Each new year brings resolutions focused heavily around losing weight and eating healthier. But each February sees the majority of them end. To keep your motivation strong, here are a few secrets to setting goals in a way that helps you keep your commitments:
SET A NEW ‘WHY’
When you set a weight-loss goal, it’s important to have a strong reason, such as getting healthy, lowering your blood pressure or being able to complete your first half-marathon. Those are great objectives, but you also need to think about how staying active ties to daily feelings and activities and provides an immediate benefit, says Michelle Segar, PhD, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center and author of “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness.” “More research shows when people discover movement helps them feel and function better it is more motivating than distant goals like losing 10 pounds or better health,” she says. Thus, try setting a more specific ‘why’ such as “I will commit to walking 10,000 steps every day.”
FOCUS ON SMALL BUT CHALLENGING GOALS
When you’re goal setting, identify your current capabilities and set a goal that’s within reach but forces you to stretch. “The sweet spot lies in a goal that’s challenging but realistic,” says Greg Chertok, MEd, a certified sports psychologist. “The accomplishment of one goal makes you feel satisfied and eager to accomplish another,” he says. To make this happen, set small goals within your larger goal and bask in the accomplishment every time you hit one.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Just because your neighbor says she lost weight swimming, doesn’t mean you have to head to the pool, too. Choosing activities you love is what helps exercise become a regular part of your life. “People are wired to do what feels good, including what they enjoy,” says Segar. If you don’t know what you like most, experiment with different types of workouts to find what fits you best. One way to do this is through programs like ClassPass, which allow you to try a variety of classes at nearby studios without having to make a commitment.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE COURSE
It’s important to identify what’s not working and move on. “Knowing you can choose the activity that will be most impactful or meaningful to you is empowering and motivating,” says Chertok. For example, maybe you want to de-stress so you choose yoga. After a couple sessions, it turns out yoga is not for you. Rather than giving up altogether, consider this a perfect time to pivot and find other ways to reduce stress. Whether it’s a different form of yoga, a weekend hike, cycling class or walk during your lunch hour, there are plenty of options available if you keep an open mind.
LEAN ON OTHERS
“Feeling like you’re part of a nurturing, positive community or team is key in finding motivation,” says Chertok. “Surround yourself with people who adopt the personality traits to which you aspire,” he adds. Look for a walking or plogging group in your neighborhood or share your favorite healthy recipes with the MyFitnessPal community.
EMBRACE AN “EVERYTHING COUNTS” MINDSET
One of the things that kills motivation is an “all or nothing” mindset. For example, telling yourself “If I can’t go to the gym for an hour today, I may as well do nothing.” Or, “If I can’t do five workouts this week, I may as well skip them entirely and start again next week.” Instead, a more self-serving mindset is one where everything counts. When everything counts — which it does — you never have to use any cognitive energy to decide if something is worth doing, explains Segar. “You can simply move any chance you get, and, most important, feel great about doing so,” says Segar. That means the 10 minutes you have to take your dog for a walk is time well spent.
FIND A TIME THAT SERVES YOU
When trying to reach a health goal, instead of focusing on the negative — like what you won’t eat or do — “a better direction is to think about what positive healthy habits you want to create and when,” says Chertok. “Ask yourself what time of day you’re willing to consider a change,” he says. That may be stretching for a few minutes at night before bed or waking up and doing a few yoga poses in the morning. These small changes can make you feel empowered and enthusiastic to make bigger ones, says Chertok.
PLAN FOR AN UNEVEN ROAD
It’s important to remember progress isn’t always linear. There might be days where you reach for a bag of chips when you’re feeling stressed or don’t get all your steps in. Tell yourself it’s OK and you’ll try again at the next opportunity. “Research is mounting that being self-compassionate rather than judgmental toward things not working out according to plan is much more motivating,” says Segar. “We shouldn’t even look at failure as failure. Just as an opportunity to learn,” she adds.