Accentuate the positive to make lasting health changes

Try these tips to stay positive, which will help keep you motivated and make lasting health behavior changes.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Why is reaching a health goal sometimes so difficult? Is your willpower really that weak?

According to the latest research, your self-discipline may not be the problem. Instead, the key to maintaining your motivation is in your approach.

Willpower shmill-power

Most people have been there — wanting to make healthier choices or start an exercise program, maybe needing to lose a little weight.

You start out with good intentions, finding the willpower to exercise more and eat less. But after a while, old habits return and a goal is missed. Maybe you even put on more weight. Sound familiar? You're not the only one.

To succeed, change your focus

Most people concentrate on the end goal and believe this will supply them with the discipline and willpower to achieve that goal. But daily life and stresses constantly interfere, blurring your ultimate goal and your resolve along with it.

Try these techniques to stay motivated.

Set clear goals

Match your daily actions to support your goal. If you want to be more active, park farther from the door. If you want to eat healthier, replace the candy bowl at work with a fruit bowl.

Start small. Want to lose 25 pounds? Don't make that your initial goal. Make small changes you can accomplish: Bring your lunch to work or take a walk several nights per week.

Set new goals based on your reality. If you only packed a healthy lunch one day last week, don't beat yourself up. Think about how you achieved your goal once. Now aim for two days next week.

Do what you love. Like rollerblading? Do more of that. Like apples but not broccoli? Eat more apples. Selecting the right activities is the most proven way to feel good about living healthier.

Positive thinking

Listen to how you talk to yourself. Periodically, stop and assess what you're thinking. If your thoughts are mainly negative, this will directly affect how you feel and your motivation.

Practice positive self-talk. Treat yourself like you would a friend. Be gentle and encouraging. Look closer at negative thoughts and respond with affirmations about what you're doing right.

Focus on what you can have vs. what you can't. If you are trying to lose weight, look at foods you can eat vs. all the foods you can't. It's hard to stay motivated when you feel deprived.

Believe. If you don't think you can lose 25 pounds, you won't. Start with what you truly believe you can accomplish. Initial success will give you the confidence to set larger goals later.

Enjoy the process

Review your feelings. Did you genuinely like an activity? Is there something you'd like to do more? When you reflect, you'll be more likely to leave behind what doesn't work.

Be mindful. Focus on a conversation with your exercise partner. Notice the beauty of nature, or the movement of your body. Being in the present will increase your enjoyment of the activity.

Let go of negative thoughts. This doesn't mean ignoring them. Rather, reevaluate your response to focus on positive feelings and accomplishments.

Adopt a growth mindset

Understand the process of mastery. A "growth" mindset means you know you can develop your abilities and keep adapting. Think of a time you didn't know how to do something, then practiced it, got better and eventually mastered it.

This can help you bounce back from setbacks and mistakes. Keep in mind that you are practicing how to live a healthier lifestyle and learning more about yourself each day.

Try a "saying is believing" exercise. Imagine writing a letter to someone else struggling with the same issue you are. What advice would you give? Think about how another person could respond and put those same responses into action for yourself.

Celebrate your wins!

Success bolsters more success. As you achieve each goal, take a moment to recognize your accomplishment. Celebrating these wins will give you momentum to go after your next goal and give you a sense of purpose and pride.

March 14, 2018 See more In-depth