I’ve had several conversations with clients recently about how difficult it can be to feel like you’re always starting over. You know what I’m talking about — you get super psyched to start a new, healthy routine, you make a ton of positive changes all at once, and for a week, two weeks, or even a month, you’re killing it! You have all this momentum, you’re seeing progress in your health and physique, you have so much energy, and then, WHAM! Something comes up. Maybe it’s a social event. Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s hormones.
Whatever it is, something throws you off course, and you have an “off” day. You miss your workout. You eat a bunch of crap. You feel lethargic all day. You think, “I’ll make up for it tomorrow.” Only, when “tomorrow” comes, you still feel crappy and you are still busy, and you have a MILLION reasons why you deserve another day off. “Two days off is no big deal,” you think. But then the next day, you have to work early, and then you have that thing after work you had forgotten about. By the fourth day, you completely forget about working out at all. Day five rolls around, and you remember again, but it’s Saturday and you’re meeting up with some friends to go wine tasting. “Oh well,” you think. “I’ll start again on Monday.” By Monday, you’ve been “off” for a whole week, and you’ve basically undone all the hard work you put in the previous “good” week.
This ever happen to you? Well guess what — in all my recent conversations with peers and clients, I’m realizing that I’m not alone here. In fact, this seems like one of the most common issues people come to me with: How do you stay consistent? Getting started is no problem, right? At least, not when we are taking on something new, interesting, and we’re in the mood. We start when we have a natural energy upswing, we feel ready, or we’ve reached a point of feeling so low that we are excited to turn it around. But give it a little time, and most of us tend to fall off the wagon. We miss a couple days, that somehow turns into a week, then two weeks, and sometimes it’s even much longer before we get the energy to get back on the horse.
Over the past few years of my life, this is something I’ve worked pretty hard on equalizing. Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to be very driven in my professional life, or with any goals that I set. I’ll work hard to get there, sacrificing my own health and balance to do so, and then when I get a break, I’ll play hard to kind of rebel against the rigid structure I had in place, or balance out. But in the past few years, while dealing with a significant amount of stress, I really put effort into finding a balance while working hard. To not live life with such extreme shifts. To not take on so much at once that it was unsustainable.
This does not come naturally for me! It shows up in my health and fitness goals too, which is where many of you have been talking to me about it. Isn’t it true that when we think about making changes and “getting in shape,” we tend to want to take on the most ambitious workout schedule, cut out all sugar and refined carbs, count calories, and make meal plans, all at once? I know I fall into that trap, because I’m an overachiever! I would feel so motivated and want to see big changes fast! But inevitably, I would burn out and then my mind would trick me into thinking I “deserved” a break from the rigidity. Therefore I would find myself essentially “on vacation” from healthy living, eating whatever I wanted and not getting any exercise. I remember really finding a sense of escape during these times, but also, as time went on, I would just end up feeling super disappointed in myself and my self-esteem would take a hit because I would think there was something wrong with me for not being able to maintain.
Two lessons can be learned here! The first is, when you are looking to make positive changes in your health, BE PATIENT. Take on what you actually CAN do. For example, if you’re new to exercise, don’t tell yourself you’ll hit the gym for an hour every single day. You might do it for a while, but life will inevitably get in the way, you’ll miss a day or two, and then going back to the every day routine will seem like too much and you’ll give up altogether. Set an achievable goal. Commit to 30 minutes, three or four times a week. You might feel like that’s not enough, but it is PROGRESS. And it’s sustainable. That’s what counts! Once you have that routine in place, then assess whether upping your time in the gym is realistic. Adding a moderate amount at a time gives you the time to adjust to your new routine.
The second is a concept I like to call your “bounce back” muscle. Just like any muscle in your body, you can actually exercise, or practice, your ability to get back on the horse after a slip. We are all human. We all miss days for one reason or another. Every time you return to your healthy routine, you are using an inner strength. That strength is your bounce back muscle! Starting over is hard. Going back after a month off, a week off, even two days off is always hard. It’s easiest to keep going when you have momentum, because you’re in the habit of healthy behavior and it starts to feel natural. It takes extra strength to start again after a break, but when you do that, when you get yourself back to your workout, or back in the kitchen cooking healthy food, you strengthen that muscle. You build a memory of what it feels like to return to healthy behaviors. Over time, you will find that you are not as likely to let a day become a week. That you have positive memories of getting right back into it, because the longer you let it go, the heavier the lifting you have to do to get back on track.
I encourage you to keep this in mind next time you slip in your healthy routine! First, ask yourself if your routine is realistic for your schedule and your life. If it is too rigid, you are unlikely to stick to it. Adjust your expectations of yourself so that you challenge yourself, but you also set yourself up for success. Next, remember that each time you slip you have the opportunity to keep your bounce back muscle in shape! The sooner and more often you use it to right your course, the easier it will become to view a day off as just that — a day off. Not a failure, not an excuse to make it a month — Just part of a healthy life balance. Eventually, you’ll bounce back from a slip with ease and beat the cycle of mental anguish.