How to motivate yourself and stick with it.
So lets face it, life hasn’t exactly been a blast recently and we’ve all been feeling the strain. I’ve had many recent conversations with patients, colleagues and friends who have all felt their wellbeing slip into oblivion (that includes us). Well the great news is - it doesn’t have to be this way. I wanted to reach out and share some tips and strategies to help you on a path to superhero status again.
Firstly, I should mention why it’s so hard to be a superhero every day. When our needs are not being met, like food, water, shelter, social connection etc we slip into survival mode and often use negative coping strategies to get by (hands up who’s been testing more wines recently or eating naughty foods more often? Yup, this resonates with me too). This has a BIG impact on our motivation. We know that we should be eating healthily, doing more exercise, having regular sleeping routines etc, but when our mood is in our boots so is our motivation. This then leads to a conversation that I have heard many times in my career….
Person 1 - “I’m feeling a bit flat, I haven’t been very healthy recently and really need to lose this extra weight I’ve put on, I just can’t stop baking and eating cakes and the thought of doing exercise is a chore”.
Me – “have you thought about trying an online Pilates class, I find it helps me to stay motivated when I know I have to do something at a certain time and that people are expecting me to be there”
Person 1 – “Yes, I really want to do that but I just don’t feel good about myself right now so I need to lose weight and get more healthy again before I join in”
So, now you can see where we get stuck. It’s a vicious cycle, we want to lose weight, get in shape and feel healthier but in order to do this, we think we need to have the desired outcome (or body) already so we feel more comfortable doing the things that will help us. When we try to change everything at the same time, we literally bite off more than we can chew and can only sustain it for a short time before the effort becomes too much. Sound familiar, yup, me too.
What if I told you that to achieve your goals you don’t have to have the will power of a mammoth or even be on your ‘A’ game every day? You can literally have your cake and eat it and still reach your desired outcome. Sounds easy? Well it is. The trick is, instead of focusing on the desired outcome (we’re going to call it the achievable moon shot) which seems very overwhelming and hard to do, we need to shift our focus back to the path of achieving this goal, and take small steps, or in this case, make tiny habit changes.
Instead of changing what you eat, your exercise routines, you sleep times etc, all at once, you only need to make one tiny habit change at a time. For example, say I wanted to be able to hill walk for longer than an hour without getting tired, I would need to build up strength in my hips, buttocks and legs to do this. My tiny habit change would be to do 2 squats every time I brush my teeth and celebrate that achievement. Then I would increase to 5 times, then 10 etc until I’m doing 60 squats a day. This may take weeks or months but it doesn’t require much will power, I get instant satisfaction from achieving my goal and as it becomes a habit and I’m much more likely to progress towards my goal without it requiring too much time or effort.
As a Physiotherapist, this is a strategy that I have used with my patients countless times in my career and it’s the most successful way to change our behaviour that I have experienced, this goes for me personally too. I would highly recommend watching BJ Fogg’s TED Talk “Forget about big change, start with a tiny habit” if you’re interested to hear more. I've summarised the tiny habit strategy into 10 steps for you:
Ten steps to help you achieve your goals:
1. Identify what you want to achieve – not always so obvious.
2. Pick one habit you could adopt whilst doing or straight after an activity eg squats, planks, press-up etc. Or try adding one thing into your week such as an hour walk, one Pilates class, cooking one healthy meal a week etc.
3. Identify an activity that that you do with the same regularity that you want to do your habit such as, going for a pee, brushing your teeth, washing your dishes, baking, morning coffee, taking your bin out etc and match this with your habit.
4. Start with an easy to achieve goal eg 2 repetitions.
5. Do this habit every time you do the activity.
6. Gradually increase the repetitions of this habit.
7. Progress to the next step on your path towards your goal, eg change squats for single legs squats, usually weekly works best.
8. Trying scheduling something regular into your diary and stick to it.
9. Tackle one thing at a time and slowly progress, you’ll be amazed how quickly you can change and how little effort it will take you.
10. Celebrate your achievements at every stage, no matter how small, a little fist pump or celebration dance goes a long way.
In a nutshell, we need to take time and build a path towards our goals steadily and regularly. It’s not as hard as you think and there’s not always a best place to start, sometimes it’s better to just start somewhere than not at all.
To help you have your cake and eat it whilst taking small steps towards better health, in celebration of Carrot Cake Day, Lauren has shared her recipe for ‘Healthy Carrot Cake’. Click here for the recipe.
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Happy Habit Forming.
Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist MCSP MAACP
Mind Matter Health Team