How to to Bust Out of a Major Health Rut

Your attempts to stick to your new healthy lifestyle are going great…until you spend the weekend away. Maybe you skip your Saturday cycling class or swap kale chips for sour cream and onion (no judgment). But by the time Monday rolls around, your well-intentioned goals are long gone.

Whether you’re stuck in this rut for the first time or it’s an every weekend kind of thing, don’t take it as a reason to scrap your plans all together. Here’s what you need to do:

Identify What Threw You Off Course
Think back to when you first set your goals: What was motivating you then? Did you love the social aspect of group classes? Or were you excited about sneaking protein into every meal? “See if those motives have changed at all over time,” says professor of kinesiology David E. Conroy. Also, think about what you’re doing instead of, say, heading to the gym. “If we can understand those things, we might be able to make some headway to interrupt the old habit and replace it with the new one,” says Conroy.

Form Solid Habits
Heading straight from work to a boot camp class is exponentially easier if your body and mind are ready for it, which is known in the psychology world as automatic motivation. “That means there are certain cues that will get you to do a certain behavior without having to spend a lot of time thinking about it in advance,” says Conroy. And that gives you less time to talk yourself out of it. “A lot of people don’t focus on the habit-formation piece, they just focus on the ‘I’m going to exercise more [piece],’” says Conroy. So try dressing the part (who doesn’t like the athleisure look, anyway?) and surrounding yourself with like-minded people whenever possible, which can help set you up for working out on the regular. 

Set a Schedule
Consistency is key to staying on track. “Once you’re motivated to engage in the behavior, try to do it at the same time and same place, predictably,” says Conroy. That’s not to say you need to do the same workout every single day (yawn!). But, go to the same morning yoga class on Mondays or schedule a long run with a friend on Saturdays. “That will help you develop associations between that context of your life and that new behaviour,” says Conroy.

Reward Good Behaviour
“Repetition will get you started, but you really strengthen the association by rewarding yourself,” says Conroy. The problem with healthy-living goals is that the rewards don’t tend to show up immediately. It could be months before you’re able to hold that three-minute plank or successfully cut your sugar cravings. Feeling discouraged by your lack of progress may be why you got into a rut in the first place. In the meantime, celebrate small wins—like avoiding the 4 p.m. vending machine run at work. Why not take a relaxing bath when you get home or treat yourself to a mani/pedi? 


Enjoy the Ride
Skipping a burger for a salad or swapping happy hour for a workout can feel like a sacrifice. It’s hard work—which is why goals are tough to stick with. Make healthy experiences more enjoyable, and you’ll be more likely to reach your goals, he says. When you hit the treadmill, for instance, watch your favorite shows or listen to an audiobook—anything that’ll keep you engaged. After all, “we don’t do unpleasant things for long,” says Conroy.

Mix It Up
Doing the same Tabata workout at the same time every day puts you in the fast lane to burnout. “The rut is largely a lack of variety, lack of progress,” says Conroy. “Variety helps fight off boredom.” Thankfully, this one’s relatively easy to fix since we’re in the heyday of exercise options ranging from barre to rock climbing. If you’re bored with your current classes, branch out. “The more you can keep people on their toes and keep their attention on the task, the better off they’re going to be,” he says.

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