Tips for Goal-Setting, Motivation, and Adherance
It’s the start of the short but seemingly long month of February, and it’s also about that time of year where even some with the most willpower are starting to slide with their New Year’s Resolutions. So why is it that people are chronically so bad at keeping New Years Resolutions? Because I bet you know plenty of people with positive health habits that have stuck, yourself included (C’mon, give yourself some credit: Do you brush your teeth daily? Spend some time breathing in the fresh air when it’s nice outside? See your doctor for regular check-ups? Move in ways that you enjoy? Eat your vegetables or other foods you enjoy/that nourish you emotionally? Take time to play and do things solely for the purpose of fun?).
Yet, during the time of year when it seems like everyone is setting a new goal based on improving their health, it also seems like everyone is failing… Why is this?
Well, a lot of it has to do with the motivation behind why we are setting goals at this time of year.
Most of the time when people attempt a new goal or behavior at a random time in the year, it’s because they’re feeling a lot of motivation or have just noticed a good reason for attempting this change now. For example, maybe your friend recently suffered from a third injury related to running in the last year; the first time it was a minimally painful and quick to recover sprained ankle. The second was a more painful and chronic ankle issue that resulted in some time in Physical Therapy where the therapist recommended spending more time in their workout routine working on balance and stability instead of doing only runs to train the lower body (which your friend adhered to for a while but then fell off with once the pain of the injury was forgotten). The third time though, your friend had been having knee pain that started off as just after their runs and then progressed to happening during their runs as well, limiting their ability to get in the miles they desire or to do any interval training without almost immediate pain during the faster paces. Now, when the Physical Therapist recommended that your friend incorporate more balance, stability, and strength training for the lower body to prevent further injuries (and help to improve their runs as well), your friend contacted a Personal Trainer immediately and set up and appointment for the week after their final therapy session to get started on a strength and stability program. This time they have continued doing the work on their own as well as regularly updating their routine with the help of their trainer to make sure it stays challenging over time as they progress with both running and strength.
However, goals set for New Years are often motivated by a feeling of should. I should make a resolution to start strength training because I know that it will help me to stay healthy as I age, and everyone around me is also resolving to create healthier habits right now as well. But goals set out of “should”s often don’t align with our deeper motivations and also don’t come at times in our lives when we are actually prepared to change. Now, I’m not suggesting you go and injure your ankles and knees repeatedly to get yourself to change your habits, but I am asking you to think more about why you want to make this change. Is it because some external source has told you it is something you should do and you feel guilted into it? Or are there deeper reasons you can think of to change: more stamina to walk for miles when exploring a new place on vacation, more strength to complete difficult (heavy, strenuous, time-consuming, etc.) work around the house safely by yourself so you can continue to make your garden even more beautiful each year, more ability to learn and recover quickly from trying new outdoor activities with your family?
So if you’re having trouble with a recent goal that you’ve set and need some guidance on finding a deeper motivation to continue working on this goal or need help setting a completely new goal because you’re realizing your previous goal wasn’t worthy of your adherence, here are some tips. Don’t jump to setting a new goal immediately though; spend some time journaling and getting down to your underlying motivations first.
- Was your goal or resolution set by your internal self-critic? Are you setting this goal purely because of something you dislike about yourself? If so, let’s go back to the drawing board and find a goal based out of self love or acceptance instead of self-hate.
- Health is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Think about the ways that you successfully organize and motivate yourself for the other things in your life: work tasks, family life, social obligations etc. What are some strategies you successfully use in other areas of your life to get things done and set positive habits?
- Make a list of all the health behaviors you either currently have or would like to have. For each behavior, write down if it makes you feel expansive or contracted/restricted. For the ones that make you feel contracted, try to reframe them to be more positive. Aim to have a majority of your health behaviors and goals make you feel expansive.
- How does stress management fit into your current health management plan? Do you include regular forms of stress management and have multiple strategies in your toolbox? Do you find shame and guilt cropping up often when it comes to eating and exercise? Shame and guilt are often better at causing more stress and therefore more un-wellness than they are at promoting sustainable motivation. Often, even if we intend to use exercise for stress-management, if we do not have other coping mechanisms in place, exercise can become more of a stressor than it is a relief.
- Try to focus more on the behaviors you want to cultivate than the ones you would like to stop doing. By telling your brain not to do something, you are asking a part of your brain to always be focused on [avoiding] it. Because of this, it makes the behavior even harder to avoid than before.
- Write down a list of your values in life (they do not have to be related to health). What goals can you set around health that align with one or more of your core values for life in general?
And if you’re still struggling to set the right goal or stick to it, reach out to myself or another Health Coach because our main goal is helping you reach yours!