By Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services, AXA PPP healthcare
Setting health goals can be a great way of motivating ourselves to improve our wellbeing, whether it’s completing a marathon or perfecting a ‘plank’. It can help us to bring to mind the reasons behind our goals when we’re thinking of skipping a gym session or ordering a takeaway. It can also boost self-confidence when we start to notice progress.
But despite all of our good intentions it’s normal to feel our motivation waver occasionally. That’s ok! None of us are perfect. If you’re feeling uninspired to keep going, here are five common causes and tips on how to get back on track.
1. Your goal is vague
Maybe you want to be ‘healthier’ or ‘fitter’, but what does that actually mean? What would it look like? Setting SMART goals can help us pin down what we’re trying to achieve and, importantly, how we’ll achieve it. In turn, this can help keep us in a positive frame of mind. SMART stands for:
- Specific – for example, eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day or completing a triathlon on 1st June. It could be a long term goal or a short term goal, but be precise.
- Measureable – this could be counting steps, doing regular weigh-ins or achieving 30 minutes of a particular activity each day, such as practising mindfulness.
- Achievable – think about your starting point compared with your end goal. Does it feel like a reasonable leap? Set small manageable goals.
- Realistic – how will you schedule activities to support your goal around your other commitments?
- Time bound – as well as having timings in place for your end goal, it can help to set micro-goals to help you see progress as you build up your activities.
Setting clearly defined goals means we can measure our progress and take pride in our achievements.
2. You’re focusing on outcome, not performance
Setting an outcome to ‘be more active’ doesn’t spell out what you’re going to do or what you mean by ‘active’, so how will you know when you’ve made progress towards it?
A better way of staying motivated is to focus on the activities you’re going to do. For example ‘complete 70,000 steps each week until 1st July’, ‘curb caffeine consumption after 2pm’ or ‘make 5 home cooked dinners each week until the end of term’.
You can then plan the journey of how you’ll get there. So to complete your 70,000 steps you could decide to park in the furthest car park from work, put reminders in your diary to walk each lunchtime or sign up to a 5k run.
Developing healthy habits as part of our daily life gives us the best chance of sticking at it.
3. There’s no urgency behind reaching your goal
It’s easier to stay motivated when there’s a real need, rather than a desire, behind your goal-setting. The need could be health-related such as reducing your blood pressure or cholesterol, or perhaps you’ve signed up to do a sponsored walk or race in 6 months’ time that you need to prepare for.
It can also help to turn our fears into motivation – for example the fear of being unhealthy as it sets a poor example to our kids, or the fear that our health is declining while we’re stuck behind a desk.
It might help to write down the motivating reasons you need to achieve your goal, put a visual reminder somewhere you’ll see it, or simply tell someone about it so they can support you. It’s then easier to put a plan together about how you’ll incorporate activities into your working week, including achieving short terms goals to help keep up your commitment.
It’s helpful to think about the reasons behind our goals, write them down and make sure they’re personal to us.
4. You’re hung up on past failure
If we’ve failed at reaching a particular goal in the past then it can lead to low self-esteem and we can develop a negative mindset about trying again.
It can help to look at our previous attempts and use this information as an opportunity to learn reasons behind the lack of previous success and what we can do differently next time. For example:
- Was the goal too stretching? If so, try planning some short term SMART goals so you can track and celebrate your achievements.
- Did you schedule in time for your activities? Logging them can help you prioritise and stop other things getting in the way.
- How did you track your progress? A food diary, training log, or writing down activity times or distances can help. Activity trackers can give objective data to help you set daily or weekly goals, challenge yourself against family or friends and act as a reference point for setting new targets. Writing down how you feel in a diary or even a blog can help remind you of the benefits and spur you on to keep going.
- Did you have the right support? Friendly support through a running club or online forum might help you stick to your plan. Similarly, group exercise can be great for morale. Anything you do that improves your confidence will help you towards your final target.
Working towards our goals is probably going to mean getting out of our comfort zones and doing something different – embrace it!
5. You’ve lost your passion
Choosing activities that play to our interests and make us feel good mean we’re more likely to stick with them as they’re less of a chore. If you hate going to the gym, that’s fine! Why not try a dance class instead? If you’re struggling to make time to achieve your target number of steps at the weekend, how about making Sunday afternoon walks a regular family activity? It’s important to make time for your wellbeing and plan time for your passions, so why not combine them?
Our goals are personal to us so how we achieve them is up to us too.