Let’s talk about how our brains and bodies respond to change.
In order to understand how Change affects us we must define the concept of the SAID Principle — the body always gets better at exactly what it does. While we generally talk about this idea in relation to movement and performance, the brain works the same way with regards to everything we do (or don't do).
Habits are easy. Our morning ritual is our morning ritual because we don’t have to think about it. We frequent the same stores, take the same routes, buy the same brands, and return to the same restaurants because it’s the path of least resistance. This is precisely why habits are so hard to break.
While this may all be common sense to you, what you may not be aware of is that the body actually prefers it that way. We are hard-wired for survival as opposed to performance, which means that we want to conserve energy as much as possible — you simply never know when you need to outrun a cheetah (or, in more modern terms, avoid hitting swerving car next to you because the driver is chatting on their cell phone). And, making any sort of change requires additional energy — the brain literally burns more glucose when we have to do something out of the ordinary.
So, when you decide to "go for broke" and make several changes at the same time, any unplanned events in your life can easily derail the change you want to make. Your body literally runs out of energy to manage all of the changes, and falls back to what it already knows in order to make it through the day. So, while it may be frustrating to make changes gradually, it is a much more realistic approach for guaranteeing success because both emotionally and physically it requires less energy and won't place unrealistic demands on the body. Remember, success breeds success, so it is much better to have many small successes that add up, than to take on TOO much at once, fail and have to start all over at square one.
With that in mind, let's look at a few examples of places where people often struggle to make changes, and some ways to ease in to change.
Get More Sleep
Americans are notoriously sleep-deprived. Accidents related to sleep deprivation have been estimated to have an annual economic impact of $43 to $56 billion, and recent studies even indicate a link between chronic sleep deprivation and obesity. If you need to sleep more and improve the quality of your sleep:
• Create a nighttime ritual. 30 minutes prior to bedtime, unplug. Get away from the computer, put the phone away.
• Work to standardize your hours of sleep to a consistent amount 7 days a week.
• Finally, shift your schedule in 15-minute intervals to work up to 7-8 hours/night. Move it back just 15 minutes one week, and then 15 minutes the next week. In virtually everyone’s schedule, there is 15 minutes that can be given up somewhere.
Make just one change a week. Here are some possibilities:
• Cut out a snack.
• Add one vegetable.
• Change one spice.
• Move just one meal out from in front of the TV.
• Throw out one trigger food.
• If weight loss is your goal, count your calories for one week. The next week, reduce caloric intake by just 100 calories per day. Each week thereafter, continue to reduce your calories by 100 calories per day until you are eating at your appropriate caloric volume to lose weight.
85-90% of individuals who start a training program quit within the first 90 days, and 85% of that group quits due to injury. Given the large number of adults who claim to be on a training program, that is an awful lot of false starts. So, how do you start a training program you can stick with? As you have probably already guessed, slowly.
• If your problem is you just don't feel like training, then our first recommendation is to choose something that you enjoy. Research shows your rate of success is much higher if you choose something you like, because you are considerably more likely to stick with it. So, this week, pick one thing you like, and commit to it for a minimum of 5 minutes and have fun. Soon, you'll find yourself getting your full training program in.
• If time is a problem, realize you don't have to spend an hour a day in the gym to get or stay in shape. Look for 10, 15, or 30 minute windows in your schedule. It all adds up.
• Lastly, if you are one of those 85% who quit due to injury, a mobility warm-up will make you more resilient against future injuries. That, combined with starting the first week at no more than 50% of what you think you are capable of and remembering never to push into pain, will go a long way towards injury-free training.
To summarize, 1) pick something you like to do, not something you feel like you have to do, 3) it doesn't have to be an hour, make it short fast and realize it is effective, and 3) ensure that your body is prepped for success by being prepared for movement.