3 Simple Lessons Learned From My Failed Diet Attempts

“In 3 months I’m going to lose 20 pounds and be in the best shape of my life”.

Ahhh, desperate words I have uttered countless times.

If only I could go back in console well-intentioned Dan and say “don’t waste the energy.”

I’ve lost count of how many times I set out to change my body. I’d set out by ticking all the boxes of Good Goal Setting but somewhere between the first day and the last day I’d derail. Big time.

There’s something painful about failure isn’t there? Especially repeated failure.

I had a strong desire to change. I also had a pretty good plan of attack. But I was missing something that would not just help me start well but finish well.

The 3 Reasons I Kept Failing

  1. Committing to too many new things at once.
    E.g. “I’ll sign up to the gym, eat strict paleo, drink 4 liters of water a day and sleep 8 hours a night”.
  2. I’d lose sight of the end goal and get discouraged.
  3. What I was trying to do wasn’t sustainable.

The answer, I found, was not trying to become more disciplined, finding a new strategy or selling my soul to the 6-pack gods.

The Not-so-secret Secret

It was becoming aware of the unconscious driving force behind my life:

My habits.

Successful people are simply those with successful habits. – Brian Tracy

What Are Habits and Where Do They Come From?

Habits are routine behaviors done on a regular basis.

They are the recurring and often unconscious patterns of behavior we pick up through frequent repetition. Our habits are repeated so often they send us into autopilot.

We don’t even realize we are doing them.

In his incredible book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes:

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to is own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.”

What did you do when you first got up this morning?

Have a shower? Check your email, watch T.V or put the kettle on?

How about when you get home from work? Chances are you’re on autopilot more often than you think.

What I’ve realized is healthy people are really just normal people with healthy habits.

Habits are the missing link in not only achieving health but maintaining it.

Bad habits are the worst aren’t they? Not only are you doing something less than desirable but you’re hardly aware you’re doing it at all.

Can you imagine what your life and health would look like if slowly but surely you picked your way through your bad habits and changed them into good ones?

Habits that take you closer to your goals rather than further away. Habits that help you rather than hurt you.

The bad news? You can’t extinguish bad habits.

The good news? You can change them.

Below are 4 steps to start changing & making new habits:

1. Make a List

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All life changing progress starts with making a list, right?

Write down 5 bad habits currently contributing to your health. Write down 5 good habits that you can replace them with.

One of the habits I knew I first had to change was my breakfast.

For years I was a cereal & toast guy. Now I have a high protein breakfast – 30 grams within 30 mins of waking up, to be exact. (Thanks Tim Ferris!) This helps with fat loss and energy levels throughout the day and I personally feel 10x better in the mornings than I used to.

At first it was difficult to change because changing a breakfast habit you’ve had for the majority of your life is no small task. Now I don’t even think about it. My good habit replaced my bad one and now I have a healthier habit.

2. Start Small

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When we’ve made a decision to make a positive change we often start too big. We want to change everything today.

Unfortunately, your mind will often feel like it’s tackling too much too fast and abort mission, leaving you covered in twinkie crumbs with a wicked belly ache and you’re left wondering what went wrong.

My recommendation? Start small. Start with one.

Of your list of habits which will be the first ONE you want to change.

The temptation is to want to change them all. Right now. Studies have shown us that it takes between 21-30 days for a new habit to form. So pick one and stick with it.

3. Celebrate

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So you’ve made the list and you’ve started and stayed small. Now what? Celebrate the wins.

We’re addicted to the sense of progress. It’s been said having a sense of progress is one of the biggest contributors of happiness.

Unless we find big or small wins to celebrate consistently we’ll lose focus & lose motivation.

Alright, So you’re not at your goal of running the half marathon but did you just run your fastest 5k ever? (Dramatic High-5) Celebrate that win.

There’s also a great app called Lift I use that helps you track your progress and achieve your goals.

Whatever tool you use just keep your goal and your progress towards it front & center in your health journey.

In the end I’ve come to see desire is what gets us started and habits are what keep us going.

Question: How have you seen habits shape your health? 

Photos: 1 / 2 / 3

Comments

  • spectra311

    Fantastic article, Dan. I can definitely attest to the power of habits. When I was obese, my day went something like this: Wake up, go to the gas station for a donut and an overly sweet cappuccino, go to school and eat a burger and fries for lunch, snack on candy in the afternoon, come home and eat a huge bowl of pretzels while I watched TV and did homework, read or watch TV or clean the house til dinner, eat at least two helpings of whatever we were having for dinner, and then watch more TV until bed. First thing I changed? I started eating a small bowl of cereal and skim milk for breakfast instead of the donut. I had a cup of plain coffee instead of the cappuccino and I lost two pounds in a week. I eventually incorporated other things into my routine–I started walking my dog 4 miles before school and moved on to running part of it. I started taking my lunch with me instead of buying it. Little things like that do add up over time and eventually you’ve created a new habit. If you create enough good habits, weightloss is almost an automatic process.

    • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

      Some great advice in there.
      I love that quote “If you create enough good habits, weightloss is almost an automatic process.”

      That’s awesome – Thanks for sharing!

  • Ryan

    I’m getting back into bodybuilding after a multi-year layoff where learning to dance was my main form of exercise. Bodybuilding teaches you a lot of great lessons, including progressive overload. No one just wakes up and barbell rows 225lbs; that capacity is built over years, and trying to do it immediately will injure/overtrain you.

    The same is true of improving your lifestyle choices. Eating right and being active are mental skills that must be strengthened/developed over time. If you keep doing a little bit better every so often, the progress adds up.

    • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

      That exactly right, Ryan. I spend a bit of time in the gym, too, and that’s one of the first things I had to learn. I’ve found the gym to be as much of a mental game as it is a physical one!

    • http://energyfiend.com/ JamesF

      Why have you decided to go from dance back to bodybuilding / strength training?

      • Ryan

        Well, the question is why I dropped bodybuilding in the first place. Dancing placed such a huge strain on my muscles, leaving them knotted and in need of constant foam rolling, so I had to drop lifting. Now that I’m no longer in a mode where I’m practicing so much to learn/perfect the moves, there’s room again to lift.

        • http://www.energyfiend.com/ Ted

          wow, I had no idea that dancers had to deal with that, makes me appreciate the art even more.