If you’re like most people you struggle with health habits – with getting fitter, eating better, moving move. But guess what? As a proactive businessperson you’re already using certain mental skills in your business or corporate career that can help with those health habits.
You’re already applying four mindset tricks to get through tough times and business challenges. You can use those very mental strategies in achieving your health goals, too. Here’s how.
Skill 1: Tapping in to internal motivation rather than external shoulds
Success in business life comes from passion, from a motivation that goes deeper than simply trying to please others. It links to how you see yourself, what matters to you. You’re more likely to succeed at changing health habits if you have the same internal drive.
If you try to improve your diet or up your exercise for external reasons, this might motivate you part of the way. But when it’s raining right before your gym class or it’s been a lousy day and you want to discuss your feelings with a value pack of Tim Tams you need something more powerful.
The best motivation for getting through the tough times is internal motivation … the desire to do it for you. Maybe you want to look good in clothes again, or feel more confident, or walk up stairs and without passing out. It doesn’t matter if the voice in your head says your reason is vain or shallow or selfish. That voice has not served you well in the past – so turn down the volume. Ask yourself what your internal motivation is, why you want to be healthier. Just as you do in business, let that deeper desire power you through the hard days.
Skill 2: Focusing on progress rather than perfection
Career and business success isn’t a straight, upward line. It’s ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments – and sometimes one step forward and two steps back. You don’t expect to be perfect at everything all the time.
You know that’s not realistic. Improving health habits is just the same. There’s no point aiming for perfection when you cut down on treats or start a new exercise program – and then feeling miserable when you predictably fail to achieve it.
Rather, decide to retain your precious sanity and give up perfection. Aim for progress. Instead of cutting out all sugar or carbs or alcohol, make tweaks to your diet that you can live with. You’ll succeed and feel good, and be motivated to make further changes and achieve more success. And it will be sustainable over the long term. Instead of signing up for a gruelling exercise bootcamp, do any exercise you enjoy.
You’ll get fitter and want to increase your intensity and frequency. And then you might experiment with more types of exercise. Progress makes you feel successful and motivates you to do more. It’s an upward spiral. Progress is achievable. It feels so much better than the recurring disappointment of perfectionism. And best of all, over time, it gets you to your goal.
Skill 3: Cultivating resilience when things inevitably go wrong
We all mess up at times. Make the wrong call on a tough decision. Handle a staff situation poorly. Stuff up on a client job. It’s the same with our health habits. Sometimes we bail on a workout. Have a third— okay… fourth glass of wine. Seek comfort after a bad day with an entire extra-cheese pizza. (Just me?)
If you expect to be imperfect (also known as: human) then when you inevitably fail you’ll say, oh crap and feel frustrated. And then you’ll pick yourself up and return to your plan. But if you expect to be perfect, then things will take a different turn. You’ll go on a week-long binge or stop exercising completely, or fall into a pit of self-loathing. In the scheme of things, very little damage gets done by slip-ups.
Your goal of healthy eating or regular exercise has its short-term ups and downs, but continues on an overall positive trend. Perfectionism, however, does major damage. It causes guilt and self-loathing and large-scale dietary derailments. It contributes to getting stuck and backtracking far more than the inevitable lapses and detours. If you want healthier habits and also sanity, then you have no choice but to cultivate resilience and let perfectionism go.
Skill 4: Refusing to play the martyr
We all know someone who’s a martyr. They put everyone and everything before themselves. They feel constantly rushed, harried, put upon. It’s no way to live. Martyrdom makes it impossible to do what’s needed in your business. And martyrdom makes it impossible to change those long-term health habits.
Martyrdom provides the perfect excuse to dodge exercise. There’s so much to do for everyone else – how could you abandon them for Lycra leggings and a Beyoncé playlist? It also makes us susceptible to comfort eating. After putting yourself last all day long, surely you deserve a treat? A great big cream-filled pastry one. Self-pity buys a lot of indulgence.
When people see themselves as the victim of forces beyond their control, when they refuse to believe there are choices, when they’re convinced they can’t change anything – then they tend to stay martyrs. Unfortunately, unhealthy ones. But if you give yourself a dose of reality, you can say, ‘I want to be a role model for my kids. I want to be happy and fulfilled in my career. I want to be an attractive, confident partner in my relationship. And that means I’m going to make myself a priority, I’m going to make the time, I’m going to take the focus, I’m going to do this for myself and the people I care about.’
Don’t let yourself play the martyr game. You’re guaranteed to lose. But it won’t be your bad health habits. The mental hacks, resilience and skills you already use in your business life are exactly the ones you need in order to improve your diet, exercise and health habits. Make sure you use them!
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Michele Connolly has a Bachelor of Commerce and has run a successful marketing communications business. She also has a Bachelor of Psychology and has written a thesis on personality and happiness. She is the author of How to Be Thin in a World of Chocolate.