We often hear the phrase “think outside the box” but do we understand its true meaning and how we might apply it in our lives. Each of us have things about ourselves that we would like to change for the better, but often struggle with making and sustaining change. The good news is that it is possible for every one of us to make significant changes in our lives by following simple steps. The not so good news is that these simple steps are not always easy to follow.
Can you relate to the following? You set a goal to lose 10 lbs. To do this you decide you’ll need to exercise 4 times a week and also make better food choices. So, you start your week set out to exercise regularly and eat better. However, during this first week you exercise only once because of your work and family schedule and eating healthier is a struggle, there’s so much temptation. There’s the struggle of not being able to say no to that muffin or bagel with cream cheese when you stop at Tim’s for your morning coffee. And after a hard day of work, an hour or two of screen time is accompanied by a snack that’s within arms reach – like a scoop of ice cream (or chips, beer or whatever your vice). And you justify the indulgence with maybe one of the following:
“I’ll only have this tonight.”
“This is the last, I’ll give it up for good tomorrow.”
“I’ll just finish this bag (or case, or bottle, or carton), then I’m done…for good!”
“I’ll just have a little.” (then another small re-fill…then another and another until you’re staring at an empty bag)
There are many versions of how the breakdown to your “Start a healthy life” can play out but you get the point. So why is it so hard for us to follow some simple steps like exercise regularly and make better food choices? The answer to this question is tied to two facts. The first being that we are creatures of habit and the second we have a deep desire to be comfortable. And in this answer therein lies the solution – Change your routine, and recognize that the process of change requires some discomfort (at least until is becomes routine).
The diagram above sums things up very accurately – you want better for you, then get out of your comfort zone. Any improvement in your life requires some discomfort and it’s proportionate. In other words, a small change will be a little uncomfortable, while a big change it will require a large amount of discomfort. This holds true for anything, not just your health.
Revisiting the “losing the 10 lbs scenario”, as evasive as success seems to be, achieving it is very possible. But, it requires that you “think outside the box” and also be willing to “get outside the box (or circle as in the picture)”. First let’s look at how “THINKING outside the box” can be effective. Understand that routine is everything… the same routine yields the same results. If you want different results…CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE. Using our 10lbs scenario here are some suggestions on how thinking outside the box to change the routine can provide better results (planning is key):
- Change the morning routine. Eliminate the muffin temptation by skipping the Tim’s stop. Plan ahead and make your coffee at home along with a piece of toast, if mornings are rushed organize as much as you can the night before. If time is on your side, instead of coffee and toast and have a bowl oatmeal (this will require a bit more effort, but will yield greater results.)
- Change your routine by paying attention to triggers. You can avoid the night time snacking by recognizing “sitting on the couch watching TV” is a trigger. Eliminating screen time will likely reduce the need for a snack. Instead of screen time, phone a friend, go for a walk, read a book, even cancel your cable subscription (this a big one, but is guaranteed to yield big results).
- If the snacking temptation persists, how about simply getting rid of the bad snacks from the cupboard – and remember to take them off your grocery list. The struggle only exists if the item is in front of you…if it’s not there, there’s no debate. You’ll be amazed at how successful this approach is in order to avoid temptation.
- Exercising more during the week is also possible but again will require a new routine. Don’t plan to workout at the end of the day, exercise first thing in the morning…get up 30 mins earlier. Leaving it till the evening doesn’t usually work because too many demands compete for your time – the commute is unexpectedly longer, a meeting runs late, family commitments, etc. Instead, GET UP EARLY, the only thing competing with waking early is your sleep and you can make getting up easier by going to bed earlier. A successful attempt at morning exercise can include laying out workout clothes the night before (or packing your gear bag).
Remember, routine change is only half the battle, expecting and accepting discomfort is the other piece of the puzzle. Planning ahead can help with discomfort – you won’t eliminate it but you can make it more manageable:
- If you can’t avoid the snooze button in the morning – move your clock or phone to a spot that requires you getting out of bed to shut it off. Once you’re out of bed, you’re up.
- Whatever your exercise routine don’t focus on the completion, focus on the start. For example, if you plan to run 5 KM, you know it’ll likely be tiring and that anticipation can discourage you from starting. Instead of focusing on the effort to complete the run…simply focus on getting your running shoes on. Once they’re on, the next steps fall into place. And yes, when you run it will be tiring and your body will tell you it’s not happy but all those feelings are fine…the physical resistance from your body just means you’re chipping away at your current self and molding a new you.
What this all means is that you not only need to put some thought into your goals but also into how you plan to execute them and be aware of and accept the stumbling blocks along the way. So whatever journey of change you decide to embark on, you’ll find its success “outside the box”. Remember that change requires introducing a new routine and it will be uncomfortable at first which is a perfectly natural element of change.