When it comes to habits, it’s best to make small incremental habit changes. But what if you have to make a whole bunch of changes in your schedule anyway—like, let’s say, Back-to-School time? Use Back to School or any major life change to kick-start a bunch of new healthy habits by planning out the ultimate weight loss day.
Schedule Changes can Mess up our Healthy Habits
As a Mom of four kids, my healthy habits seemed to be challenged every few months when my kids’ schedules change. I would develop a great flow of habits, then summer would end. I’d have to figure out how I was going to cook healthy meals and find time to exercise once back-to-school time rolled around. When school and sports seasons restarted, there just seemed to be less time to get it all done.
Then I’d finally get in a new rhythm, and Fall semester would wind down. Soccer season would end which was a plus, but now there was less sunlight (and warmth) to be active outside.
Then, a few months later, soccer would start up again. You get the drill. It seemed unfair that I would get in a good habit rhythm just to change things up again.
Schedule Changes Can be a Very Good Thing
I’m sure you can relate. Constant schedule changes is just part of the “parent deal.” But I’ve realized now, that if I am deliberate about planning my habits, the periodic change in schedule can be a VERY, VERY good thing.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives says this about new beginnings like back-to-school,
“Any beginning is a time of special power for habit creation, and at certain times we experience a clean slate, in which circumstances change in a way that makes a fresh start possible—if we’re alert for the opportunity.”
We don’t have to wait for Jan 1st to make new habits. We get the "special power" of making massive changes every time our schedules shift.
We can use these opportunities to reflect on which weight loss habits are working and which ones need to be added. Usually, I counsel my weight loss clients to limit their habit changes to 1-3 small new habit changes at a time. But because our whole schedules are switched up anyway, we can use back to school as a hack to create many new weight loss habits all at once.
The Assistant Would Like to Be in Charge of New Habits
As Gretchen Rubin pointed out, if we are going to make the most of the habit re-boot opportunity that back-to-school gives us, then we need to be aware of it. So, yep, now that I told you about it, let’s take advantage of it. Because if we don’t, the Assistant part of your brain will.
In another post, I explained that there are two ways your brain thinks—what I call the Boss and the Assistant. The Boss is the slower, less powerful thinking part of your brain in charge of goals and willpower. The Assistant is the more powerful, sub-conscious, multi-tasking part of our brain in charge of habits.
I’ve become a raving fan of habits since I've become a health coach That's because when you make habits, the stronger Assistant part of your brain takes over, and there is no need for willpower, motivation or decisions—all hard things that need action by the Boss Brain. If we can make all our weight loss and healthy actions into habits, then we have a chance at creating the healthy vibrant life of our dreams. Otherwise, we may just continue spinning our wheels.
The Assistant is eager to make new habits. If the Boss part of your brain doesn’t tell her how to set up your day, she’ll make those new habits for you.
And the habits she wants to make will be more pleasurable and less painful. Remember this Assistant is lazy (kinda like a teenager). She wants to lay on the couch all day, texting friends, and snacking from a big bag of potato chips. Yep, she’d love it if your day went like that.
This morning before I started to write this blog post, I checked Facebook and got distracted for a while. My Assistant would love to put Facebook into my daily routine and keep me from actually writing blog posts. She would also love me to not schedule in my workouts, so those never happen. She would also love it if I never planned out what I would be eating during the day and making for dinner. Then, she could be in charge and take over. I’d eat more carbs and sweets and less protein and veggies. She’d love to be free to eat whatever she wanted and drink caffeinated drinks all day.
What would your Assistant do if she ruled your day? Which habits would she make if you weren’t deliberate about it? Fast food for dinner? Snooze button several times? Netflix rather than bed? You get the picture.
Start Your Plan Right Away
So now what? How do we take advantage of this habit formation jumpstart before the Assistant takes over and rules our day? The first thing that we need to do is to plan now. Don’t wait until a few weeks into the school semester as the Assistant will already have taken charge of your habits. For best effect, we want to go into our new schedule with a plan. Gretchen Rubin cautions us to be deliberate about our new schedules from the get-go.
“The clean slate moment is easy to overlook, however, and too often we don’t recognize that some fresh start is triggering a habit change. Because we’re creatures of habit, the first marks on that slate often prove indelible. We should start the way we want to continue… I now pay very close attention to the first few times I do anything because I know those decisions will shape my baseline habits.”
So let’s start this school year by putting the Assistant in her place NOW. Let’s use the Boss (goal making centers of our Brain) to decide where our healthy habits will fit in and then train the Assistant in how our day should go.
Plan Your Ultimate Weight Loss Day
When I have a clean slate before me at the beginning of each school year, I use a process that I adapted from Brian Johnson’s Masterpiece Days. I call it the Ultimate Weight Loss Planning Process. Kind of like how I use meal templates when I am planning my meals, we want to have a template of what the Ultimate Weight Loss Day would look like. This is the day that would have all of our weight loss and healthy habits scheduled in.
I wanted to call it the Perfect Day, but no day will actually be perfect. We’re parents for heaven's sakes—we have constraints like dentists appointments, Open House Night, Science Fair Experiments due, and extracurricular activities. Every day seems to throw out a new curveball.
The Ultimate Day is like your PLAN A if all things in life we're perfect. Our days will not be perfect, but this is where we pretend they are. We fill out this worksheet once. Now we need to talk about making our PLAN B.
I use a weekly calendar template to write down all my re-occurring responsibilities like taking kids to dance, running club, soccer practice, etc. This helps me to know how to change my Ultimate Day habits a bit each Monday or Tuesday depending on that day’s responsibilities. This is what I consider PLAN B. This worksheet will also be filled out once. My husband and I each fill out one of these so we can co-ordinate our schedules. This way he can plan out his evening workouts and we can split and conquer kid duties.
This ultimate weekly template takes into consideration all those changes we need to take on a day-to-day basis. So PLAN B is what I would consider the plan for a perfect Monday or a perfect Saturday. But again, there are no perfect days (or very few at any rate). So, let's go onto PLAN C.
What's PLAN C? It's the actual plan for that day. This gets filled out daily. This is where I take into account things like doctor's appointments, networking events, and school meetings. I'm trying to create my day as close to PLAN B as I can, but I'll have to be flexible and do my best.
Remember that one of the 15 shifts to make to lose weight and keep it off is to Plan Ahead. An awesome day starts the night before. So, I plan each day the night before on this sheet.
Experts call this method Permission-Based Scheduling. Basically that official sounding name means that we give ourselves permission to be flexible and change our schedules depending on our wants and needs for the day. We aren't robots. We are humans. We get to be flexible and change our schedules as need be.
It might take me some time on the front end to do this process, but it is so worth it! This is the secret to my healthy habit success. This process allows me to keep from having to make tough willpower decisions day-after-day.
If I have a template for what my Ultimate Day looks like, then I actually get to the gym. If I have a daily plan, then I know if it’ll be a crockpot or pressure cooker night. That way my kids won’t have to eat dinner in their pajamas.
The Ultimate Day template makes it way more likely that we'll reach our goal targets. We don’t want our weight loss habits to be at the mercy of our kids’ crazy schedules. We want to take control and meet our weight loss and health goals despite the challenges.
Use the Ultimate Day Planning Process Whenever Your Schedule Has a Major Shake-up
So let’s create that Ultimate Day Template together and reach our weight loss goals this year. Use the Ultimate Weight Loss Planning Process whenever your schedule suffers a major shake-up. You can download your own Ultimate Day template here. Check back as soon I'll have a video up to work through the steps together.
Until next time,
I'm a dietitian, personal trainer, and health coach who started asking all the tough health and weight loss questions-- like how do we get more willpower, why can’t we stay motivated, and why is getting healthy and losing weight so tough?
I discovered that the answer to all these questions is simply--Your Brain.
I help you stop the health and weight loss struggles by understanding your brain and then working with it—instead of against it. Then, I teach you how to put your personalized healthy habits on autopilot for results that last.
I believe that you deserve the health and energy to live your best life.