Diet or nutritional philosophy? Low carb? High fat? Ketogenic? Sprouted legumes or not? Intermittent fasting?
It can be overwhelming to figure out which option is right, which choice is perfect. I have a secret: there is no such thing as THE perfect diet, just like there is no such thing as THE perfect lifestyle. No matter what anyone says – if their perfect is not right-for-you, it’s not perfect after all.
There is so much information available on the web, in bookstores and at your local watering hole on how to eat, move, sleep and live. When it comes to “best practices” the advice is never-ending. A fair amount of this advice is rubbish, but there is also a lot of useful and effective data out there that any of us could use to optimize our lifestyles. So why is it that we seldom seem to follow-through with what we know is right? The answer is simple: “right” is not necessarily right-for-you. And if you are making choices that are not based on what is right-for-you, they are rarely sustainable.
What’s the difference between right and right-for-you?
Right is good.
Right is what science, society, and your inner parent/boss/critic says you “should” do. Right often has a fair amount of merit and appeal. It is based on information that is sound, supported, accepted and is probably adopted by many. Right is often good enough, and if you have no other way of making a choice, it’s not a bad place to start.
Right-for-you is better.
Right-for-you isn’t just concerned with what generally works, or what research shows. Deciding what’s right-for-you requires you to consider elements that pertain to you as an individual. Right-for-you takes into account your unique needs, your values, your desires, your history, background and lifestyle. Right-for-you is why some people thrive on 100% Paleo 100% of the time (whatever that means) and others do best on an 80/20 model. Making decisions based on what is right-for-you leads to a sense of good-fit between your beliefs and your lifestyle. Right-for-you leads to authenticity, fulfillment, and is ultimately required to thrive.
Figuring out right for you
Right and right-for-you often intersect, but they don’t necessarily overlap, especially with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle. When right and right-for-you don’t align, you end-up feeling uninspired, uncommitted and underwhelmed. If you’re trying to make a big change, this can lead to low motivation, low follow-through, and failure to achieve your goals.
Have you been working on making a change, but despite all the best information, initial motivation, supreme efforts and support you find yourself floundering? Does your life look great on paper but only feels okay? Chances are you’re not thinking in terms of what is right-for-you.
When I work with people on change, even nutritional changes, the first thing we talk about is their long-term vision. Then we discuss the discrepancy between their current lifestyle and desired outcome. Finally, we examine previous attempts, failures and barriers. Why these three questions? Because they lead you to “right-for-you”.
That first question – What do you want your life to look like when you are done with this? – allows you to understand that every choice and every change you make is connected to a much larger picture: your overall life. Are you trying to lose weight? What will your life look like when you get there? What will you be doing and how will you live once that change is achieved? Most of us did not decide to adopt a Paleo diet just for the sake of the diet itself. What we want is the benefits of life with a healthy body and mind. As they say in marketing, the person buying a drill doesn’t want a drill, they want a hole. The drill is a means to a larger end, and most of the changes we try to effect are too.
The second question – What is currently missing in your life? – helps you get a sense of where you need to focus and create change. If you are considering changing your diet, you might realize that some healthy behaviors are already part of your day-to-day, while others are evading you. You may not need a complete overhaul, but to just tweak specific behaviors. Maybe as you contrast your current life to your desired outcome, you realize that play, time with friends and sleep are also missing. If you are going to come up with a solution that is right-for-you, it better take all these elements into account.
The final question is equally important – What has stood in your way in the past? This is more complex than it might seem at first. Too often, people think about situational or environmental barriers, things like time management, availability of resources, and fatigue. However, we all know people with similar circumstances who have overcome them. What is the difference between you and them? Personal and emotional factors, that’s what! These are things that right-for-you takes into consideration; things like fear of failure, emotional, social and cultural ties to food (or any other behavior pattern), your beliefs about competency, willpower, inner strength, and whether the change you are trying to make can get you the life you seek.
So whether you are considering changing your eating habits, getting more exercise, making a professional transition, or some other life re-haul, the secret to success and long-term satisfaction is to consider two things:
- What seems right: and by this I mean what evidence-based practices, choices, approaches or habits make sense given your current desires and needs.
- What is right-for-you: what do you want deep down inside? What goes on in your heart and your mind when you think of making a change? How will “right” fit in with who you are and how you live your life?
The place where right and right-for-you intersect is the sweet spot for thriving, feeling fulfilled and successful. Taking external advice and running it through a filter of your goals, lifestyle, and preferences can turn what seems right into a meaningful plan that you can successfully implement. Making a change that is right-for-you may not always be easy, but it’ll be easier to stay on track when your plan is aligned with your identity.