Did you make a resolution this year to improve your health? Perhaps this involved increasing your physical activity, improving your diet, or something else entirely?
As we settle into the regular pattern of our daily routines - work, school, study, family life or some other combination - we need to work extra hard to maintain our health motivation to remain true to our goals.
Fortunately, there are some simple and effective steps you can take to help keep your health goals on track. We spoke to a leading health psychologist to get some expert tips on how to maintain your health motivation.
1. Give it time and stick with it
Ever heard the saying that it takes 21 days to develop a positive habit?
Well, according to research, the average person actually needs 66 days, or just over two months, to form a new habit.
“When you set a health goal, like going to the gym, it feels very different to what you’re used to,” says Dr Peta Stapleton, Associate Professor, School of Psychology at Bond University.
“However, if you can persist for two months, it’ll become a habit. From there, it all begins to feel much easier.”
So, give that new activity some time, and eventually, it’ll become a healthy habit.
2. Understand what motivates you
There are two types of people when it comes to motivation, Dr Stapleton explains: those who are internally motivated and those who are externally motivated.
Internally motivated people can stick to plans fairly easily, while externally motivated people need extra inputs to maintain their focus.
Think back to the last health goal you made, and what helped you achieve it. Can you work out whether you’re internally or externally motivated?
“If you’re externally motivated, you just need to find what works for you,” says Dr Stapleton.
Why not set a reward to provide extra incentive? Consider booking yourself a massage or buying a new pair of shoes if you hit your target – choose whatever it is that motivates you.
Maybe you need to find yourself a training buddy to help keep your fitness plan on track?
Once you find what works for you, then stick with it. “Consistency is crucial”, says Dr Stapleton.
3. Avoid health fads
You can probably name lots of weight-loss and fitness programs that have gained popularity in recent years.
While every health and fitness trend has its faithful followers, they’re not necessarily right for everyone.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to your health,” says Dr Stapleton. “It’s important that you find one that works for you. Don’t just jump on the latest fad, if it’s not right.”
“If, for example, your friend convinces you to go to an exercise class he or she loves, and after one try you don’t feel it’s for you, don’t keep going. Find an activity you prefer.”
4. Set smart goals, and revisit them regularly
When setting your health goals, you could try using a well-known technique called S.M.A.R.T. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
Thinking about each of these points will help you set health goals that work.
Dr Stapleton also believes it’s better to aim high when setting health goals, because you can always scale back to middle ground, if necessary.
Otherwise, it’s easy to let your goals drop down your list of priorities.
“If you say, ‘I’m just going to exercise once a week’, then it’s much easier to just drop out altogether,” she says.
It’s also important to revisit your goals regularly. Making a resolution at the beginning of each year isn’t anywhere near enough to keep us on track with our goals. We need to revisit our goals regularly.
“If you make goals once a month, rather than once a year, it will help you stay on track and monitor and safeguard your progress,” she says.
5. Pick your cheerleaders
Finally, Dr Stapleton says you need to work out which of your family and friends will rally behind you as you work to achieve improvements in your health.
“Make sure they’re people who’ll motivate you to stay on track,” she says. “And equally important, pick people who’ll support you during the hard times too.”
Irrespective of the time of year, check in with your health goals regularly. How are yours going? Are they on track? Or do they need a health motivation re-boot?
We hope these five motivation tips help keep your health goals on track all year round.