April can be one of the most difficult months to continue reaching for the health and fitness goals that we made at the beginning of the year. Let’s face it…it is hard to change our habits. The feelings of encouragement and motivation that we had at the beginning of the year can be quickly swept away by feelings of fatigue and discouragement when we don’t see results right away.
Tapping into habits instead of relying on motivation can drive long term behavior change that is not easily influenced by the way we feel when we wake up. Some days we can hop right out of bed feeling energized and motivated, and other days we can’y find the motivation. How can we help ourselves to stay focused and to establish habits that stick with us, even when the motivation has left?
Try these 5 steps:
1. Re-evaluate Your Goals
Did you start with a reasonable and obtainable goal? If your goal is reasonable, safe, and obtainable, remember why you set it in the first place. When our goals are personal and meaningful, it helps us make a deeper connection to our habits and behavior. Having a reason behind your health and fitness goals can help us stay on track and increase motivation. Did you recently receive a new or unexpected diagnosis? Would you like to play with your kids and grandkids without being short of breath? Would you like to look in the mirror and like the person looking back at you? Health is something that cannot be bought and our behavior makes such a difference in our quality of life. Stick with it!
2. Clearly Define How You Measure Success
Do you feel like a failure if you didn’t perfectly reach your goals? For those of us who are competitive, it can be very difficult to feel successful if we didn’t perfectly hit the mark. If we lost 3 lbs and our goal was 5, it feels like defeat because we missed it by 2 lbs. If you are feeling discouraged, change your perspective on your progress. You lost 3 more pounds than you would have if you didn’t change your behavior! Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Try to reframe the way that you measure success to include effort and progress.
3. Identify Sources of Discouragement
When we don’t see immediate changes, it is easy to get discouraged. “I’ve been eating “perfectly” and I haven’t lost one pound.” It can be challenging to stay on course without feedback validating our efforts. “I’ve been exercising 5 days a week and working as hard as I can, and my clothes don’t fit any differently.” Positive environments can support our progress. Negative environments can hinder our progress, and be a barrier to our success.
Do you feel supported by family and friends? Having strong social support can make a major difference and improve your ability to stick to a new behavior. You might find it helpful to avoid sources of discouragement or environments that don’t support your new choices. Find at least one person who can help to encourage you to stay on track, and communicate out loud how much you appreciate their support.
4. Use Habit Stacking to Drive Long Term Change
It can be challenging to change many behaviors all at once. If you need to re-start your goals, try starting again with a simple or small goal. “I’m going to drink more water” may be a very simple place to start, but once we master one habit, it gives us confidence that we can succeed with other habits later. Stack an additional habit to your existing one. For example: “I’m going to drink more water, and I’m going to add weight training two times each week.” As you conquer one habit, you are one step closer to the ultimate change that you want to make.
5. Celebrate Progress and Non-Scale Victories
There are so many variables that can improve when we exercise, eat well, sleep well, and drink enough water. Changes in blood pressure can’t be measured on a scale, as well as many other factors that demonstrate improvements in our health.
Increases in muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, muscle and joint flexibility, personal confidence, energy throughout the day, pain reduction, stress management, reductions in anxiety, improvements in sleep, improvements in blood markers of health, lower risk of disease, and many other factors are considered to be “non-scale” victories. When you experience any of these benefits as a result of exercise and your pursuit of health, celebrate them!
Feel proud of your effort, and use that positivity to drive future habits.
Healthy Habits Produce Lifelong Health
Choose the behavior even if you don’t feel motivated. Try putting on your shoes and walking for 5 minutes before you decide to skip your exercise for the day. Most of the time we start to feel better after a short walk, and the task doesn’t feel as bad as it did before we started moving. Identify yourself as an exerciser, even if this is a totally new thought. Exercising regularly is an important part of taking care of our body, and the more that we identify ourselves as an exerciser, the more likely it is that we will find ways to be active.
Find an exercise or nutrition buddy for accountability. When we know that someone is waiting for us to show up, we are more likely to follow through on the commitment that we made. You might enjoy doing a healthy meal exchange, or meeting up weekly to get in a training session. You can encourage and support each other to meet your goals.
Healthy behavior doesn’t have to be brutal. Find ways to enjoy the process, and celebrate your progress!