Start the Year Off Right
Wellness takes practice. Knowing and doing do not always align. The first step to making healthy behavior changes is to create an awareness around your regular habits. Perhaps scrolling through social media is taking time away from being able to exercise. To develop new habits, you must disrupt your old patterns and create new ones. Instead of connecting with friends over social media, get out, and enjoy a walk together.
It is typically valuable to set three to five habits/week. It is also useful to have goals in two to three areas (fitness, sleep, nutrition, stress) so that you are working on several new behaviors that complement each other and support your optimal vision of health. For example, setting and sticking to a consistent bedtime results in being rested (sleep), which provides energy for a morning workout (exercise), leaving you hungry for a nutritious breakfast (healthy diet).
Keeping track of all the healthy living “must-do’s” can clutter your mind and leave you feeling stressed, confused, and defeated before you even start. Research suggests that writing down goals leads to accomplishing more than merely thinking about them. Writing down goals helps clarify what you want to achieve and enables you to develop a specific plan to get there. For example, if one of your goals is to eat healthier, a task on your list could be, “Have healthy snacks ready to go throughout the week by storing pre-cut veggies in ziplock baggies.” When you complete a written goal, you get the satisfaction of checking it off your “to-do” list and a prompt to think about what’s next.
When you set clear and intentional goals, you understand the motivation behind them. For example, I want to eat healthier, so I have more energy to play with my children after work. Reminding yourself what is driving your goals will help you stay on track.
Being self-critical only gets in the way of achieving your potential. On days when you find yourself off track, express gratitude instead of being self-critical. For example, be thankful for being able to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a piece of cake over lunch, and, at dinner, get back on track by including an extra serving of vegetables.
The key to making good habits stick is to reward yourself with a satisfying and immediate reward. For example, if you are creating the habit of exercising five days/week, reward yourself at the end of the 5th day with a massage. Having a reward that you are looking forward to helps with momentum and staying on track with your goal. Once a habit is firmly established, you can train yourself to delay gratification.