Keeping focused on our goals and putting the necessary steps into action to achieve these is not easy. Change can be uncomfortable, involve effort and at times we can forget the reason that we are doing this at all. We can often ask ourselves, ‘Why am I doing this?’ when the alarm goes off at 6am or when the smell of someone’s lunch seems so delicious compared to our healthy offering! When we are preparing to make changes and setting goals, it is important that we also prepare for these moments when our resolve is tested and have plans and strategies in place ready.
Change is more successful if the goal you choose is meaningful to you personally. A goal of being able to walk 100 metres to the local park to meet your grandchildren may be more meaningful than a goal of walking 100 metres because your GP said you need to do more exercise. It is worth taking time to ensure that you are clear about the goal you are heading for so that this becomes the beacon when the going gets tough and you question why you are putting yourself through this effort! It can be helpful to write your goal somewhere you can see this to spur you on, for example on the fridge, with a picture of your grandchildren too. Visualising what it will be like when you reach your goal is also helpful. What will it feel like to be sitting in the park with your grandchildren? Imagining this when you are feeling less motivated can spur you on to get to that park!
Setbacks are usual when we are trying to make a change. Most change involves us going around a cycle where we attempt to put a change into place, are able to maintain this for a while, but then have a setback or relapse where we revert back to our previous habits. You will probably know of many people who have given up smoking several times before eventually were able to stop smoking. The important part of having a setback is that this is all that it is. A setback. You may have missed a planned walk or eaten a cake instead of some fruit, but that doesn’t mean that all is lost and you’ve failed. You’ve just had a normal setback and veered off course temporarily. It may take many setbacks before you reach your goal, but that’s okay. Each time you have a setback and re-steer yourself back on course you are strengthening your resolve and motivation to change.
We are more likely to keep going when we can see that our efforts are yielding results. There is nothing more discouraging than working hard at something and seeing nothing for our efforts! Likewise, we are more encouraged when our efforts are rewarded by clear signs that our work is paying off. It is important to find ways to give ourselves this feedback so we have tangible evidence that we are making progress towards our goals. Firstly, we need to choose what measure we are going to use for progress towards our goal. This could be linked to our goal itself, for example, our weight, or distance we can walk, or can be smaller steps to show ourselves what we have done. We can make ourselves something visible like a chart and tick off when we do an activity, use an app or write our progress in a journal each day so we can look back on this. The important bit is being able to see our progress, including when we had setbacks. Being able to see evidence of when we kept on going despite the setbacks, can be very motivating, and builds our resilience. We learn that we did it before so we can do it again.
We all love a reward when we have done something difficult or worked hard. When you are setting your own goals and working towards them, making sure that you plan rewards for your achievements is vital! Have lots of rewards. Give yourself small rewards for each small step you achieve, each activity your complete and when you reach short- and long-term goals. Congratulate yourself as much as you can. Rewards give you something to head for as a treat when you have finished a task. They can be what you focus on to get you through the activity itself. Giving yourself rewards is also a way of you being kind and compassionate to yourself. Acknowledging that making a change isn’t easy and that you are doing well. Rewards can be whatever you want them to be. Getting yourself a small (or large!) gift, having an evening off or having a 5-minute breather and playing some music at full volume. Whatever the rewards, make sure you have written them down and give yourself these rewards. You’ve earned them.
Making a change is so much easier when you are doing this with someone else. When your resolve is weakening, the other people can bring you along. When you are losing motivation to go for a run or do that online workout, knowing that you committed to do this with a colleague or friend gives you an extra motivation. You don’t want to let them down. You know they will be there waiting for you. Try joining up with someone to help you to keep an activity going. If you are changing your diet or eating habits, try to get those you live with to join with you in changing too or if you are stopping smoking, see if a few of you at work can stop at the same time. Having the support of others going through the same challenges of making a change can keep you focussed and give you an outlet for your struggles and frustrations with others who will understand how you are feeling and share your pain! Other people in the same situation can also share ideas and tips of what is helping them, just as you may also have some tips to share with them too.
Making it public
When you have set your goals tell those around you what you are planning and ask for their support. If other people in your house or colleagues are not joining you in making the change then ask them to support you with what you are trying to do. For example, by not offering you a cigarette if you have stopped smoking or deliberately wafting their takeaway chicken and chips under your nose when you are trying to make food swaps! Use your social media accounts to publicise what you are intending to do and keep your friends and family updated with your progress and challenges. Post pictures of your achievements and when you have setbacks. You will be surprised at how supportive and encouraging people will be. We all struggle with making a change and will cheer on those that we love when they openly embark on that journey. You may even inspire others to make their own changes.
Before you start making your intended changes have a think about what the changes are you want to put in place and what the barriers might be to this. For example, you may plan to do a run when you get home from work or swap your morning bacon sandwich for cereal. Try to imagine doing this activity and what might make it harder, then plan to try to make the activity you want to do easier for you. You may think that once you get home you are not going to want to go out again for a run. So, you might decide to bring your running kit to work and either run at lunch or when you finish work, but before you travel home. You might want to ensure you have no bacon in the house and some nice cereal and yoghurt available to meet your no bacon butty target. The aim is to make the new activity easier to do and the old behaviour harder to do. Having the biscuit barrel next to the fruit bowl will make swapping fruit for biscuits much harder. Hide the biscuits! Try to think through your day and week and how you might feel at different times and plan your new activity carefully. Time spent planning and preparing to make a change is not wasted and will result in a greater chance that you will be successful in maintaining the change.
Break it down
If you find that it is hard to stick to a new activity, try breaking down the goal or activity into smaller steps. For example, rather than cutting out a food type like no crisps, ever, when they are your favourite food, try cutting down on the number of packets you eat in a week. Once you have been successful in say, reducing down the number by 1 packet, you can try 2, then 3 and so on. It is important to have lots of small wins. A target of 10 star-jumps 3 times a day, can be done whilst the kettle boils and is more achievable than a 30-minute online workout once a week. If 10 star-jumps is too many, start with 5. It doesn’t matter how small the steps are that you break your activity into. What does matter is that you keep working towards achieving these steps, succeed in doing so and move forward knowing you are making progress. The process of hitting our targets is motivating in itself and will keep us going.
Making a change isn’t easy. Keeping that change going is even harder. If we are clear and focused on why we want to achieve this goal and it is something that is meaningful for us then we can use this as a guiding light when we feel disillusioned. Using some of the strategies and tips outlined here will help you to keep going and stay motivated so that you achieve your desired goal.