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Do you ever talk yourself out of doing the healthy things you plan to?

I know many people who would answer ‘yes’. And that’s including me.

So I’m going to share here how I did some health coaching on myself to (mostly) stop sabotaging my best laid plans. It involves a simple technique that you might find helpful too.

Over the last couple of years, my main wellbeing goal has been to arise at six am. When I get up at this time, I have time to exercise before the school run and my whole day flows better in every way. I feel much more energized, alert and happy than when I sleep in for an extra half an hour and ‘wake’ myself up with a cup of green tea.

Despite being highly motivated to embed this routine, and despite experiencing the profound difference it can make to my wellbeing the whole day, here’s what still can happen.

The alarm goes off at 6 am. My first awareness rests on how nice it feels to be all warm and snuggly in bed. My first thought might sound like, “Noooooo I don’t want to get up – my body wants to stay in bed and I should listen to my body.” I turn the alarm off, and stay in bed for another 30 to 60 minutes. The worst bit is, I never feel more refreshed for that extra time in bed!
A year ago this scenario would play out about once or twice a week. Now it’s only occasionally. So what’s made the difference?

We’ve all heard the saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Yes. Detailed planning is really important when preparing to change health habits.

But there’s another ‘true-ism’ we need to factor in, that’s found in Robert Burns poem ‘To a Mouse’ “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”And our best plaid plans so often go astray due to the self –talk we engage in at the very moment we want to be choosing our preferred behavior. “I’m too busy”, or, “Just one more won’t hurt” kicks in and the healthy food or exercise pathway doesn’t get a look in.

n the Health Coaching terms of Health Change Australia, we call these thoughts ‘ANNTS’. Automatic Negative (or Neutral) Thoughts. These ANNTS can totally white-ant your important health plans, so it pays to pinpoint when and how they come into play, and replace them with some ‘PETS,’ Positive or Enabling Thoughts’, that will talk you into carrying out your intentions instead.
Here’s the 4 step process I used to address my ANNTs and get me out of bed in the morning.
1. Pinpoint the critical moment of choice. For me it was the moment the alarm went off.
2. Identify how I let myself off the hook. On the days I was NOT successful in doing what I planned, I noticed exactly what I said to myself in that moment. This gave me my ANNTS. I wrote down as many as I could identify: “It’s so cold and dark out there.” “ Just a little bit longer/ I’m tired/I didn’t sleep well sleep last night” “I can make it up tomorrow.”
3. Create my PET. I asked myself, what could I say to myself instead, that would make it more likely that I will do what I planned to do? This had to be personally relevant and not some off-the-shelf affirmation. So I reflected on how I felt after morning exercise, and came up with my PET of “I can’t wait to feel great.” This was going to become my first response to the alarm going off, instead of my sabotaging ANNTS. I double-checked that this saying was the one that would get me out of bed.
4. Practice my PET. In moments of stress (ie the alarm going off! or feeling down) we are prone to reverting to familiar, automatic behaviours so it takes some training to be able to access new thoughts in the moment you need it. I practiced my PETS before going to sleep each night. I would run this movie:

  • The alarm goes off.
  • Me instantly placing my focus on how I will feel as a result of my morning walk, and saying,“I can’t wait to feel great!”
  • Swing legs out of bed and stand up.

This mental rehearsal really helped and when I combined it with detailed planning (such as naming the time I needed to start winding down for bed the night before, then placing my phone alarm away from my bed) my success rate in morning exercise is now about 90 per cent. Not quite into automatic behavior, but I’m on my way!

If you can relate to talking yourself out of an important health behavior at a critical moment of choice, why not give this process a try a let me know how you go? Below are a few examples of the PETS my health coaching clients have created for themselves. I’d love to hear yours.
ANT                                                                             PET
“I’m too busy/ “I’ve got no time”                           “This matters! I’ll make time”“I’m taking control of my health”
“Stuff it, I’ll exercise later.”                                      “I’ve made the decision. I’m doing it now”
“Just another half hour and I will,”                        “There’s no ‘just,’ Sandra”
I’m too tired to exercise”                                          “Exercise will give me the energy I want.”

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