When we look at big lifestyle changes, like eating better to lose weight or committing to an exercise plan, it can be daunting. After all, we're trying to change a behavior. Some behavioral habits, like smoking or mindless snacking while watching TV, have developed over time and are hard to break.
Change can be easier when you're doing something you enjoy. Ask yourself a few questions. When are you happiest? What makes you feel proud of yourself? When do you feel most confident?
Thinking of these situations should stimulate positive thinking. Positive thoughts are those that make us feel good about our behavior and our progress.
Negative thoughts cause you to get discouraged. They can stand in the way of your goals. You may become critical of yourself for a small slip-up and start thinking, "I'll never lose this weight." That can lead you to slip up again.
Finding your motivation
Even people with a positive attitude may need to be motivated to take action. How much motivation, and what kind, differs from person to person.
"Some people seem to be born motivated to achieve their goals and be successful in life," says Arleen Fitzgerald, LICSW, a mental health consultant and therapist.
Others may need a nudge. Say, for instance, you want to start an activity routine. You may be moved to action by a number of desires, Fitzgerald says. Among them:
- Improved health
- Keeping up with your children or grandchildren
- Improved performance
- Improved appearance
- Pressure from a peer group or your family or loved ones
"The greatest accomplishment comes when the motivation is from within the person rather than an outside influence," Fitzgerald says.
"The good news is that motivation is a trait that can be learned and perfected," she says. You may learn motivation through life experience, or through help from a good mentor. We should "be on the lookout for triggers or traps that hinder our motivation, such as procrastination," she says.
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, manage your goals and expectations, she says. "Write down your priorities and put them into high, medium and low priorities. Your daily focus should be on your high priorities."
Then, she says, "Ask yourself with each behavior choice — ‘Am I helping or hindering my goals?' Putting your goals in writing makes it more like a contract with yourself rather than just vague goals you think about."
"Write yourself notes on what you want to accomplish and post them around your house and work space," she suggests. "Let others know of your new goals as that may help keep you motivated when you become discouraged."
The concept of self-efficacy
Your past attempts and failures can influence your ability to set goals and keep them. "Behavior change experts focus on a term called ‘self-efficacy', which is the confidence a person has in their ability to make a specific change in their behavior," Fitzgerald says.
A person develops this confidence by having repeated experiences with setting goals and working toward them, rather than just talking about them, she says. "Give yourself praise for even small steps towards a goal. Surround yourself with good role models and mentors and find out what works for them." These things will help build your confidence.
And reward yourself for your progress. "Humans are driven by rewards," Fitzgerald says. "Plan for something you can look forward to when you accomplish a certain goal, such as meeting a friend you haven't seen for a while for a healthful lunch or coffee, or a small gift like a CD or DVD."
Doing things you enjoy
To keep a positive attitude, think about the things that you're passionate about. Can you combine some of your interests with the changes you're trying to make?
If you're trying to eat better, could you take a cooking class? Or start a recipe collection that could launch you down an adventurous path? It may be a new ethnic food or learning to make a new healthy dish to share with others. Getting involved in your eating and cooking can add excitement to your goals.
If you're increasing your activity level, consider doing it with a friend. Having an exercise buddy "is a wonderful idea since it helps keep us accountable and responsible when we know another person is also counting on us," Fitzgerald says.
Don't forget four-legged companionship. A brisk walk or jog can be a good mental and physical break for you and your dog. And it gives you time with your pet, which is a passion for some people.
Maybe you're passionate about reading but don't have enough time. Grab some earphones and check out an audiobook from the library to listen to as you use a treadmill or stationary bike.
Whatever you do, make your fitness choices fun and sustainable. Be sure to check with your doctor before adding exercise to your lifestyle.
Making smart choices
When training yourself to make better decisions, some expert guidance can help. 100 Smart Choices: Easy Ideas for Living Healthier and Happier is a guidebook that contains practical steps to help you get healthy and stay healthy. Studies show that people with healthy lifestyles tend to live longer and have a better quality of life.
Talking to a therapist
If you're having a hard time sticking with your goals, you might consider talking with a therapist.
Psychologists are experts in human behavior. They are trained to help you over hurdles. They can help you keep a positive attitude about what you want to accomplish.
Counseling can also help you build resilience — that quality that helps you bounce back from difficulties or slip-ups. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is something you can learn. Resilient people have strong emotional wellbeing, healthy relationships and an optimistic outlook.
If you do slip up, Fitzgerald says, "Don't beat yourself up ... but learn from experience." She suggests keeping a journal where you keep track of those situations, writing down the emotions experienced at that moment and what you could do differently next time.
"Think of your slip-up as a ‘bump in the road, rather than the road itself," she says.
Created on 01/03/2013
Updated on 01/03/2013
- American Psychological Association. For a healthy mind and healthy body: Talk to a psychologist.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk back to negative thoughts.