Staying Motivated for Healthy Change

We’ve all been there.  Most of us are lucky to have sustained just one New Year’s resolution into late winter.  Old habits die hard; new ones often get crowded out too soon to stick.  The truth is that we will experience mixed results with any change effort most of the time.  Celebrate the successes and keep going.  Your initial inspriation and motivation will naturally wain at some point.  The key is to apply a compassionate persistence in your approach.  Don’t focus on any setback.  Instead, have a number of easy tactics or simple tricks – more commonly known as hacks – that you can call on to help redirect and refocus yourself.  Here’s a short list of thoughts and tips to help you stay motivated to make any change that you truly value.  These have bubbled to the top of the list for me as I’ve struggled with my own health and lifestyle changes for the better part of a decade now.

Ten Thoughts and Tips to Help Stay Motivated

  1. It probably took decades to get here.  Just as it takes an estimated 3-4 weeks of daily practice to instill a new habit, it took a lot longer to get you where you are today.  Behavior change can be difficult work and often requires repeated attempts.  Understand that the high-value changes will take some determination on your part but that you will be rewarded for you effort.  Often, some of the rewards you reap will be unexpected and that makes them all the sweeter.
  2. Get used to being outside your comfort zone.  Know that substantive change is not likely going to be comfortable.  If this latest change effort is feeling like a breeze then you aren’t really outside your comfort zone.  Most real learning and growing happens outside that cozy place.   Don’t despair.   You can always return there for a respite if needed but look forward to forging a new comfort zone.
  3. Change doesn’t happen in isolation.  Your efforts to form new habits will either be supported or undermined by the people in your life.  This could be friends, co-workers, or family.  This doesn’t mean that you have to dump your friends and leave your job or family; although ultimately, it might.  All those small decisions you’ll need to make daily to support change will be directly impacted by the opinions and actions of those around you.  Take care to consciously decide who you will spend your time with and be clear about what you will partake in and what you will walk away from, unconditionally.
  4. Get systems and fail-safe measures in place early.  During the height of your initial motivation you need to put in place some systems and fail-safe measures that will support your change effort.  For instance, if your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight, it’s a good idea to clean out your pantry of all packaged and processed foods ASAP.  Do this before those pesky rationales for eating the odd cracker or pop tart creep into your mind while you stare at the shelves.  When’s the last time you stood longingly in front of the open pantry foraging for a foodstuff to fend off that niggling hunger pang or period of boredom?  If this stuff isn’t in your pantry to begin with you won’t have the option to eat it in a moment of weakness.
  5. Pair positives with steps toward your goal.  We often feel like any change effort means that we have to give up other important activities in our lives.  Try to find ways to pair positive experiences that are fundamental to your life with the work of creating a new habit.  For instance, if you are trying to exercise more, find a buddy to go with you.  This way you both get to support each other and you can spend some quality time together.  Maybe you go for a run with a friend and your dog.  That way you get to reinforce your new exercise habit, visit with a friend, and walk or run your dog all at the same time.  That’s accomplishing a lot in a very efficient way and you begin to associate exercise with other pleasant and nourishing experiences.
  6. Build in small successes and celebrate.  Any change effort usually needs a step by step approach.  Be liberal with the number of tasks you list for a change project.  The experience of checking off these small tasks are needed positive reinforcers.  Checking these small accomplishments off on your way to your goal will help maintain your momentum and help keep that negative self-talk and criticism at bay.  Always look for the positive spin on your actions.  Don’t delude yourself, but look for the positive in every situation.  That practice in itself can be a life changer.  Then, celebrate these successes in some small but personally meaningful way.
  7. Get support.  As noted above, change doesn’t happen in isolation.  Further, find yourself some like-minded folk who are invovled in similar lifestyle change efforts.  This can be done online in any number of places or locally at your health club, gym, yoga studio, knitting club, geek summit or where ever you hang out it.  There are so many options!  Spend time with the people that will make you feel good about your efforts.  Get a health coach!
  8. Get started.  Do the next simplest step to get you started.  This could  be as easy as putting on your running shoes and getting out the door, going online to research ingredients for a recipe, or calling a friend and telling them what you want to do.  Taking a simple first step will propel you forward and before you know it you’ve achieved significant forward motion towards your goal and going public with your desire will ignite your accountability.  Getting started can also be as easy as requesting a free consultation with a health coach.  It costs you nothing to do so and could be a major turning point on your way to substantive lifestyle change.
  9. Renew your effort with each new day; each new breath. If you meditate, you already get this idea.  If you don’t; it’s very simple to explain but can be a challenge to execute.  You have to continually start over.  You have to apply a compassionate persistence in your actions.  The author Tim Ferris tells the story about how he approached 27 publishers before the manuscript for his book  The 4-Hour Workweek was accepted for publishing.  That’s 26 officially printed- on-company-stock rejection notices.  That’s gotta hurt.  How can someone continue to expose themselves to that kind of negative feedback?  I think it’s a healthy dose of compassion for one’s self and the determination to work for something of high personal value.
  10. Be nice to yourself.  I had this tip as #1 but then decided to put it last.  As a reader, if I were to read this piece of advice first I might not continue past it.  It’s perhaps the best-known cliche from the self-help and new-age community; “just accept who you are,”  “you are beautiful as you are, right now,” or “all god’s creatures have a place in the choir.”  As hackneed as all of that sounds; it’s true.  You need to be compassionate with yourself.  Self-acceptance can be difficult in such an accomplishment-focused society.  We are supposed to grit our teeth and forge ahead at any cost.  We are encouraged to ignore our aches and pains and keep going.  That’s denial; not acceptance.  Who you are right now is the current state of you.  Start from there.  You can be different tomorrow or even with your next breath.  Learn from your history, accept yourself now, and look forward.  Yesterday is done.  What matters now is your next step.

Bonus: As a bonus for reading this far – and I really appreciate it – here’s an awesome tip I certainly can’t take credit for as it’s been said by the sages for millennia: help others.   It’s a paradoxical thought in our culture but taking the focus off of ourselves actually makes us feel better and can foster our own more positive assessment of the world around us.  For more on this topic check out one of my fav blogs and one of the best sources for tips on motivation – Zenhabits.

If you have any motivation tricks that you’d like to share please add them in the comments.

2 responses to “Staying Motivated for Healthy Change

  1. Marilyn Griffin

    The first should be last…………sound familiar? Thanks for the good words


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