspiring as often as possible. This might mean joining a new group in your community or online.
Take a look at the five people who you are around most often and evaluate if they inspire good habits or enable bad choices. It doesn’t mean getting rid of friends, it just means making an effort to hang with people who also get excited about lunch at a local healthy cafe or want to chat about your latest personal growth revelation.
Goals worth achieving take effort over time.
In her book, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, Heidi Grant Halvorson writes:
“Albert Bandura, one of the founding fathers of scientific psychology, discovered decades ago that perhaps the best predictor of individuals’ success is whether or not they believe they will succeed—something optimists do naturally. Thousands and thousands of experiments later, he has yet to be proven wrong. But there is an important and often overlooked caveat: to be successful, you need to understand the very vital difference between believing you will succeed, and believing you will succeed easily. Put another way, it’s the difference between being a realistic optimist, and an unrealistic optimist.”(3)
Don’t let this deter you! It’s a good thing and aids your self-awareness. Being an optimistic realist simply means shifting from looking for quick-fixes and overnight success, to appreciating and enjoying your journey, and having realistic expectations that there will be times when it doesn’t feel easy.
And finally—and potentially most important—be gentle with yourself. It’s pretty hard to make good choices when someone is constantly talking down to you (and that someone might be you!). Negative self-talk and holding grudges against yourself works against you, never for you. Show yourself forgiveness, grace and compassion, and remember to look forward, not backward; you’re not going that way.
Share any tips or aha! moments with us in the comments below to continue to inspire our online community. We’d love to hear any realizations you’ve had and what’s currently working for you.
Wishing you continued success on your journey to health,
Instead of prescribing what I think you should do, I help you find what works for you.