Some professionals attempt to encourage us by saying that exercise and healthy eating are easy. Sometimes we even tell ourselves the same thing. Are we making it harder that it needs to be?
Definition of Easy: Something you can do.
The Challenge: The things that are easy to do are also easy not to do.
So true. Since being more active and eating healthier are not that difficult for many people, the larger issue may be that it is easy not to be active or eat healthier. Think about it. For most of us, going for a quick 10-minute walk around the neighborhood is easy, but sitting on the couch to watch TV is easier. Preparing a simple healthy meal at the house is easy, but not as easy as swinging through a drive-thru for dinner.
Instead of putting all of our effort into making exercise and healthy eating easier, perhaps we can also consider ways to make these other behaviors more difficult?
- Get rid of junk food in your house. Hard to eat it, if it is not there.
- Create an "exerciser" or "healthy eater" identity. If exercise and healthy eating are integral parts of who you are as a person and your value system, then it will be difficult to take part in behaviors that are counter to that. If everyone thinks of you as a healthy eater, then what trouble would it be to eat a greasy burger in front of them!?
- Commit. Humans are wired to stay consistent with commitments, even small ones that they have made, as well as the things that they have previously said or done1.
- Make your commitments and goals public. If you really want to amp up the impact of your commitments, make them public.
- Do not make decisions on an empty stomach. Eat a snack before you need to decide whether to go workout or what to buy for dinner. Research tells us that we can better control ourselves and make better decisions when we have glucose (carbohydrate) in our blood. Remember, glucose is the only energy source for your brain!
- No more "all-or-nothing" mentality. Many of us make decisions based on whether or not we can complete the entire behavior. We cannot go the gym, so we do not exercise at all. Give yourself options, embrace variety, and remember that something is ALWAYS better than nothing.
- Be mindful. Beware of the specific times and situations that you succumb to those pesky, unwanted behaviors. Do you only not exercise when a certain TV show is on? Do you only snack from that one desk in the office? Do you only overeat when you are stressed? Being aware will force you to consider your options and your commitments, making it harder to choose the unwanted behaviors.
1Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini