The capacity for self-control is like a muscle: It varies in strength from person to person and moment to moment. Just as your biceps can feel like jelly after a workout, your willpower “muscle” gets tired when you overtax it.
To strengthen it, pick any activity that requires you to override an impulse (such as sitting up straight when your impulse is to slouch), and add that to your daily routine. And take baby steps. Instead of going junk-free overnight, begin by eliminating, say, those chips you eat by the bag, and substitute them with a fruit or vegetable.
Hang in there, and sticking to your diet will become easier because your capacity for self-control will grow.
Believing you will succeed is key, but believing you will succeed easily (what I call “unrealistic optimism”) is a recipe for failure. Take it from the women, all obese, who enrolled in a weight-loss program in one study. Those who thought they could lose weight easily lost 24 pounds less than those who knew it would be hard. The successful dieters put in more effort, planned in advance how to deal with problems, and persisted when it became difficult. Don’t try to tamp down your worries — they can help prepare you for shape-up challenges.
And train hard. The same is true for your performance goals as well.
Monitoring may be one of the most powerful health habits you could practice. To stay clear about that gap between where you want to go and where you are now. Keep getting on that scale; mark the days you exercise on a calendar. Track your success.
Another thing: When you think about the progress you’ve made, stay focused on how far you have to go, rather than how far you’ve come. If you want to drop 20 pounds, and you’ve lost 5 so far, keep your thoughts on the 15 that remain. When we dwell too much on how much progress we’ve made, it’s easy to feel a premature sense of accomplishment and start to slack off.
When we make goals that are vague, like “I want to lose weight,” we set ourselves up to fail but being specific about your goals will help you find motivation and success. Being specific gives you clarity because you’ve spelled out exactly what success looks like. That means more motivation — and better odds of success. Motivation happens when your brain detects a difference between where you are and where you want to be. When you are specific about your goal (I want to lose 10 pounds), that difference is clear, and your brain starts throwing resources (attention, memory, effort, willpower) at the problem.
Reinforce new, healthy habits. Habits take time to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight. When you do find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly as possible and ask yourself: Why do I do this? When did I start doing this? What changes do I need to make? Be careful not to berate yourself or think that one mistake “blows” a whole day’s worth of healthy habits. You can do it! It just takes one day at a time!
Burning calories through physical activity is essential to weight loss. If you don’t burn more calories than you eat, you won’t lose weight. People think they’re too busy to walk 20 minutes a day or do a little weight training or ride a bike, and then they wonder why they can’t lose weight. If you try to diet without exercise, it just takes that much more effort. Any physical activity, even long walks, will help. Light intensity exercise and activity is also less likely to elevate hunger levels, so go ahead – sneak a session or two in every day.
Your workouts don’t make you physically stronger. They tear you, deplete you, and break your body. But rest after rigors builds power and vigor. Give your body time to re-build what you broke during exercise. Feed it well. Rejuvenate mindfully. If rest is not for you, then train cross-train your workout options.
Practice slightly bracing your mid-section by contracting your abs at least 20% of your max contraction, especially when standing. This move helps ensure your core and back remain strong and protected. This feels like you’re slightly flexing the muscles in the mid-section to pull your belly-button towards the spine.
This exercise engages the transverse abdominus muscle. This deep muscle layer wraps the mid-section like a safety belt, supporting the core, spine, and posture. This movement can be practiced anytime by actively drawing in and holding a contraction for at-least 10-15 seconds at a time.
Changing position often can help keep you from getting “stiff as a board.” Frequent changes in position can also help you maintain a wide range of motion and good flexibility.
If you sit most often then try standing, sit on the floor with your legs crossed, or sink into a deep squat-stretch. Sinking into these position changes can help unlock muscle tightness around the hips and core.
If you stand most often, take a break to sit and relax. A chair with good back support can help decrease inter-vertebral pressure in the spine, helping to relieve tension in the back.
Surround yourself, either virtually or in person, with like-minded people. Join a running group or charity organization training for a race; accountability is motivating and success is contagious.