How To Create Habits To Instill Change

By Kristi Kalinsky, RD, LD
May 10, 2022

mindset.jpgIf you have been a long-time listener to our Dishing Up Nutrition podcasts, have read our articles, taken one of our classes or met with a dietitian/nutritionist at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, you know our philosophy is eating real food and avoiding manufactured or processed foods. It is about taking those real foods (animal proteins, healthy fats, and vegetable carbohydrates) and eating them in balance throughout the day to experience such benefits as more energy, fewer aches and pains, and/or weight loss… just to name a few.

You have the information you need and you know what you are supposed to do, but how do you actually go from knowing to doing? Trying to form a new habit or instill change can be daunting and overwhelming for most people.

Ask yourself a couple of questions: where do you get stuck the most in trying to make changes in your life? Is it the actual execution phase or is it maintaining the new changes once you’ve started it? Let’s dive into some ideas on how to create habits that stick for the long-haul and tips to help you reach those health goals you are striving for.

Creating a Growth Mindset

When putting in effort to start a new habit or create change in your life, it’s helpful to check in with your mental game. Having a growth mindset gives you a positive foundation to build upon. Dr Carol Dweck of Standford University, who has studied mindset principles, says, “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” Rather than allowing the fear of failure to hold you back, you focus on growing your experience and capacity for change by trying, doing, and learning along the way. Here are some ways you can start creating a growth mindset:

  1. Change your mindset from “I can’t” to “I can.” The power of positivity in believing in yourself and knowing that you can do it is an important key to success.  If your overall goal is weight loss, say to yourself “I CAN lose this weight.”
  2. Think progress, not perfection. It is important to remember that no one is perfect. Everyone will have their good days and their bad days. When a bad day or unhealthy choice has been made, forgive yourself, move on, and reset for the day. What is the next positive action you can take to get back on track?
  3. Focus on the “why” behind the change instead of what you will be doing to make the change. Ask yourself why you are doing this for yourself.  Analyze HOW the change will benefit you and in turn it will make you more motivated to change. Having a compelling reason why is something you can lean on when making change feels really hard. For example, rather than saying the “what” of the change, such as “I’m not going to eat sugary treats at work anymore”, focus on the “why” of a change like “I’m going to have good food choices at my desk so I have more energy, reduce my cravings, and have fewer aches and pains.”
  4. According to Dr. Bobinet, author of Well Designed Life, try using the word “experiment” instead of “change” to see what works and to remind yourself that you don’t have to get it right on the first try. Tweak or adjust your “experiment” based on if you are seeing the desired results or not. For example, when I ate a bedtime snack before bed, I noticed that I slept better at night. When I was on my phone until I went to bed, I didn’t sleep as well. The information I learned to get the end result I want: I need to shut my phone off prior to laying down in bed so I can sleep better at night. And maybe add in a bedtime snack too!
  5. Focus on what you are adding to your life rather than what you are restricting. A quote I love about this by Rick Goodwin is, “one reason people resist change is because they have to focus on what they give up, instead of what they have to gain.” Think of all the benefits that come with eating the Nutritional Weight & Wellness way. It can provide us with more energy, reduce or eliminate cravings, lead to less pain and inflammation, better mental health, improve digestion, give us stronger bones, and support a stronger immune system. When you focus on adding to your plate all the beautiful and colorful real food options (not to mention the delicious fats, like butter and bacon!), you can feel really abundant! The focus becomes about adding in all the good things in and the satisfaction in making healthy choices, while crowding out the not-so-healthy things naturally without the feeling of restriction.

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Action Steps for Success

When setting goals, there are some helpful things to keep in mind so that the task you set before you is doable and attainable. When you set goals that you can accomplish because they are “bite-sized”, you build that momentum to keep it going! It helps strengthen your growth mindset and your confidence in making important changes in your life. Here are some steps you can take to build your success:

  1. Hold yourself accountable. Accountability can be done on your own by journaling each day what you are doing to achieve that new habit you are trying to create. For example, if your goal is to eat a vegetable at each meal, write down what vegetable you had and at what meal you ate it at. It can create that feeling of success to motivate you to continue with your new habit. You can also ask others to hold you accountable. Ask your friend, a family member, your nutritionist/dietitian or co-worker for assistance and support. Report your achievements to them while you are trying a new way of life. When you have a cheerleader encouraging you, it can be just the push you need to make you successful.
  2. Make your goal specific and action oriented. For example, if you want to lose weight, how can you break that down into smaller, actionable steps? If your goal is weight loss, think about the many different things that can attribute to successful weight loss, and then focus on that. Specific action-oriented goals for weight loss can include: “I will pack snacks for work instead of eating food from a vending machine. I will sleep a minimum of 7 ½ to 8 hours each night. I will drink ½ my body weight (in ounces) of water each day. I will exercise for 30 minutes daily.”
  3. Start small. It’s easy to be so enthusiastic in the beginning that you want to change multiple things at once, but slow and steady wins the race. Once you have those specific goals in mind from the previous step, focus on one or two of those changes at a time to create success. Once those changes have become habit, then it is time to focus on finding a new small change to work on. Overtime, all of the small changes create one big change that doesn’t seem as overwhelming and unattainable.
  4. Set a deadline for when you would like to accomplish each goal. It is easy for these goals to fall through the cracks when we get busy with everything else in life. If you have an end date in mind, put it on your calendar. Have reminders pop up daily to keep you on track and focused on what you need to accomplish. Some of our healthy habits are things we’ll want to continue for our lifetime, but having dates as checkpoints to measure progress reminds you to take the time see how far you’ve come and celebrate your success. 

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When You Get Off Track

What happens if you have a relapse? It isn’t a matter of IF it will happen, it is WHEN it will happen. (Remember Growth Mindset Step 2? No one is perfect! It’s all about progress.) Falling off the wagon could happen for a number of reasons: you’re tired, stressed, distracted and you revert to mindless old habits. Just know that it isn’t a big deal! It happens to everyone. Reset and get back on track. Many of us have that all or nothing mentality. Maybe you’ve said to yourself: “I can’t do this. I went back to my old habits and there is no turning back.” But with a growth mindset, you always have an opportunity for a new beginning. Reset your mind, let go of perfectionist tendencies, and start again. Don’t wait until Monday or the next month or the new year. Start with the next small action. It will eventually become your new normal or an ingrained habit once you’ve practiced it long enough, and sometimes that could be years in the making. The changes will all be worth it when you are feeling better, have better health and get more enjoyment out of life.

You Can Do It!

To recap, eating real food in balance throughout the day is the cornerstone to the Nutritional Weight and Wellness philosophy. It’s a simple and powerful message, but it can be challenging to implement! You might know exactly what you need to do, but the doing is the hard part. Start by checking in with your mindset and incorporate some new thoughts that give you an attitude for wellness. Then, when going about setting new health goals and habits, create ways to be accountable, be specific about the actions your taking, start small, and give yourself deadlines to check in and celebrate yourself for a job well done. You have the control and power to make your own choices – don’t look to instant gratification but think of it more as a long-term journey to a better you!

For more information on creating heathy habits, check out these resources:

About the author

Kristi approaches her work with clients with a great deal of empathy and understanding. She knows people are very busy, so she coaches them by breaking down goals into small steps, so they are more easily achievable. “Change won’t happen overnight. It is a journey. We’ll make it doable. When goals are attainable, it is easier to feel and be successful when actively working towards health goals.” 

View all posts by Kristi Kalinsky, RD, LD

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