The start of the New Year is a time that’s ripe for New Year’s resolutions, and making changes to our health is often at the top of our resolutions list. Typical health goals include improving overall health and fitness, losing weight, kicking unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol use, and increasing healthy behaviours such as increasing exercise, improving diet and nutrition, and getting more sleep.
Are the odds stacked against you?
Unfortunately around 80% of people don’t meet their New Years resolutions1, so what’s the secret to success when it comes to making health-related changes? Thinking sustainably. The reality is that we all lead busy lives, and a significant part of our waking hours is spent at work, so rather than wait for the ideal time, let’s learn to work with our circumstances. To help you get started we’ve put together some tips to increase your chances of success.
Tips to help you succeed in improving your health
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1. Be realistic
Make health changes that fit in with your current situation. This way, you’re more likely to follow-through rather than waiting for the perfect two-hour chunk of time to exercise, or waiting for the next day before starting your healthy eating plan. So, if you work long hours and don’t fancy exercising in the dark, consider going for a walk around the block at lunchtime, taking the stairs rather than the lift, or getting off the bus one stop earlier to walk further.
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2. Make it super easy
Remove as many barriers as possible so that there’s no excuse to avoid making changes. If your aim is to eat healthily but you’re pressed for time during a busy work day, buy ready-made salads and keep easy-to-eat fruit at your desk for healthy snacking. If your goal is to exercise at work, keep your sneakers under your desk so that you eliminate the excuse of having unsuitable footwear.
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3. Think bite-sized chunks
Goals that are too large can at times seem potentially overwhelming and unattainable. If your current exercise routine involves walking from your desk to the vending machine, committing to exercising for an hour each day may seem unattainable. So, break down your larger goals to subgoals so small that they’re easy to follow through with. Instead of trying to find one whole hour to exercise during a busy day, think of incorporating incidental exercise into your day at work, or breaking down the one hour into three bursts of 20 minutes of exercise.
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4. Maintain motivation
Set small targets within a shorter time-frame to aim towards as longer-term goals are less likely to trigger a sense of urgency to act. Rather than aiming to reach a certain number of kilometres in an entire month, break it down to a number of steps each day as this will seem more within your reach and you’ll be more likely to take action.
Harness a competitive streak to your advantage by using a fitness tracker to see if you can better your activity levels each day, or set up a workplace competition with colleagues.
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5. Persist to make it a habit
A study looking at how habits are formed showed that it can take up to between 18 and 254 days for health-related habits to develop depending on the habit that you aim for2. The bottom line? It takes persistence to work to produce sustainable changes, so don’t get deflated if you’re not quite there after a week or two.
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6. Reward yourself
Finally, reward yourself (within reason) for a job well done and to help you maintain motivation in the longer term!
2 Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998-1009.