With the new year well underway, many of my patients continue working towards their new year goals, determined to make this year THE year- the year they get in shape, say no to excessive junk food, have healthy social media habits, carve out time to be creative, and
embrace intentionality with their loved ones.
This is also the time that the initial adrenaline rush wears off and working towards meeting those goals can feel impossible, boring, and sometimes just not even worth the effort.
This is a universal struggle and not a personal shortcoming!
In my last blog, I wrote about how to transform “bad habits” into “good habits” (be sure to check that out if you haven’t already). Now I’m going to share with you scientifically proven ways that can help you make lasting healthy changes.
3 Tips for Making Healthy Changes that Last:
*I have found these tips to be effective in both my clinical practice and my personal life. *
1. Make SMART GOALS: Goals that are vague or created based on what someone else or society is telling you to do typically fail.
Conversely, SMART Goals (coined in 1981 in an issue of Management Review) are a way to set goals that help you to make life-lasting changes.
Specific: Precisely define what you want. For example, “I want to wake up at 5:30am five days per week to run on the treadmill for thirty minutes.” In a study done about performance, it was found that setting goals with high specificity and clarity help you to achieve the results you want.
Measurable: Keeping a record of your progress is an effective way to keep you motivated and on the path to reaching your goals. You can keep track of your progress by writing in a journal, using an app to track your progress, or just by recording your efforts in the notes section of your phone. It’s incredibly motivating to go back and look at the progress that you’ve made!
Achievable: It’s important for you to set goals that are personally achievable for you! Waking up at 5:30am if you work second shift might not be realistic for you, but if you are someone who is able to make it to bed by 10:30pm then that might be a reasonable goal for you.
Relevant: An effective way to help you figure out what your goals are and what is personally meaningful to you is by taking the time to meditate and journal about what you want in your life and why.
This is a crucial step because, as Dr. Michael Bennett, a board-certified psychiatrist, said:
“If you set goals out of the sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that
moment, it doesn’t usually last long.”
Time-bound: Make sure that your goals have a realistic time-frame and be sure to
celebrate all of your wins along the way!
2. Say “No!” to All or Nothing Thinking: All or nothing thinking is a cognitive distortion that refers to thinking in extremes- things are one way or another and there is no in between. It is a common way of thinking in those who struggle with anxiety and depression.
For example: “I said I wasn’t going to eat any treats this week and I just ate a donut so I mine as well just call this week a loss, eat whatever I want, and try to start again next week.” Or, “I didn’t make it to my 60-minute spin class this morning, so I mine as well
not even bother going for a walk around the block. I’ll just sit on the couch and watch TV instead.”
To eliminate all or nothing thinking in your life remind yourself: You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to do something 100% of the time. Any effort that you put towards your goal is better than no effort.
For example: “I said I wasn’t going to eat any treats this week and I just ate a donut. I don’t feel very full or satisfied now so I think I’m going to prepare myself a salad to give my body some nourishing foods that will help me to feel energetic. Tomorrow when I’m
tempted to have a donut I’m going to remember how lethargic I felt after I ate one yesterday and choose a healthy snack, such as some nuts and dried fruit instead.”
Or, “I didn’t make it to my 60-minute spin class this morning because I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m just going to go for a walk around the block instead and that way at least I will get in a little bit of fresh air and movement. Tonight, I’m going to make it a priority to get to bed earlier so I can catch my spin class in the morning.”
3. Get an Extra Dose of Dopamine: Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of euphoria, motivation, and concentration. When we get something we want, our brain releases this hormone as a reward.
You can increase your levels of dopamine by setting small goals as part of your journey to achieving your ultimate goals. Each time you reach a mini goal, you will get a rush of dopamine and want to repeat the action!
Example Ultimate Goal: I want to avoid eating sugary, salty snacks.
Step 1: Go to the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning and pick out some of my favorite
fruits and veggies.
Step 2: Wash and cut up fruits and veggies and divide into glass containers for the week.
Step 3: Eat avocado and blueberries for your 10am snack.
Each step along the way you will get a rush of dopamine that will keep you coming back
for more! You can use this same method in all of your goal planning.
No matter what your health goals are, commit to them for the long haul and know that
“messing up” is a part of the process. Spend your energy focusing on the progress you are
making and the good health choices that you do make and you will be well on your way to
achieving amazing results!
If you’re ready to make some healthy lifestyle changes now but aren’t sure where to begin, set
up a free 15-minute phone strategy session with me so I can start helping you make immediate