Making the decision to invest in healthy lifestyle changes is more than just flipping a switch. Making sustainable lifestyle changes is a process that takes time, dedication, and patience. Psychologists have found that it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit to become automatic, but the truth is that building and maintaining lifestyle changes is highly dependent on each individual. For this reason, it is important to set up your lifestyle changes to work with your life and to give yourself grace as you find the rhythm that works for you. However, there are some easy strategies that can help you develop a lifestyle change plan that works for you.
1. Focus on the whole picture
Lifestyle changes are like a puzzle. There are many pieces that must add up to the whole picture. Building habits in only one area of the puzzle will leave your overall picture lacking dimension. Your physical, mental, and emotional health all work together to make and break lifestyle changes, so it is important to understand how they all interact when setting up your lifestyle change plan.
- Sleep – The average adult should try to sleep 7-9 hours each night. During restful sleep, your body has time to regenerate and recharge. This time is integral to the success of making a lifestyle change; Lack of sleep can result in irritability, cravings, and fatigue, all of which can derail a successful lifestyle change.
- Water – Hydration is the key to most of your bodily functions. Without staying hydrated, neither your body nor your mind will be working with the lifestyle change process. So, grab a big water bottle and hydrate!
- Stress – By taking care of your body, you are naturally signaling to your brain that your overall stress levels can decrease. A new habit can reinforce your stress management system and will ultimately lead to overall stress management success. Focus on finding manageable habits you can integrate into your daily routine. You can build on those strong core routines as you continue to reach for your long-term goals.
- Consumption – Nutrition is an important element of the puzzle. When we charge our body with healthy ingredients, we can focus on building and maintaining healthy habits. When we fuel with junk food, we will inevitably crash and fall off the lifestyle change wagon. Focus on finding healthy replacements for junk food that you can actually sustain.
- Exercise – Staying active affects your physical and mental health. By finding fun ways to stay active, you provide additional endorphins that help your brain and body function at peak performance!
2. Set realistic and achievable goals
The goals you set for yourself are integral to your overall success in changing your lifestyle. Focus on setting goals that are realistic. Instead of expecting to run a marathon in six months, shoot for running a 5K and work up to the marathon. Setting realistic goals that you can achieve and then building on them will help you maintain momentum and stay motivated.
3. Create daily structured activities related to the goals
Building activities into your day helps you stay on track with your goals. Instead of assuming you will figure it out in the moment, plan fun activities you can look forward to throughout the day that pertain to your goal!
4. Make habits that you can keep
For most people, it is unrealistic to assume that you will always be at peak motivation. So, think about how you can build habits that are sustainable in your life, even when you aren’t on the health kick. Learning to swap out junk food for healthier options is one habit that you can likely maintain even when you aren’t constantly in the mood to go to the gym. Here are few fun alternatives you can try to get started:
- Swap out sandwiches for open faced sandwiches- cutting out half the carbs in your sandwich makes a huge difference in your nutritional balance
- Swap seltzer for soda- you can save over 20 grams of sugar by making the switch
- Swap Greek yogurt for sour cream- not only do you save calories, but you also add healthy probiotics to the recipe!
- Swap an apple for your bagel- having a morning apple and peanut butter instead of a peanut butter bagel saves calories, carbs, and adds nutrients to a balanced diet
5. Adopt new habits slowly and build on success
Building habits takes time. Be patient with yourself and understand that the fastest way forward isn’t always the smartest way forward. The goal in creating lifestyle changes isn’t to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. The goal is to build habits that are sustainable in your everyday life. So, give yourself time to start small and build on success so that the end result is rock solid.
6. Find a lifestyle buddy
One of the easiest ways to make lifestyle changes is to do it with a partner! Find a buddy that is committed to the process and can keep you accountable. This will help you think of new habits to build, keep you motivated, and give you someone to talk to about the journey.
7. Track progress
An easy way to fail to change is by not tracking progress. Tracking progress is crucial to continued success, as it shows you how far you’ve come and where you want to go. Track your progress so you can learn from setbacks, see common trends, and have a pathway to success.
8. Change one behavior at a time
You don’t have to do it all at once! In fact, it’s nearly impossible to make lifestyle changes that last if you are doing them all at the same time. Making lifestyle changes requires patience and dedication. Your brain is learning a new skill and needs time and focus to build those neuropathways. So, focus on building one behavior at a time.
9. Learn about balanced nutrition and find the balance that works for you
Every person’s body responds to food differently, and not all metabolisms work the same. Cutting calories isn’t the only way to get healthy, and in fact many diets that cut out entire food groups are unhealthy. Your body needs a healthy balance of nutrients, including healthy fats and carbs. Finding a nutritional balance that works for you will help you stay motivated and build sustainable change into your life.
10. Find your why
Finding your why is the single greatest thing you can do if you want to make your lifestyle change easy. By discovering what your deepest goal is, you can stay motivated and positive during the process. When setting goals, it is helpful to focus on overall health and lifestyle. Whether your stay motivated with numerical indicators such as weight management or how much you can bench, or with hobbies and daily activities like being able to run with your friends or play with your grandkids, finding your deepest why will help you build habits that last.