I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do anything in half-measures. If I’m going to do a thing, I’m going to do it properly. This is the key to my repeated failures.
You heard me. Trying to do something right the first time is the reason why I usually end up not continuing to do that thing. And I’m not the only one. How many times have you tried to start a new routine or habit and have it fall apart within a few weeks? Why do we fail when it comes to diets, exercise schedules, parkour, and other new habits?
It’s because we always try to do all the things. We aim for thirty minutes of exercise five days a week. We decide to cut out carbs, drink bullet-proof coffee, and eat lots of coconut oil indefinitely. We plan to parkour all over town or spend 15 minutes being creative every day.
We manage to exercise three times the first week, twice the second week, and not at all the final week. We discover that bullet-proof coffee is disgusting and we can’t live without muffins. Our parkour dream ends at the bottom of the front steps. Our creativity sessions result in pens strewn across our desk and a devastatingly-blank piece of paper.
What happened? Are we just lacking in self-control?
Cast your minds back to that time-honoured tale of the tortoise and the hare. Notice that each had a strategy.
Tortoise: one thing at a time, viz. one step at a time.
Hare: Run like mad, get bored and distracted, try a different approach, run some more, nap.
Tortoise: 1. Hare: 0.
Why am I focusing on the sporting activities of rodents and reptiles? Because, after all these years, we still haven’t gotten the point. The best way forward is one step at a time. Slow and steady wins the race.
So instead of a crash diet, why not try to eat one piece of fruit every morning? Don’t worry about the rest of your diet for now. Just eat one apple every day. Put a reminder on your phone. Don’t give up if you miss a day. Just be sure to do it the next day.
When you are able to do it without your phone reminding you, add a vegetable to lunch, something easy like a carrot or a couple of lettuce leaves. When that’s a habit, add another vegetable.
Repeat until you are eating your recommended 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of veg a day. Only when that is a habit should you start considering messing with grains, proteins, and other required foods.
You might think, ‘what is the point of eating one fruit a day? That is not going to help me to lose weight or get healthier’. The trick is to adopt the following philosophy:
Something is better than nothing
You can either go on the crash diet (called such due to the inevitable crashing and burning) or you can do one thing. A completely doable, un-overwhelming thing. Just eat an apple. It adds up.
Same goes for exercise. It’s true that a recommended exercise routine includes 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times a week and two sessions of strength training for all muscle groups. That’s a significant change to one’s weekly schedule.
I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to start an exercise routine. Not so easy to maintain it. Of course, chronic illness doesn’t help, and there will always be days when I just can’t. So, you know what I try to do? A 1-minute plank. No matter how tired I am or how bad I feel, I can usually manage a 1-minute plank. It’s not going to make me lose 6 kgs in 6 weeks, but it’s 1 minute of strengthening exercise that I wouldn’t get if I did nothing.Something is better than nothing. Click To Tweet
And it adds up. It might take a long time for the 1-minute plank to have a significant effect, but the fact that I can do it every day without thinking means that at the end of the month, I’ve done 30 minutes of strengthening exercise that I wouldn’t otherwise have done.
30 minutes is more than no minutes.
1 apple is more than no apples.
One ricochet off the wall is more than no richocets off the wall.
And the thing about forming a habit is that you’re aiming to go from conscious incompetent (you know how much you are not doing and have to think about making a change) to unconscious competent (you can eat the right amount of fruit and veg daily without extensive meal planning and decision-making).
The problem is, the more complex the habit, the longer it will take to become an unconscious competent. In fact, it usually takes just enough time for you to give up on the habit altogether before reaching that cognition-free state.
For me, there is no longer any cognitive load involved in eating an apple or doing a 1-minute plank. I just do it, the same way I brush my teeth before going to bed, or drink the coffee my husband places in my hands each morning. Now I can add something else to my routine. How about a carrot and 5 squats?
Before you know it, you’re eating like a healthy person (most of the time), getting more exercise than you used to, and bouncing off buildings like Sébastien Foucan. You won’t get there fast, but you will probably get there.
A small improvement is better than no improvement.
Something is better than nothing.
Just do it. Eat the apple.