Make Healthy Habits Stick
By Dale Veith, PsyD and Kalin Burkhardt, MS
Does this sound familiar? You missed going to the gym this week even though you know you should have. You ate fast food the last couple of days and you’ve eaten much more than usual. You’ve been up late with your friends at night, so you haven’t gotten the sleep you need.
We’ve all had lapses in our healthy lifestyle that resulted in us getting off track. After all, you know what to do to improve your health, but somehow you can’t find the motivation to stick to what you know. We’ve all been there.
We may wish to put our healthy lifestyle on hold for a while. But can we really expect to hit the pause button and expect to stay healthy forever? We all know the answer is no. A lapse for a few days, a week or a month will really wreak havoc on our weight and health goals. So what can we do? Here are a few ways that can help us make healthy habits stick…
1. Set Goals
Begin by setting personal goals that are important to you. To be successful in making healthy habits stick, you have to be motivated to make the change. You have to clearly understand how making the change is going to enhance your life. Setting goals that result in changes that bring the joy of living into your life, tend to work best. The more you love the results of your efforts, the harder you will try to stick to it.
Making healthy habits stick is more like a marathon than a sprint. Start slow and maintain a sustainable pace. Trust that your plan is going to work and before you know it, you’ll be doing all the things you wanted to do. We are far more likely to be able to maintain small changes than we are radical adjustments. Starting small and understanding that we are in this for the long-haul helps us to stick to our plans.
2. Stay Focused
Stay focused on your goals. Obstacles suddenly appear when you take your eye off the goal. Along the way you will encounter all sorts of challenges. If you take your eyes off your goals, the obstacles can seem overwhelming. When you stay focused on your goals, the obstacles are merely hurdles to be negotiated. It is essential that you have problem solving strategies in place to help you figure out how you are going to overcome the obstacles you encounter.
3. Stay Realistic
Some say that goals need to be realistic, or reasonable. I disagree. People who do great things are often quite unreasonable in the goals that they pursue, but they are too persistent to allow setbacks to dissuade them from continuing their pursuit of the goal. It’s not only the goal that needs to be realistic; it is your plan for achieving it that has to be reasonable too. You can dramatically increase your chances of reaching your goals if you track your progress toward them. We improve more when we can monitor our results.
4. Recognize Distractors
Learn to recognize and manage anything that undermines your commitment to a healthy lifestyle. The prime competitors will be other things that are important to you. It may be a person such as your significant other or children. Or it may be an activity such as lunch with a friend. Be alert to thoughts going through your head such as, “I’m just going to skip my exercise this week. I’ll get back to it next week. I really, really will, but they need me over here this week.” When those thoughts go through your head, something is tempting you to abandon your healthy lifestyle and the healthy habits that you’re trying to establish. It’s time to turn to those problem-solving skills and come up with a solution that supports continuing those healthy habits.
5. Picture Reminders
Employ external memory aids that will remind you why it is important for you to make the healthy habits stick. Try pictures of things that remind you of the things in your life that you love. Surround yourself with them in your office, on your computer backgrounds, on your phone, and so on. They are there to serve as constant reminders of why it is important for you to stay on track and what it will cost you if you lose your health. If you're tempted to make an unhealthy choice, ask yourself if the temptation is worth everything represented by one of your external memory aids, that is, “Would I trade everything this picture represents to me for this thing that is tempting me to make an unhealthy choice?” It makes it much easier to say, “Maybe someday I’d make that bargain, but that day is not today.”