Revive motivation. When it feels harder to stick to a healthy habit, it’s time to delve into your mindset, review your writing (as suggested in Part 2), identify roadblocks, redefine goals, and to get back to basics with habit loops.
Do damage control. If you’ve slipped off track or overindulged, you’ll want to investigate your self-talk, take a timeout, get feedback and support, and to find the motivation to hit restart on your goals.
The next step. Identify where you want to take your life, foster curiosity, and go back to those basics. Review Parts 1 and 2 of Healthy Habits to reacquaint yourself with success- ful strategies.
You aren’t a robot or a computer. So, maintaining motivation in a human is more complicated than pro- gramming a machine to do a specific task. It’s normal for inspiration about healthy habits to ebb and flow. No matter how revved up you were about eating healthier or sticking to a new exercise routine, to begin with, it’s understandable that you lose your mojo from time to time. So, if you find that your en- thusiasm for a goal you started a few weeks ago is beginning to fade, it just means that you’re human. At first, you may have been highly driven to lose weight and found it a breeze to pass on a big dessert or another beer or to skip seconds at a family dinner, but a few weeks in and your sweet tooth seems much stronger. Whatever goal or new habit you’ve been working on takes consistent effort, and main-taining your hold can begin to feel more difficult. Or, perhaps you’ve reached a goal—lost 10 pounds, cut out sugar, or walked or ran a 10H, and now you are faltering. After the glow that comes from achiev- ing a series of events, there can sometimes be a period of disappointment or lethargy that follows. So, what to do?
Healthy Habits: Part 1 defined habits, explained the mechanics behind patterns of behavior, and de- scribed how to begin to gain awareness about existing bad habits. Part 2 focused on strategies to goals and taking action for success. This article provides the tactics you need for rebooting, refreshing, and replenishing your goals so that you stay motivated to maintain healthy habits for the long haul.
THE MOTIVATION IS WANING
You’ve stuck with your goal (you are still eating healthy and passing up desserts, for example), but it’s starting to feel a lot harder than it did in the beginning, and you still have a long way to go. You need a recharge. In the beginning, when you first started this study, and you were asked to track your food, exercise, and sleep, it was new and novel and probably easier to do than it is now. That’s typical, but when those first few weeks pass, tracking and logging can start to feel tedious. This is when sticking to your initial habit loop can come in handy.
Review your mindset: Where is your mindset? How do you feel about your goals today? Often, people start out on goals feeling positive about how they’ll feel when they improve healthy eating and exercise. They focus on how they’ll look at the desired weight, how they’ll have more energy, or how health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol will be, but as time goes on, mind- sets tend to change from positive to negative. As people get closer to achieving a goal, they might start feeling disappointed that things aren’t moving along faster or that their clothes aren’t fitting as well as they’d hoped. Has your mindset slipped? Awareness of this might be enough to help you get back into a positive mindset. If that doesn’t help, review your writing (see the next tip).
Review writing: In Healthy Habits Part 2, we discussed writing down your goals. Go back and review what you wrote. Make a pro and con list. Say your goal was to eat healthier. What are the pros of sticking with that? Did you have more energy? Did you feel better about yourself? What are the cons of eating healthy? Does it take more time? Identifying the pros and cons can help you rein- vigorate motivation. Repost sticky notes around your house and reset reminders on your phone that give you a visual of your goals.
Identify roadblocks: Finally, identify barriers or obstacles, and write out or talk through possible solutions. Maybe work has gotten crazy busy, or maybe things at home are hectic. Events such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a sudden financial burden can obscure all other goals you may have. If you find yourself in a sort of anxiety that requires all your attention and time, or if you’ve been feeling adrift or disconnected, you may need to pause and reinvestigate. What used to motivate you toward a particular goal that now seems less important? Remember, exercising, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can help you to handle hectic situations and extreme emotions better.
Redefine your goal: Maybe you can see that your goal wasn’t quite right for you. Don’t be afraid to redefine what you want for yourself. If training for a full marathon or losing 100 pounds is stressing you out, do a half or a 10H, decide to lose 10 pounds and then reassess when you’ve reached that goal.
Get back to basics: If you prepped healthy foods on the weekends, but you’ve let that slide, get back to it. If you’d motivated yourself to do a workout by having your gym back fully packed, stocked, and sitting where you could see it, but have slacked, get back to it. Even if you don’t feel excited about it, going through the motions of a habit can help make it happen automatically. That’s how your brain works. Remember, in Part 1 we talked about setting a habit and habit loops? You can see a refresher from Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit, here. Accept it, if your mind tells you, “I don’t feel like exercising,” and pack your gym bag anyway. Accept it, if you get to the gym and you don’t want to go inside. Go inside anyways. Just hop on a machine for 10 minutes. You’ll be sur- prised at how “going through the motions” will trip you into a habit loop, before you know it you’ll be done with a great workout, and a positive accomplishment will start a positive cycle that builds a momentum of its own.
You slipped off track, overindulged, binged on sugar, or skipped out on workouts and are having a hard time getting back on track. While a weekend binge or a holiday overindulgence can feel like a serious setback on your course to healthier habits, it doesn’t have to. Don’t let it hijack your mind. Get back on track fast with these strategies.
Shut down negative thinking. Starting in on fatalistic thinking such as, “all that hard work was a waste,” Or, “I’ll never stop overeating,” or worse, “I’m a loser,” won’t lead to anything productive. Instead, shake it off, don’t take yourself so seriously, accept that you are human, and humans are fallible. You can also consciously take your mind on a positive “walk” that will get you back on the path to healthy habits without there being much destruction to clean up. A slip doesn’t need to define you.
Permit to pause. Sometimes, against all seeming reason, it is important to take a break from a rou- tine—and a slip can be a good indicator. You might need the space and energy to relax and reflect without feeling punished. Our society has a habit of disapproval towards “falling off the wagon,” but sometimes it is more productive to use this time for nurturing and attention to what is going on inside that caused you to get off track in the first place. Quiet the judgment and use some time to take a timeout to rediscover some “new” or refreshed healthy habits you’d like to begin. View this time as cleaning out the clutter and reorganizing your priorities. This will help to ignite passion with- out feeling rebuke for pausing on an intention that was meant to improve your health.
Get feedback. Accountability is key, and in Part 2, we discussed recruiting support and having people to check in with on your progress on your healthy habits. Getting feedback is the next step. While it’s essential to have a friend or group you can check in with, having someone (or a group) who knows more intimately what you are aiming to achieve can take support to the next level. This means having people or a person you can trust and share with fully. Tell them that you want to lose 30 pounds and that you are taking it 10 pounds at a time—and then tell them that you’ll be asking for feedback. Make dates to follow up on these deadlines and share what has worked and what hasn’t. Ask your friend or support group for suggestions and guidance. What do they see working, and where do they see obstacles? This sort of interaction will help you to reassess and adjust, or to recommit to the goal at hand.
Hit restart. Remember, you are the custodian of your body. Go to the top of this article and take steps to reinvigorate your motivation and set a time when you are going to start over. The sooner, the better. Many people think that they need to wait until the morning, and that is fine, but know that you can decide to start your day over at any time you choose.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Whether you have achieved a goal or are just recommitting to existing healthy goals, it’s time to start over. Here are some suggestions:
Identify what’s next: You’ve always wanted to hike Machu Picchu but never felt like could, or maybe you did that half-marathon, and you want to do a full marathon, or perhaps you reached a weight loss goal and want to start exercising. Whatever it is, put a start date on your calendar and start planning.
Foster curiosity: The desire to see, learn, or experience new things can activate your sense of pur- pose and motivation. If this ingredient has been missing, adding curiosity by breaking out of your comfort zone might be the key you’ve been missing. Sign up for a cooking, dance, or yoga class; join a support group, or if you are most comfortable in a group setting, then head out on a hike alone or go out in your yard to watch the clouds, stars, or the wind in the trees.
What worked last time: Then take some time to review what strategies helped you to succeed in reaching your previous goal. Was it keeping an old-school print calendar that you could write on every day? Was it being part of a group that was aiming for the same sort of health success? Was it dedicatedly logging your habits on myCircadianClock? Was it always having your gym bag packed the night before? Now, get to work!