Why You Struggle With Being Consistent & How to Change This
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Do you need help to eat healthy and exercise consistently? Maybe you want to create an exercise or diet plan, stop eating junk food, or cut back on alcohol. Creating new habits can be challenging for your brain (and, in some cases, your body too).
I spoke to a few experts and combed through the research on the best way to become consistent.
Don’t force it. Go with the flow. It may sound counterintuitive, but I’ll show you how this works.
We all need more consistency in some areas of life, but if you really want something, you should commit. That’s how I feel about my health — nutrition and exercise are key aspects that I can't and won't ignore.
Why We Struggle With Being Consistent
I used to struggle with consistency too. I’d exercise for a few days and then stop for weeks, sometimes months. I even had a bout with binge eating when I went on a new medication for my anxiety. That was challenging to stop, even after I went off the meds.
Fear and Fatigue
We are generally inconsistent due to fear or fatigue, says Mike Silverman, certified personal trainer with Living.Fit. “And it's generally not physical fatigue; it's mental fatigue. It's also a pretty common fear that [what you’re trying to do] won't make a difference or that you won't measure up to some social media image of what it's supposed to be,” he says. “ Life ain't online. The only one who cares most about you is you.”
For example, when I was binge eating and not exercising, I always felt guilty. I’d binge all night and feel like I shouldn't eat the next day. So I’d restrict my eating during the day, and guess what happened at night? Yep, binging all over again — a vicious cycle of fear and fatigue. I didn't feel like there was anything that would change my life because I would ruin it with bad habits.
A common reason for inconsistency is, “setting unrealistic or overly difficult goals,” says Jordan Kunde-Wright, certified personal trainer at Living.Fit, who also has a bachelor’s degree in psychology & sociology.
My goal used to be to reach the weight I was when I was 25. It’s not necessarily unrealistic, but it’s definitely difficult and way too vague. You have to get specific with your goals, and it’s best to start small, and build from there. So, instead of focusing on my end goal, I just said I’ll go to the gym five times a week. It’s realistic and relatively easy.
Another problem with being consistent is: “relying too heavily on motivation (especially external motivation like bets or challenges), or facing legitimate external barriers such as a lack of time or resources,” says Kunde-Wright.
Create your own motivation with automatic habits and habit stacking. More on this in the next part.
How We Can Build Healthy Habits and Be Consistent
Now I work out at the gym five times a week, eat nutritious food, and stick to proper portions. Sometimes I slip up, but I get right back to it the next day. That’s the trick to consistency — you can't fall into the same bad habits just because you slipped up. And definitely don’t punish yourself if you do.
I used Atomic Habits best-selling author James Clear’s advice on creating a new habit. He says you must make it so easy you cannot say no. I wasn’t going to the gym or working out at all. I decided this needed to change. My apartment has a small gym that’s a short walk or drive away. Why wasn't I using it?
I committed to go to the gym and do something… anything. It didn’t matter what it was. I just had to show up. Clear outlines the steps to creating a habit that will stick. It includes four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. I started with the cue. Every weekday morning, I would go to the gym after drinking my morning coffee.
The result? After a couple of weeks of doing this, the habit became completely automatic. I leave for the gym after that cup is empty without even thinking about it. Using Clear’s method, my weekday morning routine goes like this:
Cue: Finish morning coffee
Craving: I want to exercise
Response: I go to the gym
Reward: The feeling I get from working out: reduced anxiety and stress, increased strength and balance, and healthy weight management.
Creating Your Habits
Now it’s your turn. Start creating those healthy habits and become the person you want to be. Do you want to exercise? Set a time in your schedule to do so. It’s an appointment with your new habit. So, put it in your schedule if you have to. Set an alarm on your phone. Whatever it takes.
“Don’t miss twice,” advises Clear. This is what I was saying earlier. No punishments. No guilt. Just get back to your routine right away. Do not miss doing what you want to do twice. This is a crucial key to consistency.
Make it automatic as I have by going to the gym after finishing your morning coffee. Your cue can be anything that works for you, though it doesn't have to be coffee. Maybe it’s after you eat breakfast.
Use habit stacking to get more healthy habits in your daily life. For example, another goal of mine is to read at least five times a week. So, I listen to audiobooks while I work out at the gym.
Your New Habit Checklist:
Make a list of your goals
Schedule them into your life
Don’t miss a habit twice
Make it automatic by using a cue
Try habit stacking
If you’re still struggling to exercise consistently, you might need someone to keep you accountable. Sign up for a free consultation with a certified personal trainer today to see how they can motivate you.