The 2 Tricks I Use To Get Excited About Eating Healthy, Even When I'm Over It
"We're only halfway through the month, and I'm already falling off almost all of my resolutions—or resenting the ones I'm sticking to. Do you have any tricks to stay motivated?"
—Merideth, 36, Seattle
Ah, January. We all start the month like eager freshman, our metaphoric backpacks laden with wellness books accumulated over Christmas. We have big plans that we can't wait to execute—this will be the year we eschew sugar, work out every morning, and finally Kondo all of our clothing.
By halfway through the month, though, we're world-weary seniors, skipping class and telling ourselves that none of it really matters that much. Our dresser drawers are no longer organized; nothing really sparks joy. This is why, for many people, the healthy habits of January end up being a blip on the radar rather than the foundation for a new long-term lifestyle.
I hear you—I really do. I was once like you, dipping my toe in and out of various diets and meditation practices, riding the roller coaster of feeling great about myself—so motivated, so successful—only to plummet down into a free fall of despair and self-flagellation when I messed up.
The key is to catch yourself right at the moment of loss of motivation, before the less-than-healthy habits become as ingrained as the new, better ones. Here are the two tricks I use when my resolutions begin to wane:
1. Focus on how you feel right now.
Often, with wellness habits, we focus on an ephemeral future: a distant cancer we might be preventing, 5 pounds that we could lose by the end of the month, a notion of longevity that we won't know is successful until the turn of the century. While our lifestyle can affect all of these things, it's hard to stay motivated for a reward that's weeks, months, or even years away. Instead, focus on how you feel in the moment. Does working out give you energy for the day? Does eating certain foods make you feel lighter and less bloated? Shifting your thinking in this way works because, according to celebrity hypnotist Grace Smith, "in order for you subconscious to absorb a suggestion, it must be something you really want, achievable, and believable. Intentions that focus on the short term benefit of doing something are much more effective than long term benefits. Long term and broad goals are often met with fear, doubt, insecurity, and ultimately self sabotage." When Smith works with clients, she has them visualize how they'll feel in seven days, rather than longer, less tangible amounts of time.
For me, connecting my workouts to reduced anxiety that day finally made me able to stick to a consistent morning session. When I wake up, my anxiety tends to be around a 3 or 4, but if I work out, it drops back down to a 1 or 2 and is more likely to stay there throughout the day. It's far more motivating than the abstract notion of getting stronger or living longer; on days I don't feel like working out, I simply ask myself if the 20-minute trade for less anxiety is worth it—and it always is. Your immediate reward might not be anxiety, but figuring out what it is can make a huge difference.
2. Figure out how to fit the healthier elements into your actual life.
When I first started working out, I went to yoga classes in Manhattan. I live and work in Brooklyn, and it took me about an hour to take the subway to the studio, check in, change my clothes, and settle in on my mat. Making my way home took a similar chunk of time, turning a one-hour workout into an effective three-hour commitment. If I went after work, I knew I wouldn't be able to make other plans; if I didn't go, I felt guilty about not working out. When I started working out at home, I slid out of bed and straight onto my mat (often just in my skivvies, without bothering to struggle into leggings since I wasn't confronting the fashion show that is the New York fitness scene). Thirty minutes later, I was in the shower; 45 minutes later, I was at work.
Similarly, I have a friend who can commit to any diet—as long as she can drink her evening glass of wine. The second she attempts to eliminate the wine, she feels deprived, restricted, and often slips up—which causes her to reach for cookies to salve her guilt (and she tells herself the cookies don't matter because she messed up already anyway). Work within your real life. If you hate meal prepping, let yourself buy work lunch out—but maybe try to make a bit of extra food with your dinner so you have leftovers the next day a few times a week. If you know your mornings are rushed, grab some noise-canceling headphones and sneak into an empty conference room for 10 minutes to meditate at work (bonus points if you schedule it as a recurring calendar item!).
Remember that wellness is a tool to live your best life, not something meant to overwhelm everything else in your day. Incremental changes are always better; there is no failure in giving yourself the grace of realism.
Have more healthy eating questions? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might see them answered in future pieces on the site!
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