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Three Ways to Create New Habits That’ll Stick

The science of behaviour suggests there’s a right and a wrong way to change your life

In a recent Medcan Presents webinar and Eat Move Think podcast episode, Medcan’s director of weight management, Dr. David Macklin, discussed the three elements that’ll promote a successful pivot to a healthy lifestyle.

1. Define your why

First off, create your value statement: Why do you want to become fit and healthy? Most likely, the motivation is so you can spend more meaningful time with family or loved ones, and have the energy to be an active agent, such as a new parent or grandparent. “I want to do things that are most important to me,” Dr. Macklin cites as an example. “These values never change. Once you capture your values, write them down.” Then, post your values somewhere that you can see them daily—the fridge door or the bulletin board above your desk.

2. Understand that obstacles are a natural part of the process

You will run into obstacles, Dr. Macklin warns. Expect them. Being able to recognize barriers and overcome them will help you successfully sustain a healthy lifestyle. While you may view obstacles as the result of a lack of self-restraint, the reality is more complex. Humans have primal traits in the brain that drive them toward more calorie acquisition and sedentary behaviour. “Evolutionarily, our brains are built for a time where food was scarce. There [had to be a] subconscious drive to get food and store it because who knew when we’d get it again,”  says Dr Macklin.

To test this evolutionary predisposition toward relaxation, try kicking your feet up. Does it feel good? Of course it does. That’s because sedentary behaviour is pleasurable. This feeling will likely kick in on a cold February morning when you’d planned to get up early and go for a run outside, but instead, you pull the covers up to your chin and hit the snooze button. Once you recognize this predisposition as an obstacle, you can start to see how behaviour intervention can help you make a healthy change.

3. Prepare for setbacks. They’re natural too

A missed day at the gym or a cigarette after committing to quit smoking will likely set off automatic negative messages in your brain, says Dr. Macklin. You may end up eating foods you had tried to cut out, or giving up the resolution altogether. Don’t. These setbacks are normal—and shouldn’t mark failure. One of the “key determinants” for long-term success in lifestyle change is not the setbacks themselves, but how you respond to them.

If you experience a setback, the natural tendency is to think: “I’m not strong enough. I’m not good at this. By recognizing this automatic thought process, you can stop and say to yourself:  Wait, is that really true? “That’s called cognitive restructuring,” Dr. Macklin explains.

Final tip: Get help. We tend to think we have to figure everything out on our own. Often, that’s not possible. Medcan is fully equipped with a team of experts who can help you set goals and create strategies for lasting behavioural change.

Did you know?

We often think that our own health is out of our control—that genetics plays an overwhelming role and there’s little we can do to trigger change. That’s not true. In fact, eighty percent of chronic diseases can be attributed to five lifestyle habits:

  1. Being at your best weight
  2. Being fit, strong and flexible
  3. Eating healthy foods
  4. Not smoking
  5. Not drinking too much

The other 20 percent are just bad luck, Dr. David Macklin says. “The best way to think of it is that genetics loads the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger—or doesn’t.” So make sure you’re creating a plan you’ll want to stick to. If you enjoy an experience, you’re more likely to do it. This, according to Dr. Macklin, will make the 7 a.m. run on a cold morning more likely to happen.

To learn more about Medcan’s Weight Management program, get in touch with Kelly Cloutier at 416.350.5900 (ext. 8880) or send a note to weightmanagement@medcan.com.

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