Life has this wonderful way of throwing us curveballs.

You may have noticed this?

Everything feels like it’s going right and just as you start settling into this delicious “too good to be true but may it last forever” flow….

The car needs to be sent to the mechanic, more work pressures get piled on to you, your teen’s struggling at school or you get sick.

Maybe all four happen at the same time. BAM!

We wish for perfect. But that’s seldom what we get. In reality, life gets messy, circumstances change and we need to adapt.

That much we can be certain of.

How well we get through and recover from these high-pressure periods depends on how well we look after ourselves during them.

But instead of taking care of ourselves, ensuring that we function and perform at our best, health and fitness are the first things to go out the window.

Out comes the junk food, the extra glass of wine (OK, fine, maybe two… at least) and we tell ourselves that we have absolutely no time or energy to even think about exercising let alone actually doing it.

You rationalise that it’s better to press the pause button and when the holiday’s over, you’re finished moving houses or your teen’s matriculated, then you can get back to the healthy diet and lifestyle when things have calmed down.

Then you can really do it right. Right?

I get it. It can feel like an impossible – even absurd – task trying to prioritise your wellbeing during periods of intense stress or continuing with your diet when you’ve just broken it.

 

The “pause-button mentality”

However, it’s often this “pause-button mentality” that sabotages any progress we’ve made in our health, nutrition and fitness. And if you have kids, as you’ll see in a second, it sabotages their progress and resilience too.

I can’t remember where I heard it but I’ve never forgotten it: when things get tough we get what we practice. In this case, all we end up practising is the skill of pressing pause when things get difficult.

The problem with this is that very often, this well-meaning pause becomes a stop as we convince ourselves that we’ll start once external conditions are perfect and we’re feeling more ready. Unfortunately, these oh-so-good conditions don’t always arrive on schedule.

What you don’t build are the skills to manage stress and lead a healthy lifestyle under normal, imperfect, real-life conditions. That’s why the new diet, fitness regime or stress-management routine never sticks – not because you’re weak or incapable.

To add to that, is this the message we want to pass on to our kids? To press pause when things get hard and not follow through on the meaningful goals they’ve set for themselves? Because that’s what we’re modelling for them.

And their growing brains are like little supercomputer sponges absorbing absolutely everything that’s happening around them so they don’t miss a thing – even when they’re pretending to not notice your existence.

If this is something you struggle with, here’s what you can do to avoid hitting the pause button and begin building the sustainable habits that fuel wellbeing for you and your family during the toughest times.

Go from “all-or-nothing” to “always something”

Does any of this sound familiar?

You start a new diet, and everything is going well at first. You’ve been on a similar diet to lose weight and get fitter in the past, but you’re optimistic that this time will be different. You’re managing the cravings and rumbling stomach, getting through the days and feeling good about yourself.

Then comes your friend’s birthday…

You attend the gathering with all your favourite people. The birthday girl pops a bottle of bubbles and as everyone raises a glass to her, you feel like you’re missing out on all the fun. There’s even a small part of you that’s feeling guilty for being so “antisocial”.

So you pour yourself a splash to get in on the toast and overcome by the celebratory spirit, you have a taste of that carbo-loaded canapé everyone’s raving about that isn’t allowed on this new diet.

With your diet “broken”, you tell yourself you may as well just enjoy today. You give up entirely and have some more canapés, washing it down with what was it? Three? Four? Five glasses of bubbly? Argh, who cares…

The following day, feeling like a failure, the wheels come off and you spiral into a weekend of binge eating. But you tell yourself it’s fine, come Monday you’ll start eating “clean” again. This time, you mean it!

 

All-or-nothing thinking and perfectionism

This is called all-or-nothing thinking.

Either we’re dieting and working out 100% or doing nothing at all. This black-and-white thought pattern lends itself to perfectionism and can cause us to throw in the towel when things don’t go perfectly. And with life being the messy, unpredictable thing it is, instead of “all” this pattern usually gets us “nothing”.

What can make it particularly painful is that we often attribute our worth to whether or not we’re living up to these impossibly high standards we set for ourselves. And when we don’t, we feel like failures, not good enough and worthless. Instead of dropping the kilos we were hoping to, we end up “dropping kilos” in self-esteem and confidence.

Ouch!

The trick to avoid this unhelpful way of approaching your health and fitness?

Embrace the shades of grey by using the Dial Method.

 

Use the Dial Method

Think of your health and fitness habits as a dial from 1-10. Level 10 you’re going all out – you’re eating and training like an elite athlete every day.

Level 1 you’re sticking to 1-3 easy-to-do wellbeing non-negotiables such as a 30min walk 3 x week, a healthy breakfast each morning or 10min of high-intensity exercise 2 x week. Whatever works best for you but you never switch off the dial.

Something’s always better than nothing! That’s the motto.

When life’s going well and you’re feeling particularly inspired, you can turn the dial up to an 8, 9 or 10. And when things are getting hectic and it feels like life is coming at you from all angles, you can turn the dial down to a level that you feel comfortable committing to even if that’s level 1. As things begin to ease up, you can turn the dial up once again.

You just never switch it off. You don’t press pause.

Is this a perfect strategy? Far from it. But instead of giving up completely and losing any and all of the progress you’ve made (then hating yourself for it), it allows you to keep moving forward towards your goals. It also helps you turn “healthier living” into a lifestyle vs. one crash diet after another by building the habits to skillfully adjust to life’s demands without completely coming undone during the difficult times.

The Dial Method will not only help you cope better with stress and take better care of your health. Instead of tearing down your sense of self after failing to live up to a level 10 routine during turbulent times and giving up, it allows you to actually build up your self-esteem as you persevere and continue to honour your wellbeing – even if that’s at level 1.

Something’s always better than nothing.

 

Modelling the Dial Method for your teen

Lastly, one very bright upside to the Dial Method is that your child will learn a more resilient way of being from you. Whether we like it or not, kids learn what we do and very rarely what we say they should do when we ourselves are not doing them.

“Why should I if you don’t?” Those growing brains don’t miss a beat!

The most effective coaches are congruent ones – coaches who live their message. You may not want to hear this but you are the most influential coaching figure in your teen’s life, regardless of how good your relationship is. This leaves you at a bit of a crossroads…

What message and values are you passing down to them for when things get difficult?

Pressing pause and giving up on what’s meaningful to us at the cost of our sense of self? Or “always something” so that we never lose sight of honouring our values and experiencing the much-needed benefits of doing so when the tough times come rolling in?

At the end of the day, pressing pause on your health and fitness may bring a short-term sense of relief but the cost to your self-esteem and the habits you’re modelling for your youngsters just isn’t worth it.

Instead of the self-sabotaging all-or-nothing approach, when times get tough, remember:

Always something, no matter how small. Treat your health and fitness habits like a dial from 1-10 and tweak the intensity to suit your lifestyle so that you’re constantly building habits that fuel your wellbeing. Because it’s these habits that’ll carry you and your family through the most difficult of times.