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It may come as a surprise that I’ve struggled a lot with creating consistent healthy habits in the past. Whaaaat? The girl who preaches the importance of consistency once had on-and-off the wagon eating habits, negative self-talk and felt like she had to start over on Monday each week? Yes.
The reason I am so passionate about helping others create consistency in their lives is because of how much I struggled to find it myself. Balance and ease with eating and exercise always seemed elusive to me. Yes I know tons about physiology, training philosophies, nutrition and even psychology, but putting the right formula into practice was something I couldn’t seem to figure out for myself.
Like many of you share with me that you have no challenge eating well for a couple days or even a couple weeks, it’s when work gets busy, life gets stressful or we lose momentum and motivation that our habits start to slide. Before we jump into three critical behaviours that prevent consistent habit creation, we need to acknowledge that the struggle to get consistent is not a knowledge issue. Most of the time do not need to know more about nutrition or exercise. Sure, some tools and lifestyle hacks can help us with implementation, but it is our mindset that affects how we implement what we know.
One roadblock we face when it comes changing our mindset is the shear amount of time it takes to create the mental shift required to change the way we think. Behaviour change, mindset shifts, thinking differently, however you’d like to classify it, takes time, patience and practice, and it is partly our physiology that is responsible.
Thought patterns create neural grooves in our brain. When we think the same way day after day, our brain becomes conditioned and efficient at repeating our thought patterns. It is the same as driving a car over a field of small rocks. The first trip across the field will be bumpy and more time consuming. As the days pass, taking the same route across the field will create a worn path allowing for a faster, smoother and more efficient ride.
Consider that your current thought patterns, whether you are nailing consistency or struggling with it, have become patterned in your brain because you get better at what you practice day after day.
Where we can get confused is if we attempt to eat well on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and we are unable to maintain our great choices (eating vegetables, listening to our hunger cues, getting enough lean protein, drinking water, exercising regularly etc) as Friday, Saturday and Sunday roll around. Why aren’t we getting better at consistency if we are practicing so hard for the first few days of the week?
The answer lies in creating a few important distinctions about what consistency is:
Consistency is not all or nothing.
Consistency is not perfection.
Consistency is what we can easily repeat, what can be accomplished on great days, sad days, bad days and weekend days.
The best quote to sum up our struggles with consistency comes from my business coach and mindset shifter extraordinaire, Jill Coleman: “If we could be a little less perfect, we could be a lot more consistent.”
As human beings we’ve got deep-rooted behaviours that keep us struggling to get consistent. It’s no wonder we have a large population of people who know what to do, but have a hard time putting it into practice on a regular basis. Learning how to modify these behaviours is essential in order to create a mindset that fosters consistency. I think we can learn how to get consistent, because I was the poster child for knowing what to do and struggling to actually do it. Inconsistency has nothing to do with being mentally weak, being uneducated or feeling genetically slighted, it has everything to do with not knowing how to manage our mindset and the resulting consistency-killing behaviours below.
While perfectionism seems like a trait worth striving for, it is actually one of the biggest consistency killers. Perfectionists are less likely to be able to adapt during times of stress, and have a harder time understanding that ‘their best’ will change from day to day. I spent years operating with perfectionist behaviour, it usually played out like this:
‘I should be able to just eat better! What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just make better choices?’ or ‘It isn’t supposed to be this hard, I don’t want to fail, I can’t fail at something that should be this easy.’ also ‘I can’t believe I did that, and why haven’t I seen results yet?’.
Perfectionists are more likely to be rigid, unforgiving, unadaptable, operate in the all-or-nothing mindset and struggle to see that the journey is as worthwhile as the destination. No wonder I had such a hard time getting consistent! While perfectionism can seem tempting with it’s illusions of high standards and not accepting anything but our best, it is tiring, and an unreliable operating system when REAL LIFE happens. The best tool to combat a perfectionist mindset is to adopt the idea of failure as feedback. We only learn by messing up, so being scared to make mistakes, to overeat, to skip workouts is silly, unless we are afraid and incapable of looking at what we could change in the future.
Almost every woman I know has a superwoman gene, and there is certainly nothing wrong with being a giving, high achieving, loving, successful and talented woman. But at some point we’ve got to accept that we can not do it all at once. This is about learning to say no, creating healthy boundaries, and setting priorities.
When we let our focus spread among too many responsibilities, nothing of impact gets done. Consistency is extremely challenging to execute when we are distracted or wasting time and mental energy by juggling too much. The best tool for combatting superwoman behaviour is delegation. What can the kids do to help? What can your co-worker take on? Can your friends help you out with your upcoming volunteer project?
Being consistent is an exercise in mindfulness. The more aware we are of our mental energy, our emotional state and our physical hunger cues, the less likely we are to exude impulsive behaviours like grabbing sugary treats at the grocery store or over-eating in front of the television. Impulsive behaviour and reactive behaviour are very similar. Impulsive choices are often made when we are frustrated, tired, angry or sad. Rather than making a quick decision, spend time sitting in the mud with your feelings.
The tool for combatting impulsive behaviour is awareness. Rather than acting out of impulse, we practice consideration and patience. This is a great strategy with food. The next time you feel an impulsive food craving, try waiting it out. Ugh! So tough to start, but an exercise in awareness and being mindful rather than reactive.
We come by the behaviours above honestly. As humans we are conditioned to be willful, to push harder, to strive for perfection and to operate with the go hard or go home mindset. Can you see how this keeps us in the all or nothing trap? How we can essentially wear ourselves out after three or four days of perfect eating only to condition our brains into operating in mindless weekend mode?
This doesn’t mean we eat potato chips and sit on the couch every day because that is what we can consistently do with little to no effort, this means that we find what healthy behaviours are relatively easy to perform and we focus on nailing those. We understand that it takes time to create habits and that trying to change everything all at once is a recipe for disaster. Above all, let’s practice patience as we learn to manage our consistency-killing behaviours. Remember, easy is earned 🙂
Until next time,