“I need to make major changes.” I hear this all the time.
Usually it’s from someone who is at a low point in fitness and is frustrated/disgusted/tired from wanting to feel and see changes in fitness but never experiencing any.
If you’re out-of-shape, unhealthy, or otherwise struggling for fitness, you might think that major changes are in order. And that’s the problem.
In general, we don’t get badly out-of-shape from major changes. After a single weekend of bad choices, we don’t pack on 10 pounds. It’s the small changes we don’t think too much about that have the biggest impact. A few skipped workouts, a few “treats” after a hard day, an evening glass of wine to relax (“after all, wine is good for me” we tell ourselves), a few days of missed sleep or skipping breakfast…and we’re in a pattern of behaviors that lead us away from health. And “suddenly” we’re living in a body that is evidence of years of little daily mistakes…not a few days of big ones.
We get to the point where we’ve had enough and seek a change. But if you don’t start your health journey just right, you can make the likelihood of success much lower. I call it the “Sundae, Sunday, or Someday” phenomenon.
Sundae: If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities at home and/or work – all the little things that just HAVE to get done every day – the notion of carving out more time to take care of yourself can be enough to push you over the edge. You need a quick hit of feel-good brain chemicals. So you might turn to an ice cream sundae. The combination of fat and sugar floods your body and you get a quick shot of hormones that elevate your mood. But meanwhile, you send your body’s fat storing ability through the roof so numbing the pain in the moment only makes the problem worse.
Sunday: You decide that today is the day and you simply start making better smaller choices. You have a balanced breakfast and start to think of planning your breakfasts for the week for you and your family to make the hectic morning routines more in line with healthy living. And it continues from there…you look for other ways to make small healthier choices day-by-day. Before you know it, you’re feeling better. And this lets you put more effort into making better food and exercise choices. And your body starts changing. You feel better than you have in some time and are full of motivation to continue. Today is the day you can make the u-turn and reverse the small behaviors that have led to poor health. No drama, just small shifts in behavior.
Someday: You step on the scale after dragging yourself out of bed feeling exhausted and despair at the number that stares back up at you. All you can feel is the tiredness in your bones and the weight of the effort it will take for you just to get to anything approaching a healthy weight. It’s all just too much for you to face today. You’ll lose those pounds someday, but today there’s just too much to do. There’s no time for self-care as you’ve got too much happening. There’s status updates to post, new cell phones to stand in line for (really?), and that new gourmet cupcake shop you just have to try. Important stuff.
You can probably guess which approach is a healthy one and which one will actually work. It’s the “Sunday” one. If the pressures in your life are too great, you’ll just need to escape them with whatever unhealthy food or behavior helps provide relief. If you look at how far you are from where you want to be and feel all of that distance on one day, it will overwhelm you and you’ll put off changes to some mythical later date of “someday.”
Big change come from small changes and simple choices in the moment, day-by-day that are repeated over time. The fallacy that big changes come from making big changes is what often keeps you from taking any real action. If it seems too big for your brain to figure out where to start then you never will.
Start today – whatever day of the week it is. Just figure out a single behavior you can change that will be easy enough to alter, but big enough to have an impact in your life and build enthusiasm for continuing to add little changes.