Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking. –William Butler Yeats
My friend James and I were having a conversation about nutrition over dinner (I guess an appropriate place to have that chat!). He’d been trying to follow a popular diet/nutrition plan, but was struggling with it. “All I eat is baked chicken breasts and broccoli!” he lamented. “Those chicken breasts are awful—like rubber!”
Then he asked, “You’ve been losing some weight lately—what are you eating?”
So I walked him through the nutrition plan that I’ve been following these past few months, thanks to wellness coach Mike Goncalves of The Wellness Bucket. (I’d categorize it as a “clean eating” plan, but not firmly in any particular camp; it’s not Paleo or Vegan or Low-Carb. It focuses on healthy choices, a good mix of nutrients for fuel, and is—most importantly—doable. It’s certainly not chicken and broccoli —okay, that’s part of the plan, but not EVERY MEAL!)
When I got to the point in my list that I said, “Turkey sandwich for lunch…” James interrupted.
“What did you say? Turkey sandwich?”
“You have BREAD?!”
I nodded. “Whole-wheat bread, yes.”
“I haven’t had bread in YEARS!”
As we continued to talk, it was clear to me (and to him) that James had been trying to follow a diet that just wasn’t the right one for him, or at least wasn’t the right one for him AT THIS POINT IN HIS LIFE. It might work well for some people, but it just wasn’t working for him. It was too restrictive in some ways, and too loose in others.
I understand that. I’ve been on the diet rollercoaster for years myself, and only recently felt like I’ve found a set of eating habits that work for me. (And I’ve had some good results so far: lost 22 pounds in 60 days, built muscle, improved overall health and energy. I now have a good baseline for body fat, so that’s the next goal I’ll be targeting…)
I will tell you a couple secrets I told James about my newfound perspective:
Secret #1: It’s not the perfect diet. It’s good enough for now. I’d say it’s 70% to 80% ideal for me. And that imperfect ideal has been good enough for me to reach my preliminary health goals over the past few months. Is it the perfect diet for me forever? No, but it met my immediate needs. And that imperfection also helped make it easier to implement immediately, which was hugely important for seeing those early results, and building momentum to keep going.
Secret #2: It’s simple and doable. Of all the choices provided for me, I experimented until I found the set of meals that worked for my schedule and my life (and my body). And I stuck to those meals (including my once-a-week required cheat meal—usually a burger!). I’m sort of a machine when it comes to food: I can pretty much eat the same thing each day for weeks at a time, with only a break now and then, and be perfectly fine with it mentally—I don’t feel bored or deprived. That might not work for you—you might need to find several options for menu that you can switch around for some variety. That’s perfectly okay. The idea is to find something you can do, and stick to, for the next 30 days.
Secret #3: It’s only for 30 days. When I started, I said “I’m doing this for the next 30 days, and we’ll just see how it goes.” This time-boxing is one of Mike’s brilliances as a coach—we do something for 30 days, check the results, and then tweak the plan based on those results. I call this approach 30-day experiments. Right now I’m in the third 30-day experiment related to this nutrition and exercise plan. I’m curious to see my results at the end, and am working on the tweaks I’ll make for my next 30 days. The beauty of this approach is that it tricks your mind away from “I have to do this forever!” and the inevitable rebellion that results. It’s just 30 days. (Bonus secret: this 30-day experiment approach works excellently for other things as well. What other habits do you want to build, or hobbies to explore, or changes to make? Set up a 30-day experiment!)
Secret #4: Focus on the process, not the results. This can sometimes be tough, but it’s the thing that makes all the difference. For those first 30 days, I was forbidden to step on a scale, so I didn’t know what sort of weight loss progress I was making. I hadn’t set a specific goal to lose either, because I was focused on establishing an exercise and eating habit that would result in the physical changes I was trying to achieve—building the habits was my goal. The physical changes were also the goal, yes, but I was more focused on establishing the habits that led to the goal, and making those habits stick.
When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.–Confucius
So now James is in his first 30 days of experimenting with this new nutrition plan (no rubbery baked chicken!) He’s enjoying his food more (his lunch-time sandwich feels like a treat), he’s not feeling deprived, he’s building a nutrition habit he can stick to, and he’s just seeing how it goes for this first 30-day experiment. He just said the other day that his belt is a notch tighter… so he’s making progress already!
Even if health and wellness is not your primary goal right now, I encourage you to use these secret strategies to start on any new endeavor. Pick a 30-day experiment, establish an imperfect plan that’s simple and doable for you (get some help if you need it), and focus on the process of doing something every day for the next 30 days. Whether it’s establishing a new practice like journaling or meditation, or spending more quality time with your kids, or getting to bed earlier, give yourself the next 30 days to try it out. See how it goes. Review your results. Adjust your plan. Repeat.
Who knows what progress you’ll make in the next 30-60-90 days and beyond?!
As your first step (because often the first action is the most difficult), leave a comment below and let us know what 30-day experiment you’re going to take on. And then come back after your 30 days and let us know how it went!
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[Photo courtesy of Alessandro Pautasso (cc)]