There is something good about setting a health-related goal. The minute you declare to yourself, or to others, that you are going to run that 5-mile race, lose those 10-pounds, or quit smoking, there can almost a sense of relief. Great, you’ve set a goal and that’s the first step. But have you planned for the next steps?
Let’s take a look at the common health behaviors that get in the way of you reaching your goals…
1. Starting with the Most Difficult Path Possible
It’s common for people looking to make changes to their health to announce that they are going to achieve their goals by following the most difficult path first. For example, not only will they announce they are going to track what they eat, but they are also going to go to yoga twice a week, join a running club, and renew their gym membership.
Instead, try approaching your health goals like a frugal consumer. Ask yourself—“How much can I buy with this $5 before I agree to spend $10?” In other words, what kind of results can you achieve by just taking on one small change? It takes the least effort, which also means it’s much less likely you will give it up, and helps you evaluate what you really need to do to reach your goals.
2. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Remember that the health behaviors you engage in are probably largely automatic and ones you do without too much extra thought. For example, you routinely find yourself in the fridge after dinner looking for something sweet “just because” or you always take the elevator at work because it’s part of your routine. These are behaviors you’ve had the chance to practice possibly hundreds of times.
To put the brakes on automatic behaviors, you need to consciously put a plan in place to interrupt them. In the example of the late night fridge raid, you might want to put a sticky note on the handle of the fridge reminding yourself you were going to skip extra snacks. To remind you to take the stairs instead of the elevator, you might need to set an alarm on your phone at the same time of day you would usually be taking the elevator.
3. You Believe Everything You Read
Nothing can prevent you from achieving your goal quite as quickly as drowning in a sea of misinformation. If you constantly believe that there is a new, better way to do something (such as the latest fad diet or gimmicky exercise routine), you can end up not only wasting money, but time in the pursuit of your goals.
Before you switch paths and try a new way of doing something, ask yourself if you have given yourself enough time to see results based on your current strategy. If you are trying to run faster, build strength, or lose weight, this can take 6- to 8-weeks before you see significant results. If you feel you have given the strategy enough time, ask yourself the following about the new information. Is the source credible? Is the approach based on science? Does it involve radical or unsustainable life changes?
4. You Aren’t Flexible In Your Thinking
There is a balance between not believing everything you read and still being flexible in your thinking. When we become rigid in our beliefs and our approach, we can miss opportunities to learn more about ourselves and try things that will bring us closer to our goals. Ask yourself why you believe what you do and remain open to changing your opinions based on new evidence or ideas. This opens you up to change, progress, and achieving your goals.
A great example is believing that fat is bad for you and religiously eating only low-fat foods, despite the evidence pointing to the importance of good fats in our diets. Not only might you struggle to lose weight or stay healthy (because of the benefits good fat offers), you might miss the chance to ask yourself why you feel so strongly about it in the first place.
5. Obsessing About Your Goals
Once the main character sets a goal or prepares to rise to a challenge in a movie, all time stands still. Scene after scene, you watch the character put sweat and tears into their work, until the final scene where they dramatically reach their goal. However, life is not like the movies. You don’t need to—and shouldn’t—obsess about your health goals to the point where it takes over your life.
In real life, things come up that might briefly pull you away from your goals. Birthdays, holidays, deaths in the family, or changing jobs can make it difficult for you to stick to goals like dieting, exercising, or quitting smoking. It can actually be a good thing as it teaches you to put things into perspective and pick up where you left off, when you’re ready and able to focus on your goals again.
6. Follow the Health Behaviors of Successful People
Now that you know what not to do, you might be wondering what is it about some people that just makes it easier for them to reach their goals? Aside from steering clear of the pitfalls already mentioned, they also possess a secret weapon. That secret weapon is something that helps them endure the bumpy times and know when to make changes that will bring them closer to their goals. So what is that weapon?
Successful people have one thing in common: their attitude. They know how to trust their instincts, set goals that reflect their values and lifestyle, when to be flexible in their ideas or approach, and know how to enjoy the process, not feel overwhelmed by it. For these people, the process is like a fun experiment, in which they are able to learn more about themselves and grow as a person.