There are certain times of year that feel like perfect opportunities for a fresh start – like the beginning of a new year, after a birthday, or the start of a new position or project. It’s around these times that many of us feel motivated to take on new challenges, including making healthy lifestyle changes, setting fitness goals and taking steps to improve our health.
But for many of us it can be difficult to stay committed after the initial boost has worn off. Luckily, there are simple strategies that can help maintain motivation and increase the chances that we’ll reach our goals, no matter when we resolve to make the change.
The best time to make a change is when you feel ready, but that doesn’t mean that you need to wait until you have a huge chunk of uninterrupted time. Our lives are busy, and that means that there will always be something (a party, event, vacation, etc.) that gets in the way and makes it tough to stay 100% committed to our goals. Aim for an 80/20 balance. That way, you can push yourself to improve without getting discouraged if you occasionally fall short or want to take a break.
Don’t just decide on a goal – write it down somewhere, tell a friend, or book an appointment to follow-through. According to research done by The Wharton School, people who were prompted to write down the time and place that they’d get a flu shot were much more likely to actually follow-through and get the vaccine than those who weren’t prompted to make concrete plans. Encourage staff to schedule their exercise sessions by writing them in a calendar or planner beforehand. Or post a concrete reminder about working towards goals in a shared space like on the break room message board. Receiving regular prompts (such as: “It’s Monday – take some time today to plan healthy snacks for the week”) can help by reminding staff to keep working towards their goals.
Break It Down
Trying to tackle too much is a big reason people abandon their resolutions. Instead of setting one big goal, break projects down into smaller, incremental targets. For example, instead of resolving to run a marathon, decide to run for 15 minutes at a time, three times each week. Rather than trying to completely eliminate sugar and processed foods, try to substitute one snack or food item per meal. Taking baby steps will promote consistent progress while reducing the scale of the overall challenge – and its power of demotivation.
Connect The Dots
Even better than small goals? A pathway of small goals. Make a habit of putting an “X” on your calendar on days when you achieve your daily goals. It’ll only take a few days before the line of consistent “X”s will motivate you to keep going to avoid breaking the chain. This is especially helpful if you have multiple goals, like a fitness goal and a healthy eating goal. Set a weekly target – say 5 days of goal-keeping – and give yourself credit for achieving either goal on that day.
Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Studies show that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are achieved, primarily because we tend to focus on outcomes (e.g., “look skinny”) rather than actions (e.g., “walk 20 minutes per day”).
Improve those odds, and set yourself up for success, by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals – ones that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Here’s how and why:
Specific: Your goal should be specific enough to answer the six “w” questions – Who is involved? What do I/we want to accomplish? Where will it happen? When will I work towards it, and/or by when will I have achieved it? What requirements and constraints are involved? And why do I want to achieve this goal?
Measurable: You should have concrete criteria for measuring your progress. Set target dates and milestones to reach along the way.
Action-Oriented: Identify what actions you need to take in order to achieve your goal.
Realistic: Make sure to choose a goal that you are willing and able to work towards.
Timely: Give yourself a concrete timeframe for accomplishing your goal. “Lose 10lbs” is an open-ended goal, which provides no sense of urgency. “Lose 10lbs by June 1st” on the other hand, has a definite timeline that you can work towards.
The Wharton School also found that more than 60% of participants in a temptation study were excited about the idea of having the organizers take away a prized possession (iPod, etc.) so that they could use it only while exercising. Employ this strategy in the workplace by linking incentives with work towards wellness goals. Offer free audio book downloads for staff to borrow and enjoy only at the office gym; require them to leave it in an assigned locker so they can pick up where the left off each time. Or, allow staff to snack at their desks only if they stretch for 3min (or go for a 2min walk, or…) before indulging. Be sure to avoid monetary incentives, including gift cards to prevent participants from becoming addicted to the reward over the intrinsic value of sustaining healthy habits.
Staying committed to healthy resolutions – at any time of year – doesn’t have to be a struggle. These are relatively easy and low-cost ways to support your staff in adopting healthy habits and making positive changes.