Making goals can be easy; sticking to them, not so much. Who hasn’t given up on a goal because life got in the way?
The trick to overcoming setbacks, or simply the passage of time, is staying motivated. Motivation is an often-overlooked part of a healthy lifestyle—the “secret sauce” of success at home, at work, and in the classroom.
Staying motivated boils down to asking yourself seven key questions, which we’ve rounded up from trusted resources such as the American Heart Association, Harvard Health, and the American Psychological Association. Whether you have a brand-new resolution or are working toward a long-term goal, get ready for your motivation refresh!
7 QUESTIONS FOR MAXIMUM MOTIVATION
1. What’s my vision?
The best goals are specific and measurable. That way, you know when you have reached them! For example, if you want to lose weight, put a number on it. If you know you need to improve your blood sugar, blood pressure, or cholesterol, ask your doctor what your target range should be. Trying to get ahead professionally? Decide how many networking meetings you’ll schedule each month.
2. Is it realistic?
Set unrealistic expectations and there is a high chance you’ll abandon them—probably sooner rather than later. For instance, if you haven’t exercised much recently, completing a marathon might not be the best goal (yet!) Set your sights on a 5K instead.
“Realistic” describes not only the size of the goal but how much control you have over it. For best goal setting, recognize what you can change (your habits, your attitude) versus what you cannot (the weather, the job market). Also keep in mind that tackling several lifestyle changes all at once is often too much. Pick one to focus on and master before moving on to the next.
3. Can I break it down?
It’s great to dream big, but it helps to also think small. Achieving smaller goals will fill you with a sense of accomplishment—which can be super-motivating!
So, build up to that 5K in 1-mile increments. If you aim to cook at home more often, try making it happen two nights a week for a few weeks before adding additional nights. Set up a system to track your progress, whether it’s an app or a good, old-fashioned notebook.
4. What’s my “why”?
Take a moment to turn inward. Are the changes you want to make superficial or more purposeful? “I want to look good in a bathing suit” is a great goal, but it may help to rephrase it with an eye toward lasting well-being: “I want to have enough energy to keep up with my kids.” The most powerful motivation comes from finding your self-purpose—not from pleasing others.
While we’re at it: These are your goals, so do what you love! Running may be a popular form of exercise, but if you don’t enjoy it, sign up for tennis lessons or dance classes instead. When exercise is fun, you are more likely to keep it up.
It is also useful to reflect on what your old habits were doing for you, and how you can recreate those benefits in a productive way. If your study group was heavy on the socializing and light on the actual studying, make time to see classmates outside the school setting, where they won’t be a distraction.
5. Do I have the right support?
Don’t be shy! Share your goals with the people in your life. This makes your dreams more real and can turn friends, family, and coworkers into personal cheerleaders. You can be as public or private as you want—it can even be a promise between you and your spouse or healthcare provider. If you know someone who is on a similar journey, make them your official accountability buddy. Text or email updates to keep each other on track and celebrate victories together along the way.
How does your environment set you up for success? If you are more likely to work out first thing in the AM, rearrange your schedule to make this possible. Browse cookbooks and choose mouth-watering recipes to meet your goal of eating more plant-forward. If portion sizes are your downfall, try investing in a smaller set of bowls and plates.
6. How will I handle setbacks?
Spoiler alert: Setbacks WILL happen! You can’t expect perfection every day. Major or minor, don’t let obstacles derail your progress. Having a game plan can help.
Maybe a work meeting ran long and cut into your planned workout. A 15-minute session is better than nothing. Splurged more than you intended on dessert? Enjoy the treat and commit to getting back on track with healthy eating tomorrow. Go easy on yourself and consider whether your goals need to be adjusted accordingly.
Remember that stress can affect your motivation as well, making it all too easy to revert back to old ways. Keep stress in check, and you may find that momentum follows.
7. What’s my reward system?
Goal-setting is hard work and you deserve to celebrate every win, big or small. More energy, better sleep, and good grades are their own reward, to be sure. But you should definitely treat yourself, too.
Give yourself something to look forward to, whether it’s a new item of clothing, fancy toiletries, or downloading a music album or e-book. You can even save up for an occasional “cheat day” starring your favorite indulgent food (just don’t go overboard).
KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK
Goals help us grow and achieve our full potential. Keep working toward them, day by day, and soon your new behaviors will become habit.
How are you keeping up the momentum? Check out our Instagram for more tips and recipes to help.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.