At the start of a new year there's a big focus on health-related goals, often driven by marketing and promotion of fads that claim to give quick-fix results. However when it comes to long-term sustainable health there is no quick fix, which is a good thing: if you go through the full journey of adopting new, healthier habits that become part of your everyday lifestyle, you'll find it a lot easier to continue these habits long term. Instead of enduring a severely restricted diet or punishing exercise regime you can choose small habits that you'll be able to consistently achieve every day, and that will come to be a part of your regular routine, perhaps even something you'll enjoy.
Defining Your Goal: Start Small
Break down your big goals into smaller, more easily achievable goals – this makes it easier to stay on track, and will keep you motivated.
What is something you can start today that will put you on the path towards your big goal?
Small changes add up to big changes in the end, and what you do consistently every day will make a difference your health over the long term, whereas a quick fix that you're only able to stick to for a short time may not.
Make Your Goals Specific
What will you do, and when? Do you want to start running: How far or how long will you run for, and how often? Do you want to improve your diet: What is one small change you could do every day?
By setting a specific goal you’ll know exactly what you’re aiming for, as well as when you’ve actually achieved it. Tracking your habits on a calendar or a habit tracker can help you keep consistent in the beginning, until your habit becomes part of your regular daily routine.
Focus on Inclusion Rather Than Exclusion
Research into habit-based lifestyle changes found that people who focussed on “inclusion” habits (ie. starting a new healthy habit) lost more weight compared with those who focussed on stopping an unhealthy behaviour. If you focus on inclusion, you may find your new healthier habits eventually crowd out some of the ones you wanted to limit or stop.
Identify Your Barriers
What could stop you from achieving your goals or from being consistent with your new habits? What hasn’t worked for you in the past? By identifying your potential barriers you can make a plan for things you could do to overcome these barriers when they come up. Most of us struggle with motivation at some point, so it's important to understand that this probably will come up, and plan for it.
Find Your 'Why'
When we first start a new habit, we often have to rely on extrinsic motivation to help us consistently perform the new habit each day until we build up enough intrinsic motivation, which is what keeps us consistent long term. Extrinsic motivation is an external factor that motivates you to do something, so could be a supportive friend or family member, or even something you have to do (for example, walking the dog). Intrinsic motivation is your own internal motivation, which once you've developed this, will help you keep up with your habits and goals regularly, even if you don't feel so motivated some days.
Exploring why you want to achieve your new goals and habits is essential so you can keep this as a reminder of why you're doing what you're doing (you might even want to write it down and keep it somewhere prominent). It's also helpful to look further than just your initial goal to find your real motivation for change. If you'd like to lose weight, focus less on how much weight or what size you want to be, and think about WHY you want to lose weight. What will you be able to do in the future that you can’t do now? Do you have a child or grandchild you'd like to be able to run around with, or would you like to complete a race? It’s fine to have aesthetic goals, but is even more powerful to focus on how achieving your goals will make you feel, or what this will allow you to do in the future.
I hope you find these tips useful, and good luck achieving your goals!