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1 step forward, 2 steps back: How to keep your diet & fitness progress from being hijacked by your inner slacker

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Has this ever happened to you?

You get all ramped up to get started on your health and weight loss plan.  You’ve got your whole-foods, low-fat plant-based diet plan organized and ready.  You’ve stocked your kitchen and in your enthusiasm and resolve, even printed out a few recipes.

You’ve outlined a simple workout plan to include that all-important exercise.   You know it helps keep you stay motivated and boosts your willpower.

All systems go. Motivation is high.

So far so good

Week one runs like a charm.  Sure, there’s a learning curve.  Yet soon the challenge  of being prepared with the right food to eat isn’t such a steep climb.  You’ve checked off the ‘today’s exercise’ box on your to-do chart.  Things start perking along.  Heck, you’ve got the knack of this thing.  This is going to be easy!

You start to feel better.  You drop a couple of pounds,. Your clothes feel roomier.  Then you find a day or two start to creep in where you missed a workout.  Or ran out of good eats.  No biggie, you think.  Look how far I’ve come!  I should be congratulating myself!

Before you know it, you’ve missed a day or two of physical activity and  justified a couple of cookies.  Or worse.

Or even what may seem like crazier, you figure “I’ve been so good, I deserve a reward!” which starts to chip slowly but surely away at your new, better eating and exercise gig.  The 2 cookies turn into a bagful. The 2 steps back turn into a slide.

The Problems and The Solutions

There are 2 things going on here

1)  Problem: Your “long-term interests’ self has run smack dab into the face of your ‘instant gratification’ self.

Self-control success has an unintended consequence:  It temporarily satisfies – and therefore silences – the higher self.  When you make progress toward your long-term goal, your brain -  with its mental checklist of many goals – turns off the mental processes that were driving you to pursue your long-term goal.  It will then turn its attention to the goal that has not yet been satisfied – the voice of self-indulgence.  Psychologists call this goal liberation. ~ Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct

Yikes!  The short-term goals of instant gratification – “go ahead and eat it, now!” and “that couch looks pretty good!” -  hijacks your best intentions and all of a sudden you find yourself 2 steps back

Solution:  Remember the ‘why’. Why do you want to ‘get healthy’?  Lose weight?  Get more fit?  What transformation will a healthy diet, weight loss, and a more fit body bring?  It’s time to reconnect emotionally with why you wanted to get healthy and lose weight in the first place.  In Boot Camp Mind, I call this Cultivate Your Vision and Incentives Momentum.

2)  Problem:  The thrill is gone.  It’s not so exciting anymore.  The honeymoon is over.

Solution:  Reframe.  Guess what?   You may be doing just what you set out to do. Remember when you said “I want it  to become a habit”? When a new practice progresses from the uber-focus required when you just get started to “I’ve got the hang of it” rhythm, it isn’t going to take all the attention needed initially  isn’t necessarily going to be required for you to continue.  Yes, you’ll still need to focus and to plan.  Yet once things move into the habit zone they are far easier to continue.  And isn’t that, after all, just what you wanted?  This is a hallmark of progress.  Yay you!

How to work your way through progress and self-sabotage

One reason that progress can cause you to sabotage the very progress you’ve made is because it shifts the power balance between these two inner voices:  The voice that has your better interests at heart and the voice that just wants instant gratification.  Respecting  both of these drives with compassion for yourself disarms the agents of self-destruction.

Remembering your reasons for setting out on this health and fitness journey in the first place helps you reach past the heat of the moment (temptation) and avoid messing things up.  This is why connection with your vision and boosting your willpower daily with physical activitymeditation and mindset practices are so key to long-term success.  They tap into  boot camp mind  The voice of alignment with and commitment to your better interests.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Don’t get me wrong.  Celebrating your successes and acknowledging your wins grows your confidence.   Yet staying connected with all the reasons you started down this road in the first place will pull you forward.  These things are not little;  they are, together, all the elements that allow me to enjoy a 50 lb weight loss for going on 15 years.   Keep the faith.

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References:  Fishbach, A. and R. Dhar.  “Goals as Excuses or Guides:  The Liberating Effect of Perceived Goal Progress on Choice.”  Journal of Consumer Research 32 (2005) 370-77.

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