Sustainable change is not always easy. Have you ever experienced starting a new exercise programme or diet with great enthusiasm and doing really well for a while? And then something happened. Perhaps you got a little flu that stopped your good routines, life got too busy, you just forgot about it, or something else. In most cases, it’s not really a deliberate decision to stop whatever you were doing, it just happens.
There are no magic pills or buttons that we can press to avoid this, but we have identified four things that are needed to see long-term sustainable change. We want to encourage you to commit to your plans, make necessary sacrifices, enjoy the journey, and keep working patiently. Let’s take a look at a few key thoughts regarding these.
Commitment is really what it comes down to. Research has for example shown that people wanting to lose weight can do so through various good diets, and the determining factor was not necessarily the individual differences of the diets, but rather in the adherence to any of the diets (1). In order to achieve any goal, we need to put in some effort and make a conscious commitment to sticking to the plan.
To get to where we want to be we have to be willing to give up some things along the way. We like to listen to successful business people or elite athletes sharing their path to success in the hope of finding some golden tips and shortcuts that will allow us to achieve similar success. We can and should learn from these individuals, but the truth is that their path has not usually been one of comfort, but rather of many sacrifices and even failures along the way. We have to be willing to pay the price and make some sacrifices, but just keep in mind that not all things are worth sacrificing.
In order for any plan to be sustainable, it has to be also enjoyable. It can’t be just about denying yourself and giving up things that you enjoy. There needs to be a balance in your life and you need to find enjoyable ways of implementing your programme. Research for example with regards to sports and exercise highlights the importance doing exercise that you enjoy, and are capable of doing, in order to foster greater long-term participation (2). What we are looking for is a higher quality of life that you can enjoy for years to come, not an ascetic lifestyle that denies everything you like.
Our focus is on a long journey and not a 100 m sprint so we need to learn to pace ourselves. Even if your goals may include drastic changes in some areas, the way to achieve them requires gradual progression and small steps in the right direction. Don’t become overwhelmed by a holistic approach, which incorporates many areas of life, but rather look at small practical changes in all areas that you can make. You might not even recognize the power of these, until after a little while you realize how you are feeling better and already closer to your goals.
Take some time to think about what commitment, sacrifice, enjoyment, and patience mean to you and your journey in life. You are the only one that can make change happen in your life and you do have what it takes.
ALHASSAN, S. et al. Dietary adherence and weight loss success among overweight women: results from the A TO Z weight loss study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 June ; 32(6): 985–991.
WILLIAMS. L. Commitment to Sport and Exercise: Re-examining the Literature for a Practical and Parsimonious Model. J Prev Med Public Health 2013;46:S35-S42.