I learned something that really surprised me when I discovered what it really took to successfully stick with healthier eating and regular exercise. It is doing what feels good, rather than striving to be good. It has become one of my tried and true secrets to long-term success that I have seen work over and over again with my clients.
The Struggle to Be Good Enough
When you focus on being good on a diet or in doing your prescribed exercise, you are rarely able to be good enough often enough to feel successful. Instead you end up feeling badly about yourself when you fail to eat the right thing or fit in all your exercise, and then you probably question your ability to be successful. This mindset leads to the inevitable conclusion that you can’t do it right and can’t stick with your program. At that point you give up, and it may be months or years before you try a healthier diet, an exercise program or whatever it was you were trying to improve about yourself. How many times has this happened to you?
One of my clients, Clare, used to check in each week by saying, “I wasn’t good this week, I only exercised three times”, “I was really bad last week, I overate at least twice”, “I tried to be good, but I ended up being bad”, “I’m so bad, I don’t know if I can be good”, and “I failed at doing what I know I should, and I don’t think I can do this”.
Seeing Success Differently
And yet, when we talked further, in nearly every case there was a lot she had done that was successful. She had exercised those three times, she had stopped eating before getting full more than ten times, and she was making great progress. She was surprised to hear that she wasn’t doing as badly as she assumed. She discovered that each time she had been “bad”; they were the result of situations she couldn’t easily control without a better game plan. Instead of being bad, she had done well in light of what she was dealing with, and she could create strategies for the future by having the hindsight.
We as a society are conditioned to see what didn’t go well, instead of what did. We see our failings and ignore our successes, as if having a perfect score or grade is all that matters. But when it comes to eating, exercise and self-care, you don’t need a perfect score. Good is good enough. Since you don’t have to be perfect, you can instead focus on all your successes, and that is a great feeling and a powerful motivator to continue making progress.
What Clare and all my clients have learned is that being successful is actually about honoring yourself. It has nothing to do with the judgment of being good or bad. When you can’t exercise as you planned, you end up feeling less energized. When you overeat, you don’t feel as well afterwards. When you drink too much, you lose control of your choices and don’t feel well the next day. When you are out of control around food, you don’t feel good about yourself. The repercussions of not doing something healthy affects how you feel and your chance to take good care of yourself, and that is it. The only one to beat you up is you. You weren’t bad; you missed an opportunity to feel and look better.
Focusing on Feeling Good Rather Than Being Good
When you see it that way, you start to focus on ways to feel good. For example, it feels reallygood to eat healthy food that is satisfying and to move enough that you have more energy and want to do even more activity. It feels great to have more confidence in yourself, to be in control around food, and to see your body get stronger and leaner. And it feels absolutely wonderful to become healthy and fit.
To make this shift, you need to know how you actually feel. Most of my clients have no idea how they feel when they get full, eat unhealthy food or push their bodies too hard, because they have never paid attention. Many of my diabetic clients don’t really know how it feels when their blood sugars get low or high, and even fewer clients really know how they feel emotionally. Once they learn how to check in with how they feel, they have an easier time making healthier choices because it feels so much better than being unhealthy and inactive. And the better they feel, the more of that great feeling they want.
So the secret to long-term success is doing what feels good to you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually instead of striving to be good.