Why Is Behaviour Change So Hard?
Making changes to our behaviour is hard, there is absolutely no denying that. If it wasn't, wouldn't we all be where we want to be now? Even though behaviour change is hard, it is absolutely do-able, and doesn't need to be as hard as we sometimes make it. Below are some of the reasons that you are finding changing behaviours so hard, along with some solutions to help put behaviour change into action.
1. We don't have a plan.
In any area of life that we want to succeed we need to have a plan, and map out what we want to happen. Things don't always go to plan, but we have a general idea of the direction we should be moving in. When we start a business, we write a business plan; when we want to increase our savings, we create a budget; and when we decide that a renovation might be a nice idea, there are building plans to plan out exactly what will need to happen to get us where we want to be. The same is true with health changes. If we don't have a plan we are shooting blind. How can we possibly get where we want to be if we don't have an idea of where that is, and what it will take to get there. Making positive changes to your health might mean more cooking from home. This means you will need to put together a rough meal plan (here is my master post on making a meal plan, if you haven't already read it), so you know what to buy at the grocery store and prepare for your meals before you get too tired or hungry to be able to think rationally about it. Taking some time to put together a plan that is realistic for you is a great place to start. You might also need to learn how to cook, or learn about healthy and balanced eating.
2. We're trying to do too much at the one time.
Trying to make too many changes at once is a recipe for making no changes. It's totally unrealistic and doesn't work long term. We live in a fast-paced world, where we have access to so much at the push of a button. We are used to getting what we want fast, and get very impatient if what we want takes too long. These expectations transfer to when we want to make behaviour changes as well. We have a surge of motivation to make changes, and try to change everything at once, only to end up right back where we started (or in an even worse headspace) a week or two later. When we focus on one thing at a time, and continue focusing on that one thing until it's stuck, that is where the magic happens and where long term behaviour change is possible. We often have to change our expectations, though, and change our thinking to a long term approach.
3. It's not fun!
If something isn't fun, it won't be a long term behavioural change. Often I see people pushing themselves really hard to do things that just aren't enjoyable to them, only to do a 180 and end up right back where they started, with a little less self confidence.
If you are able to find a way to enjoy the journey, or the process, the destination, or your health goal, will be an added bonus instead of the drawcard. I really enjoy shopping at the Farmer's Markets and cooking new recipes with seasonal ingredients often trying to see how I can add more vegetables in, and I now mostly use exercise as a stress relief and to clear my head, which means I am always looking for ways to fit it into my day, instead of excuses to get out of it.
4. We think it's going to be a quick-fix.
We live in a world where we want everything instantaneously, and we take this approach with our health goals too. The thing is though, that working towards improve health is a life-long endeavour. We don't just achieve good health, and hold on to it forever. This is something we need to keep working on. We make changes to the behaviours that are no longer serving us, for ones that will have a more positive effect on our health outcomes, and this process might continue throughout our life based on what is happening for us at any one time.
5. Our goals are short-sighted or superficial.
The 'why' of making changes is incredibly important. While short-sighted goals might motivate you for a week or two they generally won't be enough to keep you going much longer. You really need to dig deep to discover your why, and your changes will be a lot more successful if your reason for making changes outweighs some inevitable effort that the behaviour change can take.
6. We think failure is final and not part of the process.
None of us are perfect, and when we set ourselves up for an all-or-nothing approach, we will inevitably fail. As I mentioned above, doing too much at once is a recipe for doing nothing at all. Changing your approach is OK and can even be a helpful strategy to help move in the direction you want to be heading. Deviating from your goals or plans can be thought of as a lesson instead of a failure, and we can adapt our plans to incorporate what we have learned. For example, if you were out of town on the weekend and didn't make it to the grocery store, you haven't failed at getting prepared for the week, instead this can be a lesson about how to still eat well when you haven't prepared as much as you would have liked to. You could push your shopping and cooking back one day and use Monday as an opportunity to find a healthy option near where you work, or to see if you can throw together a healthy lunch with what's in the cupboard (hello tuna, brown rice and four bean mix). The aim is consistency not perfection. This means consistently doing the best you can with whatever situation you are in, instead of the all-or-nothing approach of perfection.
7. We don't have support.
Having support from others can be absolutely crucial in the success of your behaviour change. Setting up a support system means that you are making a commitment to what you are wanting to change and the support helps to encourage and keep you accountable. This is great to help keep you on track with what you are doing but especially important when things aren't going the way you want them to.
As a dietitian and nutritionist in Canberra, I work with individuals to help them achieve their health goals, and in my experience when people commit to the process and have the accountability and support provided by regular appointments, that is where longer-term behaviour changes can be achieved and improvements to health made. If you would like support and guidance with making behaviour changes, get in touch! I'd love to hear from you.
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