How to set realistic health goals

September 22, 2021

Eat better. Stop drinking so much. Go to the gym more. Health goals can be daunting. But making lifestyle modifications doesn’t have to be so painful. Our brains are hardwired to learn and grow and incorporating new habits or behaviors into our lives can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

How habits are formed

Habits are formed through a cycle of cues, actions and rewards.

Cue: You’re triggered to make a change based on something that happens in your life.

Action: You make a change, whether you’re adding in a new habit or dropping a bad one.

Reward: You are rewarded for the desired action through social, emotional or economic reinforcement.

This cycle of action and reward is repeated until a habit is formed. How long it takes to make or break a habit is different for everyone – the "21 days to form a habit" belief is a myth, unfortunately. Here are a few tips to form habits that set you on the path to better health.

Tips for reaching your health goals

Be real about it

If you currently walk 2,000 steps per day, hitting 10,000 might not happen overnight. Try making incremental changes instead. For example, try adding 500 additional steps every week until you reach your target goal. If we’re too daunted by our health goals, we likely won't meet them.

Say “bring it on”

Studies show that people who choose a “stress is good” mindset have fewer health problems. If you’re feeling challenged or intimidated by whatever health goal you’ve chosen, try replacing negative self-talk with “bring it on.” It can help you feel more energized and confident to handle whatever comes your way.

Set yourself up for success

Make it easy to meet your goals through preparation. For example, if your goal is to drink five glasses of water a day, then keep a full glass of water near your bed to drink when you wake up. If you want to start going for walks every morning, lay out your sneakers or exercise clothes the night before. Removing barriers can help you get where you want to go.

Write it down

Marking something as “complete” feels good. Every day you meet your chosen health goal, check it off on a calendar. The reminders app on your phone works well, too!

Tell someone else

There’s nothing like social pressure to help us stick to our goals. Experts have found that when we share our goals with someone we hold in high-regard, we’re more likely to meet them. That’s because the pressure of letting down the person we respect outweighs the effort or fear associated with the work needed to meet our goals.

Incorporate your goal into an existing routine

Studies show that incorporating a new habit into a routine you already have makes it easier to follow through. For example, if you want to drink more water, try drinking a full glass of water before having your morning coffee.

Treat yourself

Similar to training a pet, reinforce positive behaviors with treats. So if you go for a 30-minute walk, have a small piece of chocolate when you get back. Or if you want to improve your sleep, make a morning treat you get for waking up at the same time every day.

Be kind

You’re doing the best you can. There will be days where you sit on the yoga mat and scroll through your phone instead of workout. Take everything one day at a time and know that some days will be easier than others.

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