Getting rid of my student loans, paying down my mortgage, losing 20 pounds, running a 5K – each of these goals at one time seemed like they were too big for me to ever accomplish. There were times when I felt hopeless and wanted to give up, especially when I faced a setback. But in each case I kept moving forward, and it paid off! Today we tackle techniques for overcoming challenges.
This post is dedicated to Lindsey, who recently qualified for her first Boston Marathon! Congratulations Lindsey, and thank you for all your encouragement as I trained for my first race.
Welcome to another Wellness Wednesday. If you’ve been following this series, you may recall that after losing 12 pounds I hit a plateau. Despite eating healthy and exercising daily, I didn’t shed another pound for three weeks. Coincidentally, my accountability partner was also experiencing a plateau. Although we felt discouraged, we kept forging ahead.
At my next Wellness class I asked my dietician about how to deal with plateaus. I shouldn’t be surprised that the advice she gave is similar to techniques used for coping with other challenges in life.
Here’s what I learned in my Wellness class, and how I implemented it in my life.
Many of the obstacles we face in life can be grouped into People (e.g., family, friends, co-workers) or Situations (e.g., celebrations, unexpected events)
Well-meaning family and friends may inadvertently pose challenges. While my children are allowed a treat when they are at a party or celebration, we do not want cookies, candies, or other junk food in the house. Yet when people come over and bring boxes of junk food for my kids, it’s hard for me to get them back on track with eating healthy snacks. Sometimes people even bring junk food for me!
For example, I don’t have many weaknesses, but ice cream is one of them. On my birthday, I specifically requested that there be no ice cream. I explained to my family that I had gained weight during the holidays and was dangerously close to going into the overweight BMI level.
A well-meaning family member wanted me to have an ice cream cake and decided to bring one anyway. As I had anticipated, I ate not just one serving but nearly the entire thing!
For the first time in my life, I slipped into the overweight BMI category. I was officially overweight! It was my own fault for eating that delicious, creamy ice cream with a cookie crumble that was shaped like a cake.
Immediately after that, I signed up for the Wellness Program at work. As well-meaning as my family was, they were also an obstacle to my health. I have a lot of self-control, but with ice cream I tipped the scale.
Unexpected events can also be challenging to us financially and with maintaining our healthy lifestyle. For example, my refrigerator recently died. When this happened, my initial thought was that we could go out to eat. For someone who is in the midst of making healthy lifestyle changes, this was definitely an obstacle.
Other examples of challenging situations include:
- Between Thanksgiving and Christmas the average person gains 12 pounds
- Also during the holidays, many people rack up debt on gifts people don’t even want
- Potlucks, office lunches, and parties are filled with tempting foods. Even if you bring your own healthy dish, it’s important to stay on-guard (and stand away from the buffet table)
- Whether you are bringing a dish or contributing to a present, celebrations can also affect your monthly budget. I learned to budget at least $20 a month for those unexpected birthday parties or child’s school events
- Whenever I go over my monthly budget, unless there was a major unexpected expense, it’s almost always been due to dining out
- Whenever I gain weight, it’s also because I have been dining out
While obstacles are things for which you can plan (e.g., getting the junk food out of the house or creating a plan to eat healthy meals at home without a refrigerator), setbacks are life changes (which can be good or bad). Here are some common setbacks that can strain our finances and our behaviors.
- Injury or Illness
- Career or Schedule Changes
- New Family Dynamics (e.g., marriage, baby)
When we don’t see ourselves making progress, it’s very easy to want to give up and tell ourselves, “It’s useless.”
But I learned that this way of thinking is the problem, because it will lead to behaviors that will result in the thought becoming true.
This mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- If you think you will always be in debt, so you react by buying what you want, as a result you will always be in debt.
- If you think you can’t lose weight you, so you react by having that third slice of pizza, as a result you will not lose weight.
- If you think that you just aren’t athletic, so you react by staying on the comfy couch, as a result you won’t get stronger.
To overcome challenges, we need to evaluate what’s working and not working. Then, create a plan.
For example, if you are eating healthy and exercising but have reached a plateau regarding your weight loss, you may need to change your approach.
When I had my recent weight loss plateau, I reviewed my exercise and food log. I realized that I was taking in too few calories and that I was doing the same exercises. I was doing two things that could slow my metabolism.
After eating more fruits, veggies, and grains and switching up my exercise routine, I started losing the weight again (see Shape article 5 Reasons Running May Not Help You Lose Weight).
The challenge for the week was to identify 3 potential obstacles or setbacks and write a strategy for overcoming or avoiding them.
To purchase a new refrigerator without taking from my savings, I used my tax refund. This was money that was going to go toward my Roth IRA for this year. I am in the process of revisiting my budget to try to identify ways to find extra money without having to pull from savings or contribute less toward my other goals. To do this, I will have to make some decisions and prioritize.
To start, I will evaluate some of the bigger expenses. My auto and home insurance policies are up for renewal. Shopping around for better rates is one way I may be able to save money.
Next, I will turn to my largest variable monthly cost: my food budget. As a new vegetarian, I have already been saving money on my grocery budget each week.
For health reasons, my family has also been doing well at eating meals at home. However, I have been going out to eat with friends about once a week. To lower what I’ve been spending on dining out, I plan to find other ways to socialize.
Going for a walk, meeting up at a park, and spending a day by the pool or at the beach are just a few ideas to have fun with friends without dining out. The money I save can go toward my Roth IRA contribution. Plus these activities will move me closer to my value of living a healthier lifestyle.
Living 8 days without a refrigerator, I knew I was going to be tempted to order a pizza or two. I planned for this by making a verbal commitment to my wellness class that I was going to report back to them that I did not go out to eat.
I filled a cooler with ice, created a detailed meal plan, and ate the most perishable items first. I am proud to say that I did not order a pizza!
A change in my work schedule for a few days while I was away from my office for a training left me worried that I would not get the same amount of exercise during the day. Worse yet, my jogging partner (i.e., 10-year-old son) became ill just as the intensity of my jogging program was increasing.
During the workday, I decided to spend our 15 minute breaks walking up and down the stairs of the building where we were holding our training. One day I also went for a walk during lunch. Of course I got lost, but came across another person from my training who also went for a walk and got lost. We had an adventure being lost together.
When my son could not jog, I had the brief thought of waiting for him to get better so that we could be on the same schedule. But no, I pushed that thought aside and kept with my schedule. I am glad I did.
I’m now over half-way through with the Couch to 5K program and have signed up for my first race!
Regarding weight-loss, I continue on my downward trend. Despite these challenges, I lost another pound this week. That’s a total of 14 pounds in 2 months!
Whether it’s with our finances, diet, exercise, or habits, when we fail to see progress it’s natural to feel helpless and think about giving up. Yet it is possible for us to feel this way and at the same time find a way to keep moving closer to our goals.
What challenges are you facing? How will you overcome or avoid them?