Editor’s Note: UPDATED as of October 10, 2016 for relevance and accuracy.
You have some exciting new goals, and you’re ready to take action! Just look at you—all motivated and inspired to make self-healthy change! Nothing’s getting in the way of your wellness goals!
Such unabashed enthusiasm is great. Lots of people start off feeling exactly the same.
Take Sarah, for instance. She’s totally gung-ho about doing her 30-minute strength training routine five times per week. She gets off to an impressive start! Monday she does the whole workout before leaving for the office. Same with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday she actually does an extra set of squats.
Then the following Monday rolls around and Sarah has to be at work early for a monthly team meeting. So she skips the exercise routine and vows to do it when she gets home. Except on her evening commute she gets stuck in a horrendous traffic jam. By the time Sarah finally makes it through her door, she is too fried to lift a can of soup let alone a twelve-pound free weight.
Tuesday she oversleeps and only manages to get in 10 minutes of exercise. By Wednesday, Sarah’s initial eagerness has totally waned and is replaced by such a nagging sense of guilt she is considering altogether abandoning her goal of getting in shape.
This is a common predicament. When things get hectic, it’s easy to use stress as an excuse NOT to exercise, eat better, or keep up with the healthy new habit you finally started working on.
The real reason why wellness goals get derailed isn’t because we oversleep, get stuck in traffic, or have busy schedules.
It’s because we fail to stay motivated.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a list of six common mistakes that can kill motivation—and how to avoid them:
1. Aiming too high in your wellness goals.
When we decide we are ready to make change, we can sometimes get a little ahead of ourselves and aim too big — like Sarah did. When we fail to live up to our lofty standards it can definitely take the wind out of our motivational sails.
Instead start small. Your goals should help you grow and stretch while still being attainable.
Think of yourself as a startup. You need some time to ramp up and develop your stamina before you can go big. If you’ve never swam a day in your life outside of the shallow end, it’s not wise to throw on your Speedo and head right out on a six-mile deep water swim with your triathlon-training brother-in-law.
If by some miracle you don’t drown, your body and ego will both be sore the next day. It makes more sense to start off by getting your feet wet. Then increase your exertion and ramp up the distance as you gain strength and stamina.
Likewise, if you’ve never eaten a vegetable that didn’t come from a can, don’t set a goal of drinking a green smoothie for breakfast and eating a kale salad for lunch every day. Start by including one small serving of fresh veggies in your daily diet and make that a consistent habit.
2. Having unrealistic expectations.
Transformation doesn’t happen overnight and NOT without a lot of effort. As much as you want to see instantaneous results, it doesn’t work that way.
Instead, to keep your motivation stoked and your expectations in line, set some early wellness goals that are almost guaranteed.
In the business world this is referred to as “low hanging fruit,” and it essentially means going for the quick win first. It’s good to set some initial “gimme” goals that are easily within your grasp — goals you barely need to stretch to reach.
Then manage your own expectations well. If your goal is to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight and you want to actually keep the extra weight off, you should expect it to take some time. If your goal is to overhaul your eating lifestyle for the long-term, it’s going to take a while to learn how to shop, meal plan, and cook accordingly. Set yourself up for success by not being overly aggressive with your expectations while still pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
3. Not knowing your “why?”
People are often clear about what they want. For instance, you might want to lose weight, or improve your cholesterol levels, or curb your sugar addiction. But people typically forget to really understand why they want what they want. If you would like to lose weight, is it because you want to look better at the beach? Or is it because you want to be able to get down on the floor and play with your kids?
Instead of focusing solely on what you want, understand your why. Knowing your true motivation can help you stay focused on the end game.
Ask yourself “Why do I want to make this change?” It’s not enough to say “I want to lose weight” or “I want to feel energized.” You need to know why you want to lose weight or have more energy. The “why” is going to help shape your vision and keep you motivated to accomplish your goals.
4. Spreading yourself too thin.
When it comes to getting healthy, time tends to be the most common limiting factor that can keep you from reaching your wellness goals. There are only so many hours in a day. If you take on too much or sap all of your energy, it’s going to greatly lessen the odds of you staying motivated.
Instead take steps to free up some of your time and preserve your energy.
Try outsourcing some of your responsibilities. Nobody is capable of doing everything well. And no business is either. That’s why they routinely outsource activities such as accounting, manufacturing, and customer support to entities that can do the job better and more efficiently. Just like every business has limited resources, so do people.
Redistributing some of your work will free up your time and allow you to dedicate a few hours per week toward maintaining your health. Delegate the stuff you hate doing or are terrible at doing, and focus on what you do best. Today you can even outsource healthy meal prep to services like Blue Apron or Peach Dish.
You can also lessen the daily burden by learning how to defend your time. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Say yes to the opportunities that are in line with your vision. But say “no thanks” to the draining tasks, projects, and drama that people can deal with themselves or that aren’t in line with your priorities and goals.
5. Focusing on the negative.
Too often we look at what we are doing wrong, instead of what we are doing right. It’s no surprise, then, that many of us find it challenging to stay engaged in our goals when we rarely provide ourselves with praise.
Instead, remember to celebrate each small success. If something isn’t going well, by all means address it. But don’t beat yourself up.
Also, remember to state your goals in the positive. Phrasing your wellness goals allows you to focus on the productive changes you want to make rather than on the negative behaviors you are seeking to change. For example: instead of saying “I don’t want to be a permanent fixture on my couch anymore” you can say “I will add 30 minutes of movement to my day starting December 1.”
6. Going at your wellness goals alone.
Trying to make healthy changes without a support network is never a good idea. Eventually you will lose willpower. And if you don’t have someone rooting you on and keeping you motivated, it’s a lot easier to give up.
Instead find an accountability partner. Having someone who can hold you accountable to your goals is a great source of motivation.
Whether you choose a friend, a family member, or a co-worker, select someone who supports the change you are making. Communicate your action steps and time frame, and encourage them to follow up with you on your progress. Better still—commit to make healthy changes together. It’s easy to smack the snooze button silly when it’s just you, but if you know a friend is waiting at the track for you at 6 a.m. on a Monday, you’re much more likely to show up and run those laps.
Lastly, don’t forget the fun factor. With so many possibilities out there, there’s no reason every action you take can’t be enjoyable when it comes to wellness. The more enjoyable you make it, the higher your motivation will be. If you notice your enthusiasm for your wellness goals waning, try mixing it up a bit with some healthy new food options or a totally new fitness routine.