Topics » Wellness » How to Make Your Healthy Habits More Sustainable
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Having coached over 750 clients to improve their fitness and health, I’ve come to realize that mindset is one of the most critical factors to sustainable success. We all know this is true. You can give anyone an incredible meal plan, a workout program, and all the most useful information, but if they don’t have the correct mindset to do anything with that information, nothing will change. Most people can start strong, but they tend to fall off track the longer the journey goes.

Does that sound like you? If so, continue reading. In this article, I’ll share a few principles to help you improve your mindset and equip you with tools to get back on track whenever things get challenging. Because they will, at one point, get difficult. They always do. Life doesn’t stop happening just because we’ve decided to get healthier.

This brings me to the first principle: manage your expectations.

In my experience, unrealistic expectations are the most common reason people falter in their health journeys. They think they’ll be able to always remain disciplined, make the right nutritional choices, and do all their workouts. But that’s not how transformation realistically works. More often than you would like it to, life is going to kick you in the butt and test you. That might include emergencies with your kids, last-minute work projects, vacations, business trips, unexpected illnesses or injuries, financial hardship, or other stressful life events. The point is that these obstacles are inevitable; it’s unrealistic to expect that you can avoid all of them for the rest of your life. If your goal is to achieve lasting results (and why would it not be?), you need to adjust your expectations to account for difficulties like these. It might be possible to avoid emergencies or difficult situations in a 12- or 24-week period, but it’s unrealistic to do so throughout a lifetime.

So, understand that life is long and you will absolutely go off track at some point. That’s okay. Give yourself some grace, get back at it, and continue moving forward. As with any other areas that are important in your life, you have to show up and do your best. Imagine what would happen if you stopped showing up for your relationship with your partner. You wouldn’t have one anymore. What if you stopped showing up for your job or your business? You wouldn’t have one anymore. But if you continue to show up, it will work out.

This brings me to the second principle: detach yourself from the timeline.

As I just said, wellness is a lifelong journey. Having been at this coaching thing for a while, I’ve seen many people undermine their transformation by being too attached to a timeline.

That is not to say you should set no goals. With guidance, you can estimate how long it might take you to reach different milestones, but these are only milestones. The most important part of goal-setting is not that you achieve everything on a set schedule but that you set the tone and direction for your continued sustainable development.

Suppose, hypothetically, that someone wants to lose 20 pounds. Often, they become so attached to losing that weight within a specific time frame that they give up if something comes up and they no longer think they can reach their goal by the deadline they have set. It doesn’t make sense, but many people will choose to quit and then eventually restart their progress by again trying to reach their goal as fast as possible. Of course, the more effective and quicker way to lose those 20 pounds is to detach from the timeline and continue moving forward, even if more slowly than you initially hoped for. Learning to accept slipups and delays is critical to developing more sustainable, healthy habits.

And I promise you, once you lose the 20, 30, 60, or 80 pounds, or more—and even more importantly, once you feel healthier and know that you have reduced your chronic disease risk and potentially extended your lifespan—you will be so happy that you won’t care how long it took you to get there.

healthy habits

Principle number three is a powerful one: consistency compounds.

By consistency, I do not mean showing up perfectly every single day of your life. The idea is to show up as much as possible; ideally, you will show up more often than not. Of course, if you could show up one hundred percent of the time, you would reach your goals faster, but this is very difficult, if not impossible (see principle number one above). If you could show up eighty percent of the time, your progress would be slower, but you’ll still effectively move forward.

Things get harder when you feel stuck, as happens when you spend fifty percent of your time adhering to your workout and nutrition plans but also the remaining fifty percent of the time undermining those plans. Although you are not necessarily making yourself less healthy at that point, you will not move forward very much, if at all. But if you can get to fifty-one percent and slowly increase your consistency, you will undeniably reach your goal; it will only be a matter of time.

The more progress you make, the more exponential your progress will be. Think of your time and energy like an investment: you cannot increase your wealth by compounding interest if you never invest anything, but even a one-cent daily deposit can compound.

This brings me to principle four: give 100 percent of what you can.

Some days, you will wake up feeling on top of the world and won’t have issues sticking to your exercise or nutrition plan. On other days, you’ll wake up feeling 70, 50, or even 20 percent. And that’s okay.

We tell our clients to give 100 percent of that 70 percent, 100 percent of that 50 percent, or whatever they have in the tank. By showing up on the days when you don’t feel like it, you strengthen the mental muscles that will allow you to stay healthy. In fact, you might find it more valuable to show up when you have less energy to give because those are the days when you build the most resilience.

Last but not least is this: focus on winning the next meal or workout.

I’ve been sharing this with people for years because it’s a game-changer. As I said before, sometimes you will be derailed by stress in your life or circumstances outside your control. Your ability to get back on track is what will determine how fast you reach your goal or if you ever get there.

Many people respond to a slipup by setting their sights on one of three start dates: the beginning of the next week, the beginning of the next month, or the beginning of the next year. They tell themselves, I messed up, but next week (or month or year) I will buckle down and finally get into gear. Ultimately, however, this is just delaying their progress and potentially putting them at a worse starting place.

If you lose your way, I want you to focus instead on winning the next meal or workout. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t try to compensate the following day by eating less or working out more intensely, and don’t delay; simply get back on track with your regular plan. If you start going down the path of compensating for the days when you do less, you could easily fall into a vicious cycle that leads to an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise.

Putting These Principles into Practice

Now that we have covered the five principles I find most helpful for sustaining lifelong healthy habits, I invite you to write them down and put them somewhere you can see them. For most people, the kitchen (perhaps on the fridge) is a good place for this reminder.

Like I always tell my clients—and I’ve written this in previous articles for CNS—none of the tips I share will change your life unless you implement them. Knowledge is nice, but without action, it won’t get you anywhere. So, my final bit of advice is that you take one of the principles I’ve shared and implement it in your life, starting today:

  • manage your expectations
  • detach yourself from the timeline
  • consistency compounds
  • give 100 percent of what you can
  • focus on winning the next meal or workout.

You’ve got this!

Coach Maxime

(Read more about how to tangibly transform your body composition on a whole food, plant-based lifestyle and how to speed up your metabolism after losing fat.)

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