The more you leave open to chance, the more likely you will give in to temptation and the more bad choices you will make. I keep a water bottle in my car, because I will get dehydrated if I don’t. I prepare a full week of meals every Sunday, because it would be a hassle to have to cook every day. I prepare a training routine for six weeks at a time, because that’s less stressful than making it up as I go. If I didn’t plan ahead, making healthy choices would quickly become inconvenient. My compliance would suffer as a consequence. Click ahead and I’ll teach you how to plan ahead for healthy choices.
Imagine the steps you take to get ready for work in the morning. They might something like this: you wake up, brush your teeth, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, get in the car, and drive to work. If you have a partner or children, they probably receive a hug and kiss before you run out the door.
Do you have to stop and make a decision about what comes next at any point during this process? I doubt it. Unless your typical schedule has been disrupted with a relocation or shift change at some point in the last month, I bet you could perform your morning routine while wearing a blindfold if you had to.
Now imagine the steps you take to get ready to go to the gym. Unless you’re a seasoned exerciser, it probably isn’t as simple as preparing for your work day. Instead of leaping off the couch and getting ready without a fuss, you mull it over for a long time. You get caught up in little things like debating which shoes to wear or making the perfect play-list. Activities like this are often procrastination in disguise, so please don’t kid yourself into thinking you are being productive.
You are capable of getting ready for work as soon as you wake up without thinking about it, because you have followed the same morning ritual long enough for it to become habitual. I have discussed the habit formulation process a few times now (open those links in a new tab if you’re curious and would like to learn more). Don’t you think it might be smart to use the same habit-based strategy to simplify the steps you must take to become fit and healthy? If so, you’ll be helped by these three planning activities.
1. Make the Process of Being Active as Easy as Possible
You won’t achieve your fitness goals if you only go to the gym or hit the trail for a run whenever you feel like it. This isn’t to say exercise can’t be fun, but it is absurd to believe you will always feel like doing anything.
Motivation is nice, but don’t depend on it. Wouldn’t your career suffer if you only went to work when you felt like it? Your health is even more important, so act accordingly. Follow these steps if you want to make exercise a consistent habit:
- Schedule training sessions on a calendar or planner so you will remember.
- Exercise on the same days at the same times every week so it will become habitual.
- Keep sneakers and a week worth of workout clothes in your car so it will be convenient.
2. Prepare Your Meals at the Top of the Week to Save Time
Some people might want to prepare a fresh dinner every night, but I’m not one of them. If you have the time and interest in daily cooking, don’t let me discourage you, but please be aware that it isn’t necessary for the most part.
I say, “for the most part,” because you’ll probably want to make breakfast every morning. If you doubt me, refrigerate some scrambled eggs and tell me how they taste when you heat them up the next day. Besides, it only takes a few minutes to make breakfast (eggs and oatmeal would be a good bet due to the protein and fiber content) – and you haven’t been awake long enough for the stress of the day to make a dent in your willpower – so you might as well do it.
That said, making healthy choices becomes harder and harder as the day progresses. Most people don’t have enough time to go home and cook on their lunch break. It’s not easy to convince yourself to prepare dinner after an exhausting day. At times like this, a lot of people find themselves sitting in line at a drive-thru restaurant, despite their intentions to make better decisions. This behavior is a consequence of the “all or nothing” mentality that pervades most approaches to dieting.
Just because you can’t cook every day doesn’t mean you might as well give up and eat processed foods. There is a better way. If you can relate with the previous paragraph, then you might want to consider cooking in bulk. You could buy a pound of lean meat and grill it all on the least busy day of the week. That meat could be used to prepare salads, sandwiches, stir fries, or whatever you can come up with (please note that all of those options may be used for lunch or dinner!). If you want to be really efficient, chop up some vegetables while the meat cooks and put it in a container for future use.
3. Make a Menu of Healthy Recipes to Remove Guesswork in the Kitchen
One of my clients found it difficult to make healthy choices at home, because she is a mother with picky eaters. At first, I encouraged her to prepare meals in bulk, but her children complained about it. They objected, because they got sick of eating the same thing every day in a hurry.
My client needed structure, because she had a tendency to make poor choices if forced to improvise while on the go; but she also needed to account for the tastes of her children, because it would be impossible to sustain a healthy eating plan without getting them invested. If you’re a parent, you probably understand this conundrum.
She came up with a brilliant solution that I wish I could claim was my own. I sent her an email containing picky-eater-friendly healthy recipes and asked her to experiment with different options until she found at least five meals that they enjoyed. She took my instructions a step farther by creating a menu that contained pictures of every dish, which accomplishes two things:
- Being able to visualize every recipe made it easier for them to decide what they might like.
- Having the power to choose gave them a sense of control (and made it more fun since it resembles eating out in a restaurant!).
Following these planning activities can help you turn exercise and healthy eating into habitual behaviors that you can perform on autopilot. There is no secret or magical trick. Success requires nothing more than commitment, patience, and consistency. Are you in? If so, tell us in the comments.
About the Author Daniel Wallen is the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of the Wallen Way. He is a personal trainer, Lifehack contributor, and author of, “The Busy Woman’s Guide to Getting Fit, Fierce, and Fabulous“