Most people set themselves a health goal, “to lose 5kg” or “to run 5km” for example and dive straight in. And while this enthusiasm and motivation is a great launchpad, life happens, barriers appear and that willpower muscle starts to fatigue – often resulting in many of those new healthy habits slipping away. To overcome this and set yourself up for success from the get-go, it’s important to get clear on your big picture goals, then be really specific on how you are going to achieve them in these 7 essential steps to health change success.
Step 1: Uncover your WHY
The essential first, and often overlooked, step to habit change success is to understand on a deeper, big picture level why you are wanting to make certain changes. Understanding the ‘why’ behind your health goals will clarify your motivation and will enable you to push through barriers and challenges when they inevitably arise, as you will understand the deeper purpose behind your goals.
Once you clarify your ‘why’ or your vision for your lifestyle, take a moment to write it out. It can be particularly powerful to post this somewhere visible (eg. bathroom mirror, fridge door, laptop wallpaper) as a continual reminder and motivator for the changes you are wanting to make.
Here are a few questions to help you clarify your ‘why’:
- What is your vision for your health and wellness?
- How will you feel when you fulfill this vision?
- What kind of lifestyle will you lead when you achieve your ‘why’? What activities will be a part of it?
- What are your personal values that align with this vision?
- Why is making this health change/s important to you?
Try to include a “so that” statement in your ‘why’ to further solidify your underlying motivation.
For example, “To be an energetic, strong and upbeat person, so that I can be a positive role model for my children in leading a healthy lifestyle”.
Step 2: How ready are you?
Two important factors that influence whether your health goals stick are how important you feel they are and how confident you feel in being able to achieve them.
Consider these two questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is the most important thing), how important is it to you personally to work on achieving your ‘why’, given all the other priorities in your life?
If you rated the importance as less than 6, reflect on your ‘why’ and consider revising this to better reflect what is most important to you at this moment.
- On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is ‘extremely confident’), how confident do you feel in being able to succeed in achieving your ‘why’, given all the other priorities in your life?
If you rated your confidence less than 7, consider what you need to learn, or what skills, knowledge, or resources you need to gain to help you feel more confident in achieving your ‘why’.
Step 3: Be SMART
Now it’s time to get specific about the health goals and habit change that will lead you to achieve your health vision. Rather than setting a vague goal “to eat better” or “to get fit”, use the SMART goal format – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. SMART goals ensure your goals are clear enough to know what you are doing when/ how often you plan to do it and whether you can objectively assess whether it’s been achieved or not.
For example, SMART goal versions of our two vague goals mentioned earlier would be, “To pack a healthy lunch to take to work, 4 days of the week” or “To attend the 6am spin class at the gym on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday”.
Step 4: Schedule it
There is a saying – “We manage what we monitor” – so be sure to schedule the time you need to work on your health goal. Whether it’s blocking out time in your work diary to take a lunch break to eat your healthy packed lunch or scheduling time in your family planner to get to the spin class, documenting when you plan to work on your goals will get you so much closer to making these goals a reality.
You might like to use a habit change tracker to log the days that you achieve your goal. For many people, the sense of checking off the activity as “achieved” for the day provides a great sense of achievement and works in a positive feedback loop to encourage you to keep going.
Step 5: Do you have a Plan B?
Before getting started, take a moment to anticipate barriers you think might arise and brainstorm your plan B ahead of time. This activity helps minimize roadblocks and challenges, as you’ll have a way around them when life gets in the way. Common barriers include lack of time/ money/ motivation, fear of failure, fear of success, and bad weather. For example, if you anticipate bad weather as a barrier to you going for your morning run, create a plan B to do a YouTube home workout video instead; or if you anticipate finishing work late (ie. a lack of time) might mean you lose motivation to cook a healthy dinner, perhaps you can stock your freezer with healthy homecooked dishes ahead of time so you always have a nourishing plan B meal option on hand.
Step 6: Get an accountability partner
Is there someone in your life who you can share your health vision (your ‘why’) and SMART goals with? Explaining why your health changes are important to you and gaining the support of another person will greatly increase the likelihood of your success. Having other members of the household aware of your new habits can also help shift the environment to be more conducive to health (for example, everyone getting on board with a pantry cleanout). You might also consider buddying up with someone else who shares similar goals that you can work on together, for example, a workout buddy you can go on walks or attend gym classes with.
Step 7: Plan your reward
Finally, don’t forget to plan how you’ll reward yourself for achieving your SMART goals. Knowing this ahead of time can help to keep you motivated and on-track. Consider rewards that elevate your mood and make you feel good, such as a massage, spa treatment, new activewear, or a magazine subscription, as they’ll continue to inspire you to work towards your ultimate health and lifestyle vision.
Christina is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, nutritionist and health coach, with a special interest in women’s health. She is the founder of Cultivate Nutrition, where she provides online nutrition consultations and courses for women and mothers who are wanting to reclaim their health, energy, and vitality and improve their relationship with food. You can learn more about how Christina can support you to eat well and feel your best through the following channels:
Web: Cultivate Nutrition
Facebook: Cultivate Nutrition