Starting From Zero
A small-steps guide to real transformation.
Loads and loads of people have let their health slide. Over the past two years, thanks to the pandemic, for sure. But even before that, the trend was sloping hard toward poor health for over a hundred million Americans.
While the diet and health food and fitness industries have been booming, so has the number of overweight adults and children. And, much worse than just making us look bad in skimpy clothing, those unwanted pounds are driving rates of diabetes, heart disease and other killers higher and higher.
Maybe you’re among these millions. Maybe you’ve totally given up and you’re reading this reclined on the sofa, finishing off the bag of potato chips you opened five minutes ago. Maybe your lap is littered with cookie crumbs right now and there are chocolate stains on all of your athleisureware.
Maybe you’ve tried and failed so many times, it feels like you’re better off not caring, ignoring your health altogether and hoping for the best. If any of that sounds familiar or rings true, this post is for you.
Not a New Year’s Resolution
If you’ve tried getting healthy in the past and failed, the fault likely wasn’t due to a lack of discipline or will-power. Or, rather, it was, but that makes you no different from the vast majority of human beings.
We’re simply not wired to deprive ourselves of the things we want. In fact, our evolution demands the opposite of us — our bodies are coded to seek pleasure and avoid pain; to consume the highest-calorie, most easily-digestible foods we can get our hands on. So once you understand that, you know why New Year’s resolutions never work.
Pointing to a date on the calendar and saying, “I’m going to change my life starting right then,” is about as effective for weight loss as eating nothing but bacon and baby-back ribs. Any sane person should know that that can never work.
Resolutions aren’t inherently bad. They’re supposed to be about setting intentions or goals, and figuring out what steps to take to achieve those goals. Those can actually be very effective strategies. The problem is the way most of us execute those strategies.
Most of us think, “Resolutions! New Year’s resolutions!!” We see them as these great big efforts and expect them to elicit mammoth, lightning-fast results. That strategy can work wonderfully well if you just need to lose the five pounds you gained over the recent holidays. But if you’re trying to reverse the effects of months or years of neglect, our typical idea of resolutions is not the way to go.
A Methodical, Measured Approach
There are entire books written on small-step, slow habit change. I’ve read a few. I wrote one myself years ago. But here’s all you really need to know: There are five key principles to creating true, lasting transformation in any area in life. The recipe is the same whether you want to lose weight, run an ultra-marathon, master chess, rise to the top of your career field or anything else:
- Identify Your Why — You’ve got to be strongly motivated toward transformation in order to succeed. This means naming your reason(s) for embarking on the endeavor in the first place. If your “why” isn’t compelling, you’ll never follow through. When it comes to health, my motivation is simple: I don’t want to spend the last third of my (unnecessarily short) life sick and unable to enjoy all life has to offer. I want to live life vibrantly, for as long as I possibly can.
- Start Small — Resolutions don’t work, remember? So you’ve got to start small. Choose one or two tiny, positive changes you can stick with, and give them all your attention for two or three weeks.
- Progress Slowly — When you’ve mastered those first two changes, add one more. A month later, take another step forward. Pretty soon, those first healthy habits that seemed so tough to stick with will just be part of your life.
- Expect Setbacks — Progress is never linear for anyone, so why should you be any different? Your willpower will fail. You’ll get sick or injured or have to deal with a family crisis. You might feel like you’re back at square one. This will be incredibly discouraging, but know that it’s normal. By expecting trouble from the outset, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it.
- Don’t Give Up — When your progress does halt or reverse, cry for a minute, then get up and start again. The only way we ever get anywhere is by getting up and moving. When you’re thinking about giving up, go back to the top of the list and remind yourself why you’re doing this.
If you’re interested in improving your health, stay tuned. I’ll be writing a series of posts covering what I consider to be the four keys to well-being: good sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise and nurturing the mind. The first of these will drop in a few days.
Until then, think about your “why.” Then maybe get up and go for a little walk. Into the kitchen doesn’t count!
Note: This is the first in a series on transformation through small steps. Read the next article here.