The challenge faced by most people I interact with is motivation -- to exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, find time to do things that bring joy, etc. We know that all of these good health habits will help us live longer and feel better. But knowing and doing are two very different experiences for many. What stops us from starting? What gets in our way of doing what makes us feel so much better? What derails us once we do finally start? Why do we stay stuck with habits that drag us down and make us feel like we’re just going through the motions?
Sound familiar? Some days we feel like we are just sleepwalking. We often think we’ll start our new healthy habit tomorrow or the first of the month/year. Maybe you are healthy in some ways, like eating fruits and veggies, but lack in others, like consistently exercising. Many say, “I know what I need to do. I just need to do it!” So, what are the tricks and skills of the truly motivated and committed healthy folks? What do they know that most don’t? More importantly, what do they do differently than the average Joe/Jane?
While some healthy folks will tell you, “I just do it”, upon reflection, many will say that they had an event or experience that really grabbed their attention. A health scare, the death of a loved one, or the inability to keep up with kids or grandkids can be very illuminating. Additionally, there is almost always a time of reflection about what is lacking and what is desired. To me, this part is crucial. Teasing out why you want to be healthier may seem tedious, but it is the foundation for creating positive change.
Steps to create & continue your motivation plan:
1) Envision, then write down (or draw) exactly the life you will have once you get going; include specific details about how you will feel, think, look and act.
2) What are the three most important positive changes you will experience once you begin your new healthy habit(s)? For example, more energy, better sleep quality, improved mood, higher self-esteem.
3) Identify what potential obstacles will interfere with starting and continuing. Generate potential solutions to each obstacle. Be sure to choose changes that you don’t hate but instead bring you joy. For example, pick an activity that is doable and fun, choose foods that fuel your body and energize you, create a soothing and inviting sleep environment. *Continue to evaluate and adjust as you progress.
4) Commit to one small healthy goal each day. For example, pack your lunch, pack healthy snacks for break times, park far away and walk to shopping/work, take the stairs at least once, put positive sticky note affirmations on your mirror, desktop, and/or refrigerator, call or text the friend you’ve been missing, sit and breathe deeply for 5 minutes, turn off your electronics 15 minutes early and go to bed, smile at each person you pass, note 3 things for which you are grateful.
5) Set your intention each day when you first wake up and evaluate your positive progress before you go to bed. What did and did not work? What needs adjusting for tomorrow?
6) Find partners on your journey: exercise buddies, swap healthy recipes with friends and colleagues, track and post your progress with fun apps. If you need help with fitness, consider working with a trainer. If you need help with nutrition, meet with a dietitian. If you need help understanding why you sabotage your success, consider working with a counselor. Review your benefits at work, as some of these services may be covered.
7) Reward yourself (massage, cute fitness gear, a fun kitchen gadget, etc.) for goals achieved and be gentle with yourself for “off” days. We all have them. Maybe you needed a break today. Tomorrow is a new day with a new intention and a new opportunity to feel so much better.
*Frequent (daily) evaluation of your goals and reflection on your progress is critical to realizing how significantly better you feel, which will lead to a continued commitment to your plan. Struggling to make the healthy choice right now? Reflect back on how you felt last time you did. You DESERVE to feel that good again. Pull out your plan; review #s 1-3. Modifying your plan and the specific steps to implementing it is healthy. For example, if you’ve been walking or running consistently but are feeling tired or sore, it’s smart to take a rest day and/or cross train with a lower impact, more restorative activity like yoga, Zumba or swimming. Or, if you have been sticking with a healthy eating plan, but really want to enjoy the yummy treats at a holiday party, do it! Just have a healthy earlier meal and drink plenty of water. Celebrate life and fully immerse yourself in the improved quality of life you are creating!