One of the most asked questions I get in clinic is: “How do I motivate myself to do this? Is it just willpower?
The truth is: while incorporating healthy habits may require some willpower and motivation at first, it will get easier. When you create routines where habits fit into your lifestyle easily, you will more consistently tick of these positive actions with minimal willpower or motivation.
Motivation ebbs and flows; the goal is not to stay constantly motivated. The goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even when the motivation isn’t there.
1. Don’t set a dead man’s goal.
“I will meal never eat take-out again”
“I will never eat chocolate again.”
How often have you said this to yourself? How often has it worked?
A dead man’s goal is a goal that only a dead man/woman can accomplish.
Set goals that you are truly confident you can accomplish.
Instead of cutting out take-away foods, could you learn more about healthy takeaway options and create a fall-back option for yourself?
Instead of cutting out chocolate, perhaps a better goal would be to pair a piece of chocolate with more nutrient dense and filling foods such as a piece of fruit.
Instead of vowing to never eat out again, plan in events that you enjoy and allow yourself to be present and eat delicious food. Social events are not an excuse to “blow-out” but they can be an opportunity to learn new skills and be more flexible with food.
2. Play devil’s advocate.
What are all the things that could potentially go wrong? Outline and imagine pitfalls. Create an action plan for what to do in these tough situations.
It’s helpful to break scenarios down using the WOOP technique.
It stands for: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.
- What is your wish/goal?
- What is will the outcome look and feel like?
- What obstacles might get in the way
- Make a plan for potential obstacles. If X obstacle happens, then I will do X.
For example, one of your wishes or goals might be to stop late-night snacking.
The outcome feels like a better night sleep, feeling more energised during the day and fitting into your favourite jeans.
An obstacle that might get in the way is that you often snack while watching Netflix as a way to de-stress after a long day.
The plan: If you come home from a rough day, instead of going straight to the fridge and couch, you may choose to hop into the shower first. After you’ve calmed down, then you’ll be in a better frame of mind to make nutritious choices.
3. Remove the friction
Want to eat more fruit instead of chips? Cut it up at the start of the week or buy easy to eat, fuss-free fruit – grapes, nectarine, kiwis, strawberries.
Don’t bulk buy snack foods when they’re on sale. If you want a pack of Tim Tams, great but don’t bulk buy foods you’re trying to eat less off when they’re on sale. Stick to your shopping list (PSA: Tim Tams are almost always be on sale)
4. Accountability & education
Unsurprisingly, one of the main factors that influence whether individuals lose weight AND maintain the weight loss is accountability from an external source. Research shows that dietitian visits, weekly educational groups and support from family, friends and co-workers help individuals stay motivated and consistent. 
5. Simplify and start small.
I know how it feels to want to do a complete overhaul – to change your life overnight. Every new year or season, we vow to drink more water, go for a run before work every day, completely cut out refined sugars, and remember to take our multivitamins. It’s actually easier to just focus on one healthy habit at a time. Nail it for 3-4 weeks before moving onto the next habit.
It may sound like a slow process but it’s one that works.
What type of goal should you set instead?
A better alternative is to set a SMART goal – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, if your goal was to improve your blood pressure and heart health this year, you might focus on:
Get specific on what behaviour you want to incorporate and why.
For example, if your goal was to improve your blood pressure and heart health this year, you need to get specific on what behaviours or dietary changes you need to make. Your goal might be to focus on eating less salt from processed foods and eating more vegetables.
This puts the focus onto your behaviours – something that you are in control of.
Decide how you want to Measure it:
To measure your daily salt intake, you may choose to do use an app like Easy Diet Diary where you can specifically target your sodium (salt) intake. Alternatively, Food Switch is an app that allows you to switch to healthier options and choose low-salt option.
For your vegetable intake, you can also make your own habit tracker where you can tally up eating 5 serves of vegetables across the day and tick it off at the end of the day.
How will you measure your progress with your blood pressure? What are you aiming for? For example, a measurable target would be: to reduce my blood pressure from 140/90 to 120/80.
Make sure you can achieve your goal and consistently achieve your behaviours.
Can you realistically eat five serves of vegetables a day? If you work long hours and are exhausted at the end of the day, will you have the time to cook it? If not, can you prepare ahead of time on the weekends or should you buy more no-cook vegetables (cucumber, tomatoes, leafy salad greens)?
Can you realistically stick to the sodium goal you set for yourself or is it too low? If you eat a lot of takeaway foods that are high in salt on weekends, what will you eat instead when you are seeing friends?
Relevant: Ask yourself why you really want to incorporate these behaviours, are they relevant to your goal?
Will reducing your salt intake really improve your blood pressure? Why is it important to you to reduce your blood pressure?
A very common reason for prioritising salt reduction to lower blood pressure, is if you are at high risk of having a stroke. For many people, having high blood pressure makes them feel light-headed, anxious or unwell which is a strong motivator to make positive dietary changes.
Dig deep because your WHY will keep you going on days where you feel really unmotivated.
Set a Time to reach your goal by and timeframe in which you want to check in.
It often takes time to see changes in our bodies and health when we make dietary changes, so give yourself at least a month of consistently following through with our healthy habits to see changes.
For example, you could book an appointment with your doctor or dietitian in 4-6 weeks to check your blood pressure.
Remember, revisiting and re-adjusting your goals regularly will help you stay on track. If you need some help with accountability, you can have a friend, family member or health professional to check in with every month.