How To Change Your Environment & Stop Relying On Willpower To Reach Your Goals

Posted on Sep 30, 2020 By Valentina Duong Valentina Duong

Whether you’re trying to eat healthier, run faster, get stronger or improve your body composition or make time for joyful movement in your life, willpower and constant motivation is not the answer!

1. Change your environment to reduce the friction between you and your dreams.

Keep healthy snacks like high-protein yogurt and fresh fruit at eye-level in the fridge. Keep treat foods that are easy to overeat outside the home. You can still enjoy them with friends and on special occasions but if it’s outside your house, it stops being an everyday food. It also makes these foods feel even more exciting and tasty when you choose to eat them. This might not be an option for everyone, especially if you live with other people. If you’re the person who does the grocery shopping, you can decide how often and how much you bring into the house. It might be having a regular pizza night or buying a packet of tim tams for the household once a month. If not, having an honest conversation with the other people in your household about your goals might be helpful or you can simply make a promise to them that you won’t eat their snacks without their permission!

Nacho Night Saturdays
Instead of Friday night pizzas, my household does Nacho Nights on Saturdays. We layer tortilla chips with a generous handful of cheese, plenty of chunky tomato salsa and serve with guacamole. Knowing that I’m going to enjoy nachos at the end of the week, makes it a lot easier to walk by the Doritos and Pringles during my grocery trip without impulse buying.

2. Change the way you think about exercise.

Often, we think of exercise as a way to burn calories and we push harder so we can “treat ourselves” later BUT if we change the way we think, we can change our actions. Instead, decide what exercise means to you: is it as a way to learn new skills or build muscle? Does it make your happy, relaxed, confident, energised? It can often be more about who we’re with than what you’re doing. Finding a friend, local community group or joining a class of like-minded people can help keep you accountable and make exercise a more joyful part of your day.

Beach
What motivates you to move? are you learning how to surf, swim, get your first pull-up or are you trying to keep up with your dogs when they run? Being able to stay healthy and fit so I can explore the world and enjoy all the beautiful parts of nature helps get me out of bed in the morning and into my running shoes.

3. Have a plan B.

If I’m too tired, too sick or running late, I will _____. Fill in the blank with something that you know is realistic for your lifestyle.

If I’m too tired, I’ll throw a protein source (it’s usually a can of tuna, 5 bean mix or a fried egg) into a multigrain wrap with a handful of spinach. If I’m lucky and have some cheese in the fridge, I’ll add that in too and pop it into the sandwich press to get all toasty and crunchy.

Red Spinach Wrap
Wraps are constantly get a bad rap! They’re actually a great staple to keep at home because they lase 7 days once opened and up to a month if left in the fridge. Whereas, bread only lasts up to 2 weeks in the fridge once opened. I love choosing colourful red or green spinach wraps to add a pop of colour but don’t be fooled! Nutritionally, they’re about the same as your standard brown wrap. Pick the one you find tastiest and load it up with protein and veggies.

If I’m too sick I will reheat last night’s leftovers or a frozen meal. I like to keep 1-2 pre-prepared meals in my freezer for sick days or just lazy days. My plan C is ordering takeaway from my local pho store (or any restaurant I can get a big bowl of chicken and vegetable soup from) and then hopping online to order meals for the week so I can focus on recovering. Nutrition Station offers same day delivery for their NuMeals which makes them perfect for last-minute orders.

4. Use the good days to prepare for the harder ones.

Anticipating obstacles helps you make better decisions in tough moments. We all have days where nothing works out the way we intended, but planning ahead can make all the difference. You’re less likely to go through the drive-thru or order UberEats if you know you’ve got a ready-made meal in the fridge or freezer. This tactic requires you to be kind to yourself and prepared on the days you are feeling motivated and good. It doesn’t have to be a difficult. Whenever I cook soup, I double the recipe and freeze half for those sick days where all I can stomach is soup. I also stock up on powdered bone broth or vegetable stock from a bulk foods store for a quick soup base. Trust me, your future self will thank you.

Vegetable stock & bone broth powder
These two have pulled through some pretty tough days. They’re pretty bruised and battered at this point. They’re great to keep in the pantry because as well as being lifesavers on sick days, they are nutritious additions to add flavour to soups, stir-fries and sauces. No-added salt or low-salt vegetable and chicken stocks are great alternatives for individuals with high blood pressure or simply watching their sodium intake.

5. Keep track of your daily habits visually.

There is something extremely rewarding and motivating about watching yourself make measurable progress. Visually tracking one habit you want to focus on changing can help get in you in the groove of being consistent.

For example, fitness trackers and smart watches show you when you’ve hit your daily step goal for 10 days in a row. This can push you to continue hitting 10,000 steps every day because you don’t want to break your streak.
Similarly, you can imitate this rewarding process by keeping track of how many days in a row you completed a habit you’ve been working on. There are habit-tracking apps or you can colour in the days you completed your habit in a physical diary or calendar. I’ve been working on meditating every day and set an alarm at 8pm every night as a reminder.

Struggling to drink 2L of water a day? Fill up a 1L water bottle (or the biggest one you have) at the start of the day and keep it right next to you all day. Aim to finish it by lunch time. Refill and repeat until dinner time.

HydroFlask
I bought this HydroFlask bottle in Canada and fell in love with it. Then, I found out it was also available in Australia and bought a matching sunshine yellow one. It’s a lifesaver for when I’m working in the hospital and don’t have a spare minute in the morning to refill my bottle.

6. Focus on one thing at a time.

That initial adrenaline rush of motivation when you decide today is the day you are going to make changes, is great for getting you started on achieving your goals. However, setting multiple big and lofty goals can backfire and can even be demotivating over time.

How can you add in one extra handful of non-starchy vegetables a day? It could be throwing some spinach into your morning smoothie or adding a sliced cucumbers to your lunch.

If you have fat loss goals, how can you bulk up your meals without adding extra calories? You may choose to add more liquids to dishes to help bulk them including adding extra tinned tomatoes to a chilli or pasta sauce.

Trying to reduce your cholesterol levels? Instead of giving up all meat, you can select leaner cuts of meat and trim off visible solid fats of other cuts. Incorporating vegetarian dinners and using soy-based products, legumes and beans for two nights a week can also have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.

Small changes can make a big difference over time

Soups
Soups tick all the boxes. They are a great way to add more volume and liquid to your meals. They’re also easy and versatile to add in tofu, legumes and beans. On the left is a chicken soup with a medley of vegetables (carrot, celery, English spinach). On the right is a classic tomato and basil soup, smooth and delicious. Serve with some crunchy bread and you have a quick to cook and refreeze soup.
Valentina Duong
Valentina Duong
A nutritionist and powerlifter with numerous first place finishes at national and international competitions. Valentina's rediscovering joy, one snack at a time.
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