Creating healthy habits that last seems to be as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. Why? Relying on willpower alone involves a leap of faith. Such all-or-nothing thinking leaves you feeling like a failure when life gets in the way and derails your best intentions. Instead, use skill power, not willpower, to make a lasting difference.
Skill power allows you to incorporate a well-thought-out plan in reaching your goals. This is the step that most people miss when deciding that they want to change some habit in their life. Just as the saying goes, ‘If you fail to plan, plan to fail.’
Goal setting is not as hard as you may think. In fact, it is just like preparing for a trip to a foreign city. First, you read about where you want to go, how you must travel to get there, and what route to take. Think of your goal as where you would like to end up, or your ‘destination.’ You need a map to help you find your way. To successfully achieve your goal, you must do some homework. Think through your plan carefully before making any changes in your life.
Before setting a new goal, reflect on what you have tried to achieve in the past. What did or didn’t work for you? For instance, perhaps you have long wanted to shed some extra pounds. Did you jump into the latest fad diet before researching whether it was in fact healthy and would work within your busy lifestyle? Were you truly ready to make lifelong changes, even if it meant giving up some bad habits? Or did you try to make changes at a stressful time in your life when you could not put in the necessary time and effort? To make a lasting change, you must truly feel and be ready.
Lack of commitment and positive outlook – Those who successfully achieve goals use definite language in goal setting and planning, and commit to following through. While having confidence is also important, an action plan is essential. For instance, instead of saying, “I’ll try to exercise more,” decide, “I will walk every night for 30 minutes.”
Another key aspect is staying positive even when you stumble. No one is perfect and to expect otherwise is not realistic. Accept these times as part of an ongoing review and reflection of what is and is not working for you, and keep going forward with your goal in mind. This will help develop a lifelong plan that works for you.
Indulging your ‘inner brat’ – This internal voice acts like a toddler, whining reasons not to stick to your plans and goals. It does not like discomfort or inconvenience. It wants you to give in. You cannot allow yourself to negotiate with this voice. Instead, concentrate on why you are making these changes in your life. Try not to dwell on what you are giving up, but rather on what you are achieving.
Making unrealistic health goals – Before setting goals, see your doctor to address any potential health barriers. For instance, if you have bad knees and can barely walk a block, planning to run in the next marathon is not the wisest goal. Neither is deciding to become a size two if you have been a size 16 most of your life. Unrealistic goals set you up for disappointment and frustration. Be clear about what your body will allow you to do. Include resources such as expert advice from a physiotherapist or dietitian to help you to set achievable goals.
How do you set a goal? First, make it realistic, specific and measurable. Vague goals like wanting to lose weight or exercise more make it hard to choose an action plan and measurement of success. Instead, set short-term health goals that focus on action, not outcome. In other words, think about how you want your body to work rather than on being a certain size, weight or speed. Dropping to a smaller size is no help if you destroy your health and develop long-term problems in the process.
Focus on ways to live more healthily. You not only lower your risk of disease and feel stronger, but get the added bonus of a weight that falls into a healthier range and a body that moves more easily.
You want to have a healthier body, within a healthy weight range and with fewer aches and pains. To do this, you must develop better eating habits and exercise more. You decide that your first short-term goal is to follow Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating at least five days a week. Another short-term goal involves walking one kilometer, three times a week.
Before starting out, you do some research. You need a way to track your food intake and how well it compares to the food guide. You find an appropriate tool at the Dietitians of Canada website. Several resources are listed in the Eat Well, Live Well section, including the Eating + Activity Tracker (EATracker). The program provides feedback about your food choices, along with exercise tips.
During the first week, you decide to record details about the food you eat and exercise you do in the EATracker, knowing that the feedback can help you set more short-term goals.
Writing out your strategies and goals from time to time can be very helpful. It gives you a sense of commitment, much like when you write and sign a contract. You also create a visual plan of how you will reach your goals. Be sure to include start and end dates, as well as a way to measure your achievements. Using a calendar along with your plan of action helps you track your progress. As well, it is vital to take the time to reflect on how things have been going. This allows you to set or adjust the next set of short-term goals.
The charts in this article show a way to write out your plan of action. Remember, gradual changes work best. You are less likely to feel overwhelmed by too many large changes at once. Work on one area at a time. Once you feel you have successfully changed one habit, choose another. Since these habits did not develop overnight, expect it to take some time to change bad habits into good ones. Once you have successfully incorporated healthier habits, you will find goal setting becomes monthly or yearly rather than weekly.
It is important to build in reward points that celebrate your hard work. Just make sure the rewards are healthy and will not sabotage your plan. For instance, rather than eating poorly, have a relaxing massage or get a new pair of walking shoes.
Keep in mind that stress and lack of sleep are likely to sabotage success. Resolving issues in these two areas and developing order and routine in your life go a long way in helping you succeed.