By Ellie Kay
If you are like most people, those two goals are on the top of your list each New Year and the source of your frustration at year’s end as you fail to permanently realize your objectives. Why does this common failure plague so many people? Unhealthy and counterproductive habits. Change your habits, and change your life.
Our lives are driven by a variety of good and bad habits that influence our emotions and behaviors as if we are running on auto-pilot. Webster’s Dictionary defines habit as “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly completely involuntary.”
While good habits allow us to reap positive rewards, bad habits can produce the negative consequences of excessive debt and overweight bodies. When you scan the endless number of books written about these subjects and research the sad statistics related to finding permanent solutions, it becomes obvious that people are still looking for answers. It’s not for lack of trying that individuals fail. But trying is not enough. We must train our minds to respond differently to the challenges we face day after day.
Since our habits have such power in our lives, it makes sense that discovering our bad habits and replacing them with productive ones would be a wise use of our time and energy. This is why my co-author, Danna Demetre and I wrote the new book: Lean Body, Fat Wallet (Harper Collins, Dec 2013). With that in mind, we have identified four habits that can dramatically transform your body and wallet when implemented consistently.
You Are What You Think Habit
This habit is a foundational to the other three habits. Here’s a reality we sometimes fail to recognize: most people know what they need to do to live more productive, successful lives. The real problem is that they don’t know how to do those things consistently and permanently. If you tell yourself the same message over and over, your mind becomes programmed to believe it. If your deeply programmed thoughts are sending you down an unwanted path, it’s time to rewire your thinking!
Behavioral psychologists have practiced cognitive therapy for decades. In essence, the premise is that we can literally erase and replace old negative and ineffective thoughts that drive our behavior by intentionally telling ourselves a new truth repetitively for many weeks or months until or old dominant neuron pathways literally shrink as they are replaced with new neuron pathways which become dominant “auto pilot” thoughts. If implemented properly, those new thoughts begin to drive our emotions, thoughts and behaviors in the direction of our goals. My co-author and I show how to do this very practically in the area of finance and health. We both know from personal experience how we can turn from victims to victors by simply changing our thinking overcoming excessive consumer debt in my case. My co-author, Danna overcame 16 years of extreme emotional eating and bulimia by changing her thinking. The powerful “You Are What You Think Habit” dramatically changed our lives and it can change yours as well.
In the area of money, who doesn’t understand that spending more money than you have creates debt? And almost everyone knows if you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Nevertheless, this knowledge is rarely enough to motivate most people to change. Many of us give up because we cannot figure out how to get ourselves to practice new behaviors consistently enough to reap lasting rewards. By understanding that your habitual, dominant thoughts drive your emotions and behavior, you can begin to change your bad habits by changing how you think. For example, replace the negative thought of “I’ll never be able to retire until I’m 65” with the thought “With smart planning and strategic money moves, I can retire earlier and enjoy life.” Similarly, Danna encourages those struggling with weight issues to stop saying, “I can’t stop overeating” or “I’ll never lose weight”. Instead, she encourages them to adopt new, healthy self-talk such as, “I’m in control of my eating”, “I am easily and quickly satisfied when I eat and can stop before I’m overfull”, and “I crave exercise and love how my body feels after a good workout.” Overtime, these unfamiliar messages can become deep seated truths that actually drive behavior and create a new auto-pilot.
The 3D Habit
It used to be a lot more difficult to satisfy our cravings and urges. There were no fast-food restaurants or shopping malls (and online shopping) to immediately gratify all our desires. We have become accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. Learning how to negotiate the daily temptations that set us off course is essential to meeting our health and wealth goals. Having a practical strategy that is easy to implement is essential to lifestyle success.
This 3D Habit is an excellent temptation deterrent strategy to help you navigate the frequent impulses we all encounter from time to time. This habit is easily implemented by incorporating “3 Ds” which are easy to remember. Each “D” stands for an important and effective strategy for letting go of your old response patterns and adopting new healthier ones. The 3 D’s are: Determine – Distract – Delay.
Whenever you realize that you are going to be in a situation that may challenge your resolve to stick to your new health or financial plan, determine beforehand how you are going to handle it. The first way you can implement the 3D Habit is to determine to review your new goals daily. Write them down, read them out loud and repeat them throughout the day in order to determine that your life tomorrow is worth some changes today. Rather than just responding to the situations as they emerge, give some forethought to common and occasional circumstances that may test you.
You can also practice new strategies to distract yourself from temptations. If you know that you are going to be tempted to eat or spend too much in a situation, plan in advance for ways you can distract yourself from those temptations. For example, if you are going out to dinner, rather than being tempted by a menu that offers high calorie options, go on line and chose a healthier portion from their menu in advance. You can distract yourself once at the restaurant by refusing to look at the menu and simply ordering what you already determined was a healthier choice. You’ve just accomplished 2 “D’s” in one simple step.
Learning to delay gratification both in spending or eating is a habit that will serve you well day after day. By simply deciding to adopt a “I never take immediate compulsive action” attitude, you will begin to develop self-control muscles you never knew you had. You can learn to stall off acting on your urges until the time you decide is appropriate in light of your desired goal.
For example, when you are tempted to buy something in the mall, determine you are going to stick to your financial goals, distract yourself by going to lunch instead of shopping and delay any purchases until the next day (or next week) when you’re sure it won’t be an impulse buy. This victory allows you to meet your financial goals such as funding a retirement account, paying off consumer debt, or building your rainy day savings account.
Temptation to eat unhealthy or too much food can be minimized very effectively with this habit. One technique Danna uses frequently with her clients is the 10- minute DELAY. She encourages them to wait at least ten minutes before giving in to a temptation to eat something they know is empty calories. Often, the urge passes by simply waiting ten minutes. Once they master ten minutes, she urges them to increase that to twenty minutes as they build their self-discipline “muscles”.
The In and Out Habit
Everyone knows that if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Similarly, no one would argue that if you spend more money than you make, you would soon find yourself in deep debt. Yet too many people live as if these simple realities were not true. That’s because little indulgences and expenditures seem harmless. But they add up in big ways over time!
Being aware of your intake verses output all day long is a habit worth forming. Paying attention to the details can either make you or break you. Most people err greatly when “guesstimating” their intake of calories or expenditures. Gaining awareness of these details can turn the tables favorably on your lifestyle. To determine your total debt, get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com
Tracking is a great way to get on top of this habit. For health tracking, try the free app called “Fitness Pal” to keep up with calorie intake and burn. We also like the “FitBit” activity monitor that can be worn on your waistband for a constant reality check which reflects steps taken, miles covered and calories burned all day long. For tracking finances, go to the budgeting tools found at elliekay.com to find an interactive budgeting guide.
The sustainable Lifestyle Habit
The vast majority of people who pay off consumer debt using home equity loans end up acquiring comparable or greater debt within two years. The same is true for people who follow any number of unsustainable diets. These two different scenarios have something important in common. Both illustrate that short-term solutions rarely produce lasting results. When we attempt to lose debt or weight by methods that are unsustainable, the results lack sustainability as well. For lasting success, we need to lose debt by the same method we plan to keep it off and we need to lose weight similarly. Remember that you are in a new healthy, wealthy lifestyle for a season. So make sure the changes you are implementing are sustainable and find others who are like-minded to keep you on track both physically and fiscally.
When you follow the four habits outlined here, you can set goals that will be healthy all the way into retirement. As you are making wise health and wealth decisions, don’t forget to take care of your retirement by looking into a variety of options to include: funding your 401(k), paying off consumer debt, paying down your mortgage and looking into a Fixed Indexed Annuity (FIAs) to round out your portfolio. I believe that fixed indexed annuities offer a level of certainty during uncertain times that other financial products cannot because they provide protection from stock market volatility, offer guaranteed interest and income, and also provide the opportunity for additional interest when markets are up. As I already emphasized, FIAs are typically used in addition to other retirement vehicles (such as a 401(k) or IRAs) to add balance to a retirement plan — they aren’t intended to be your only source of retirement income, but to help moderate risk. The insurance industry is state regulated and these regulators have put a number of protections in place to ensure FIAs are sold ethically and fairly to consumers.
When it comes to weight loss, the statistics are quite depressing. Only about 5% of people who lose weight keep it off for more than two years. The small percentage that succeed have three things in common:
1) The change their thinking;
2) they exercise regularly;
3) they adopt a sustainable lifestyle.
How do you know your lifestyle is sustainable for health and/or wealth? Ask yourself this question: “Can I eat, exercise, budget or save this way indefinitely and still enjoy my life?” If the answer is, “No way!” then you will likely fail. If the answer is “Yes”, then you have adopted some sustainable habits that will serve you well for many years.
Which habits can you to try and implement in your daily routine so that you can live a healthier and wealthier life?
Ellie Kay is a popular international speaker and media veteran. She is also the best-selling author of fourteen books including The 60-Minute Money Workout, Living Rich for Less, and the brand new book Lean Body, Fat Wallet (Thomas Nelson 2013). For more information on Ellie and Lean Body Fat Wallet visit LeanBody-FatWallet.net.