DON’T Do One Small Habit for New Years

You’re going to hear a lot of different philsophies about what to do this New Years, nutrition wise. Some people will tell you you have to set resolutions. Some people will tell you that you should never set resolutions! You’ll get advice about named diets, about what kinds of goals to set, and how much to do.

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’re already looking for a way out of the Diet Cycle of Failure. You’ve crash dieted enough times on new Years to know that that’s a dead-end, already.

So, you’re probably looking at stuff from the world of Habit Coaching.

Right now, everyone in the habit coaching world is telling you that you should choose one small habit. Something you are 100% sure that you can do, and just work on that.

The problem with that is that it’s totally boring.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself — lets start by taking a look at the different perspectives you’re going to be seeing this month:

Diet world tells you at New Years:

  • Start a diet with a name! Do it perfectly!
  • Set a weight loss goal!

Non-diet world tells you at New Years:

  • Never set a weight loss goal!
  • Never alter your food!

Habit based coaches tell you at New Years:

  • Set a very small habit goal. Something so small you’re sure you can do it.
  • Habits not diets!

What Josh (that’s me!) tells his clients at New Years:

  • Set an eating skills practice goal
  • When your motivation is high, go ahead and set a challenging skill practice goals.

Obviously, a practice/skills-based approach is different. It’s different from diet world because diet rules literally cause failure. It’s different from non-diet world, because my clients actually want to lose weight. Lastly, it’s different from habit world, because habit-world is all about doing the least possible.

I used to coach diet world style. If you read my first book, Fat Loss Happens on Monday, that’s what I recommended — one small habit at a time.

It’s smart because it sets people up to win. It was also a counter-point to what I saw most often, which was people coming from diet world and doing far more than they could ever be successful at, and crashing and burning hard. I didn’t want to see people crash and burn, so I told them to do the opposite.

It was an overreaction.

One Habit at a Time is Boring

At first glance, this seems like a small price to pay for success over failure. If doing too much is the path to failure, then doing too little, at least we get slow progress.

The issue is that I think engagement matters. I think it’s worth being exciting about what you are doing.

In game design it’s about fit:

  • If a game is too hard, you get crushed and quit
  • If a game is too easy, you get bored and quit

We don’t play Tic-Tac-Toe anymore because it’s so boring.

One habit at a time, though it works, is never going to produce the optimal level of engagement for you. Sometimes you can do more, you can do much more, and actually get significantly better results.

Motivation Goals in Cycles

The feeling of motivation is not static. It’s not something that we have or don’t have. While I could do a series of blog posts on the different situations that have different amounts of motivation arise, or the different levels of motivation that we could pull from, that’s not really what this post is about.

For now, just consider that it’s normal to feel really motivated sometimes, and to feel not motivated at other times. Motivation goes in cycles.

We need to have two plans:

  • One plan for when you feel really motivated
  • One plan for when you don’t feel motivated at all

When you feel really motivated, you should practice more eating skills. You should practice more at one time, you should practice them more frequently, and you should spend more time reflecting on your practice.

When you don’t feel motivated, then that is the time to dial it back. That’s when you should do less. There’s tremendous value in doing less, but not quitting, when you don’t feel it.

Rocking Your Eating Skills Practice

At GMB, I wrote a big, in-depth article on how to choose which eating skills to work on in 2021. So, bounce over to that link if you want to see the flowchart on which skills to work on.

If you are feeling really motivated, I’m giving you permission to rock out on your eating skills practice.

  1. Practice four eating skills at a time
  2. Practice as many meals per week as you can
  3. Track your eating skills practice
  4. Spend some time with a journal reflecting on your eating skills practice every week
  5. Spend some time reflecting on your personal values every week

Here is the thing about eating skills — it usually works better to work on more than one at a time.

If you’re working on not snacking, it works better to combine that with eating balanced meals, putting your fork down between bites, pausing 10 minutes before snacking, and checking in with yourself about whether it’s hunger or stress.

Plating a balanced meal will help you not snack, because a balance of macros and having some vegetables helps you stay full longer. Eating slowly will also help you feel more full between meals, because people snack less when they are more present during a meal.

Pausing 10 minutes before having a snack gives you gap between the craving and eating. It’ gives you time to actually check in with yourself. People snack mindlessly because they don’t give themselves time to be mindful. Then, in that ten minutes, you can actually check in with yourself about your stomach, how long it’s been since the last meal, whether you want food or treats, and even how your stress level and emotional state is.

As you can see, all four of those eating skills work together as one system. It’s actually more effective to work on all of them at the same time.

It’s much less effective to work on one habit at a time. It’s far more effective to work on a complete system of interrelated skills.

Practice A Lot, Track Your Eating Skills Practice

If you’re feeling super motivated, rock out on your practice frequency. Shoot for practicing your skills at 15 or more meals per week. People can make pretty legit progress when they are practicing eating skills at least 2 meals per day.

Track your practice so that you find out what’s actually going on. Look at how many meals you practice each day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Track how many between meals periods you practice each day (breakfast-lunch, lunch-dinner, dinner-sleep). Use your tracking to learn about yourself, your schedule, and what obstacles come up.

Reflect Like Your Eating Skills Practice Depends On It

We all just get busy in life and that’s a big part of how our eating becomes totally mindless. We just don’t set aside time to reflect on it. We don’t reflect on the choices we’re making, the situations we end up in, or how we’d like to make decisions differently in the future.

If you’re really feeling motivated, the most powerful thing you can do this New Years is to set aside some time to reflect in your journal. 5-10 minutes per week might be the most impactful thing you’ve ever done for your nutrition.

You don’t need a diet guru if you’re consistent in reflecting on your eating skills practice and your personal values.

Reflect on your practice. Start looking at situations that were hard, and how you might do things differently in the future. Stop looking at mistakes as personal failures, and start looking at them as necessary steps to learning.

Learning hard things requires making mistakes. We reflect on how we did so that we learn from those mistakes.

Reflecting on your values is about thinking about the kind of person you want to be. It’s entirely internal. It’s what matters to you. It’s about the character strengths you want to embody.

Your goals about looking good for other people are not values. Your standards and ideals about what would look good are not values. Those are fine, but they’re external, and you think about that enough (too much?) already.

Think of values as character strengths that you want to embody. Then journal about how you would express those character strengths in different situations. What would it look like to express this value when things are easy? What would it look like to express this value when I’m super busy and stressed out? It will absolutely look different in different situations.

Ok, But What Do I Do in February?

Ahhhh, now this is an awesome question!

Everyone is super motivated in January, and that motivation drops off significantly in February and March. It’s really wise to expect that.

Everyone wants to quit in week 3 or week 6.

  • In January when you are feeling super motivated: Practice more.
  • In February when you are feeling like quitting: Practice less, but don’t quit.

If you do this, you’ll notice something really cool. In January, you’ll practice a lot. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll build some skills!

Then, in February, instead of quitting, you’ll do less. Maybe you only practice 10-12 meals per week. Or you practice 2 eating skills instead of 4. But you keep practicing. The cool thing is, you’ll have all of the January practice to rely on. You’ll be better at skills because you practiced a lot.

Then, in March, you’ll start feeling motivated again. You’ll practice more skills and more often! You’ll rock out again!

Then, in April, you’ll be bored. Or a big work project will come up. Or something will happen with your kids that’s stressful. Or whatever. Life happens. And you’ll practice less, but again you won’t quit.

You follow this natural cycle of practicing more when you feel it, and practicing less when you don’t.

You’ll do well because:

  • You get in lots of practice when you feel it
  • You’ll get in some practice when you don’t feel it

You’ll do better than the people who are practicing one small habit, because you practiced more than they did.

You’ll do better than the people who did some crazy diet rules, and way too much, and quit. Despite all of their too much stupid diet rule following, they never practiced any skills.

Whoever gets in the most eating skills practice, over time, wins. Optimize your practice so that it’s fun and challenging when you feel motivated. Dial it back so that it’s doable when it’s hard. Your eating skills practice should be at different levels over the course of your year.

You can totally rock your practice for New Years! Have fun!

—Josh Hillis
Creator and Head Coach, GMB Eating Skills
Author, Lean and Strong: Eating Skills, Psychology, and Workouts

P.S. Obvs if you’re looking for a complete eating skills system, that progressively teaches you eating skills, values reflections, obstacle planning, and how to beat perfectionism, take a look at the GMB Eating Skills or Lean and Strong. What most people need is a complete system of skills and progressive skill practice.

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