Why is it that our health seems to be the single most important thing in our lives, but the most difficult one to put first?
How many people do you know that have the same healthy New Year’s Resolution every year but fail to live up to them every year?
Maybe that person is you.
If you relate to this problem and would like to finally get on a path to better health, this article is designed to do just that.
Keep reading to learn how to make better health choices so that you can
- give your body the best nutritional fuel
- how to exercise — and get the results you want
- maximize your sleep to feel more alert and productive
- How to reduce stress and in its place rest
How Are Habits Created?
Whether or not you are living a healthy lifestyle comes down one fundamental: habits.
Exercising once won’t outweigh a week of inactivity, and eating healthy once or twice won’t get you results. Instead, making healthy choices over time — essentially making it a part of your lifestyle — is what makes a true impact.
And in order to create a habit, you have to understand how habits begin in the first place.
You can liken the creation of a habit to the way a track is made by a sled on a freshly snowed hill.
The first time the sled goes down the hill, it makes a fairly light track with not too much imprint in the snow.
The second time you go down that hill, if you choose the same track, you’ll make the track deeper.
The more times you go down that hill on the same track, the deeper the track will get and the harder it will be to deviate from once you’ve left the top of the hill.
However, if you decide to change the track the second time you go down the hill instead of waiting until the fourth or fifth time, taking a different route will be much easier.
This is similar to how our brains create a habit.
The more stuck in a rut you get, the harder it is to get out of.
That’s why it’s harder to break a habit the longer you’ve had it.
Nevertheless, it is possible to break a bad habit or create a new healthy habit.
How To Break Or Change A Habit
The best way to break or change a habit — whether it has to do with eating, sleeping, exercising or stress — begins with three items: identifying your why, having the right mindset and creating goals. Without these elements, all the work you put into changing a habit may disappear and you risk reverting to your old ways.
Identify Your Why
People can have the same goal for totally different reasons.
- Joe wants to lose 25 lbs because he is scared of having another heart attack
- Tim wants to lose 25 lbs because he is going to his high school reunion and is embarrassed by how much weight he’s gained over the years
Identifying this “why” factor will serve as motivation during Joe and Tim’s journey to lose 25 lbs.
Identifying your own “why” will serve as motivation for you when the task becomes challenging.
What is your “why”? Take a second to think about it before reading further.
Have the Right Mindset
The right mindset is critical if you want to avoid self-sabotaging your own health goals.
Instead of thinking of yourself as an unhealthy person, or someone who can’t achieve a healthy lifestyle, start addressing yourself as a healthy person. Rid yourself of negative and detrimental thoughts.
The more you identify as a healthy person and believe in yourself, the more your thoughts, actions, and behaviors will align with that goal obtaining mentality.
The best way to change a habit is through bite-size goals — goals that you can use as mile markers on your way to the finish line.
But we’ve all created goals before that never came close to being achieved. The saying goes that a goal without a plan is just a wish. That’s why it’s important to have a plan alongside your goals — that’s what SMARTER Goals are. Let’s explore those next.
Let’s take a closer look at each item.
Make your goal as specific as possible. Instead of saying you want “to be more active have a goal of exercising for at least 30 minutes, three days a week.
For motivation, think about and answer questions such as:
- How can you keep yourself motivated to reach this goal?
- What are some motivational tools that you can use to your advantage?
- How can you make your motivation last?
What actions are you going to take to reach those goals?
Ask yourself questions like:
- Do I need to join a gym or obtain home workout gear?
- Do I need to set aside a budget for this goal, whether it’s extra money for working out or eating potentially more expensive healthy options?
Murphy’s law states that whatever can happen will happen — a poetic way of saying that roadblocks may arise on your way towards your goals.
List the potential mishaps that could block you from reaching this goal, and have a backup plan for each roadblock.
Every goal needs to have a timetable that is realistic but ambitious.
How long will it take you to achieve your goal?
Evaluate and Evolve
At times you may find that your goal can improve or maybe be too unrealistic.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your goal to match where you are in life.
Record and Reward
In order to know just how well you are doing, you need to record your progress.
Use a notebook, an online document or some other way to track your progress so that you can see how far you’ve come and how far you left to go.
When you reach a certain milestone, reward yourself with something appropriate to your goal.
Four Pillars of Health
Now that you understand how to create achieve goals using the SMARTER method, let’s break down specific goals to get healthy, utilizing four pillars of health:
Improving in each of these areas can lead to a healthy lifestyle, which will have you feeling more energetic, happier and more productive.
How To Eat Healthier
When it comes to creating SMARTER goals to get healthy, how you eat certainly comes into play. While different diets come and go, here are 9 timeless ways to eat healthier.
Nourishing vs. Entertaining
Try to separate your foods into two groups.
The first and most important group is foods that nourish the body. Fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins fall into this category.
The second group is the entertainment foods. These foods taste great (think: sugar) but don’t give your body the nourishment that it needs. Foods like donuts and chips fall into this category.
A good goal to strive for is to aim for a 70/30 split of nourishing to entertaining foods.
As you progress and evaluate your goal, you can try to tip the scales to a better ratio of a higher nourishing percentage.
A lack of liquid intake can be just as detrimental to your health as eating entertainment foods. The same 70/30 nourishing to entertaining ratio should also be applied to what you drink.
Water is the most nourishing drink you can have. Sodas, energy drinks, and even fruit juices are high in sugar and fall into the entertainment category.
What about coffee? It can swing both ways. If you add creamer and sugar and whipped cream to your coffee, you’ve certainly kicked it right into the entertainment category.
Increase Your Veggie Intake
Veggies are the most highly nutritional foods — they are loaded with vitamins and minerals.
If you struggle to eat vegetables because of the taste, find creative ways to eat them. This could include:
- blending them into your soups
- covering them in a sauce
- hiding them within some of your favorite dishes
Don’t Fear Fat
Fat is an integral part of our health but it has been shamed by the masses as something that is “unhealthy”.
Healthy fats should be eaten regularly to get healthy. You can find these healthy fats in:
- fatty fish
Simply put, most convenience foods are very unhealthy. In order to resist the urge to grab one when you are extremely hungry, have your own healthy convenience foods ready to go.
Keep small containers of nuts or chopped veggies with you for a quick snack to munch on until you get your full meal.
If your food doesn’t rot, it’s not real food. Avoid these foods (such as fast food) because the chemicals and preservatives that stop that food from rotting are both fattening and dangerous to your health.
Mindful vs. Mindless
Instead of mindlessly eating your entertainment food while you watch tv, sit down and enjoy it.
Taste each bite so that you don’t overeat.
An empty stomach is about the size of your fist.
Don’t try to shove a huge plate of food into it.
Use smaller plates and smaller portions to avoid bloating, an upset stomach or weight gain.
Prep Before Events
Before you go to any events that you know will be an entertainment foods hot spot, prepare ahead of time.
Eat something light and healthy before you go so that you don’t knock the nourishing to entertaining ratio out of balance.
Not only will this help you get healthy — avoiding eating out will also help you save money.
How To Get More Sleep
With our busy and stressful lifestyles, sleep can often be the least priority. This can lead to
- less productivity
- lack of motivation
- or even more dangerous consequences
Falling asleep and getting consistent quality sleep can be a real struggle. Try using any of these 6 smarter sleep goals for better sleep and overall more rest.
Make Your Room Cool, Dark, And Quiet
A dark and quiet room void of distraction sends signals to your body to relax and fall asleep.
The lights from electronics signal our brains that it is still daytime. Plus, the sound and light from notifications can keep us awake way past our designated bedtime.
Make a goal to put aside all electronics at least an hour before bed.
Take A Hot Bath
A hot bath can help your muscles relax and ease you into sleep.
If you do the same things every day before bed — a ritual — the process will signal the brain that it is preparing for bed. This can help you fall asleep easier.
Set An Alarm
We all set an alarm to wake up. But did you know you can set an alarm to go to bed?
It’s easy to get distracted or wrapped up in tasks and we end up going to bed far later than we anticipated. Try setting an alarm and make sleep a priority.
Keep A Notebook By Your Bed
Sometimes it can be hard to sleep because you have thoughts running through your head.
Keeping a notebook by your bed with a dim light available to switch on can help you jot those ideas down and get them out of your head so you can rest easy.
It’s important to remember that it takes time to create better sleep habits to get healthy. If you’ve had poor sleep habits for years, you will have to train your body — using any of these methods — consistently in order to see results.
Exercising regularly is crucial in your quest to get healthy. If your job has you sitting most of the day, this could be even more true for you.
Leading a sedentary life comes with many risks:
- weight gain
- heart attack
- chronic pain
Here are 6 ways you can use SMARTER goals planning to create a more active lifestyle to get healthy.
Respect Your Start
Don’t do too much too soon. Exercise within your ability and don’t overdo it.
For example, don’t start by running 3 miles — gradually work your way up to it.
If you push too hard or to fast, you can actually injure yourself and prolong your journey to get healthy.
Ask A Professional
Exercising can be ineffective and dangerous if you aren’t aware of how to do it. If you don’t know where to start, ask a professional, such as a personal trainer. There are many personal trainers that can help you reach your goals safely.
If you are a member of a gym, they often provide trainers for you. If you can’t afford this option, educate yourself by watching personal trainers online.
Integrate Exercise Into Your Life
Don’t try and swim against the current of your own schedule. Find a way to make exercise an easy part of your everyday habit, such as walking or biking to work or taking exercise breaks during work.
Get Social or Competitive
For some of us, we need a little extra push to keep motivated. This can come through the help of others.
If you are a social person, make your exercise a group activity. If you are naturally competitive, find someone or a group you can compete with.
Find Your Style
Don’t force yourself into a type of exercise that you dislike (and will likely cause you to quit altogether); find the exercise that you enjoy, whether it’s running, swimming, taking fitness classes or other options.
The reality is that if you look forward to your workouts, you enjoy them and the subsequent results, you are more likely to continue doing them.
Intense exercise every day can actually create injury. Just as you incorporate exercise into your schedule, incorporate rest as well.
Remember, the best exercise is the one that you will stick with, so make it work for you.
What’s the best way to combat stress? The last pillar of health: release.
Even if you eat healthier, sleep better and exercise more, stress can derail your path to a healthier lifestyle.
That’s why it’s important to be mindful of how stress manifests itself in your body. Stress can be felt through:
- muscle tension
- stomach issues
- clenching your jaw
- or other physical cues
When you know your own stress cues and feel it start to build, you can take action to have less stress before it is released in unhealthy ways.
Here are 8 recommendations for your SMARTER goal of planning to release stress.
Let Go Of Perfection
No one is perfect and we can’t control everything. Thinking this way is only going to cause us more stress.
If you notice yourself having this mindset, find ways to change it immediately. Don’t expect perfection — expect progress.
Be Willing To Ask For Or Accept Help
You need to be aware of your own limitations. Learn how to say no.
Whether you need to outsource some of your workloads or accept help when it is offered, be willing to do it.
Get rid of the lone wolf mentality and realize that every successful person has a team of people helping them reach their goals.
Connect With Others
Isolation will only compound your stress. Connect with others that you enjoy being around or that can help you find solutions to your stress causing problems.
Try to see situations in a positive light or a glass half full mentality. You choose your own frame of mind.
Stress can lead to shallow breathing. Controlling your breathing to a slow relaxed breath can change your body physiology to match your breathing.
Create A Mantra
Your brain will believe what you tell it repeatedly. Consider creating a saying or a quote to help you relax.
Release Hard or Soft
Sometimes a soft snuggly blanket will do the trick, sometimes we need to release our stress in a harder way. Find a safe way to break, punch, or knock something to help you relieve stress. Boxing class, anyone?
EMPTY Your Stress
When stress comes from an outside source, sometimes it’s hard to control. In this case, empty it. The Empty acronym stands for:
- Eliminate your stress
- Minimize your stress
- change your Perspective
- remember to be Thankful
- don’t forget to have “You” time
Self-care is not selfish. You cannot care for others if you are shutdown.
Learning to manage stress and release can help you reach all your better health habits.
Better Health Habits
Creating better health habits starts with creating better health goals. Use SMARTER goals to start and sustain your goals to get healthy.
Prepare for roadblocks ahead of time and have a backup plan. Be accountable, record your progress, and connect to your real why. Motivation is fleeting but habits can last a lifetime.
Remember: all you have to do is create the habits to make a healthy lifestyle a reality.