December 28th, 2022

How to Make Lasting Change

It’s the hap-happiest season of all! If you own a gym, because your membership dues are about to skyrocket! Best month on the planet for gym membership, and if they can get people to buy year long memberships they are making 11 months of straight profit. That’s right, many new year’s resolutions don’t make it out of the month of January. In fact, 43% of resolutions are abandoned in the first month of the year, and a whopping 90% are kaput by the end of March. Ever the optimists, we humans continue to make resolutions anyways. So, how can we make changes that actually stick? Here’s a few tips to make lasting changes, and not just at the start of a new year!

First one is easy: reward yourself. Eating healthy is lame! Salad without ranch or bacon bits? What’s the point? Working out is the worst, it makes my body hurt and highlights how out of shape I am. Making healthy choices creates delayed rewards. Most of us don’t experience instantaneous benefits from healthy lifestyle changes. Eating healthy will take months to have a major impact. Healthy weight loss typically averages out to losing 2 pounds per week, meaning a max of under 10 pounds a month, which may not be what people want or expect. Leading to people not sticking with it. Workout routines are likely going to be hard and fairly miserable for the first two weeks, and muscle growth/body changes on average take 8 weeks to be visible. So, when making lifestyle changes that don’t include instant rewards, you need to build in rewards. Met your goal for going to the gym, reward! Meal prepped your healthy meals for the week, reward! We need to hack our brain to be happy with the changes, because some healthy changes take time for the reward to show up.

Second: make changes about lifestyle. Starting a diet rarely works. Spoiler, they are all about caloric deficit. Burning more calories than you take in is the mechanism for weight loss in every single diet. Starting a workout routine is physically hard for at least a few weeks, and finding something fun and uplifting that you might even enjoy is even harder. Trying to be a kinder person or having more gratitude takes work each day for about 3 weeks to build those new habits. When we just focus on behavior change, it can be a slog to make progress, and pretty easy to give up. But when we make changes that are about our lifestyle, when a change isn’t just a temporary fad but rather a personality trait, we tend to stick to it more. It’s why crossfit became such a phenomenon, or being vegan is thought of as a personality trait, those people have adopted behavior changes into their core being. If we can identify the behavior change as part of who we are, we are far less likely to give it up. Being health conscious is different than doing a diet, one is permanent, one is temporary. If you were doing an ice breaker at a group meeting, can you introduce yourself with this change as a fun fact? Hey, I’m Craig and I do tough mudder races! Sup, I’m Shelley and I haven’t eaten sugar in two years! Lifestyle changes are longer lasting, and identifying with the change means we are less likely to give it up.

Third: make process oriented goals. Behavior change is a process, not an event. The hard work is the journey, but many of us make our goals about the end result. Making our goals about the process allows our brain to feel happy when we hit each mile marker, rather than only being happy when we get to the finish. So, “I’m going to exercise more!” becomes “I’m going to exercise 5 days out of the week!” And then, because that is a weekly goal, we even break that down further into the small steps of daily goals, and then break those daily goals into actionable items, whether those be equipment needed, travel plans, exercise plan, time management, all that good stuff that we can actually control right now in the moment. So a big goal, like working out more, turns into actionable items that we can do something about in this very moment. Those action items get crossed off our to-do list, and our brain gets a hit of dopamine to feel good and keep the motivation up. I’ve written more about this here for further reference. 

Quick hitters: body doubling, which means completing tasks at the same time as another person. Structure time for the new change, as in setting aside the same hour every other day for the new behavior. Both of these tips can be accomplished by joining a class or group, so if your goal is to be more active, join a workout class. If your goal is more couple time, join a bowling league. Something consistent in your schedule that also taps a bit into social pressure to stick to your commitment. 

Happy new year, y’all. Let’s have a good one!

P.S.: Just a programming note, I’ll talk more about how to make change on my YouTube channel. You can check that out, I usually riff in a more extended way on what I write about in the blogs. I also will have some guests coming up to talk about their areas of expertise, so sharing my goal for the year to make that channel a more fun experience!