Written by Caitlin Schille, MPH
Many people have goals related to their health and fitness. Maybe they want to lose 10 pounds, run a 5k, or complete a triathlon. Regardless of the specifics of the goal, it’s going to take work and dedication to get there. Achieving health and fitness goals does not come from one day of enthusiastic work—rather, achieving these goals comes as a result of weeks and months of steady effort.
This steady effort comes as the result of forming good habits. Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of good habit formation to achieve your health and fitness goals.
A first step to establishing a good habit or routine is defining your fears as well as your goals. Most of us can say what our goals are, but can we say what’s holding us back from our goals? Think about why you’re putting off starting to work towards your goal— are you waiting for a “right moment?” Are you afraid of failing? If you’re able to define what you’re afraid of, you’ll be able to correct your thinking. For instance, you may come to the realization that there is no such thing as a “right moment.” Or you may think about the consequences of failing to reach your goal—so what if you have to stop and walk in the middle of running a 5k? What’s so bad about that?
Set a realistic goal for a new habit. One common mistake people make is getting too lofty with their health and fitness goals. Often this is borne from a moment of frustration—a person who is struggling to zip up a favorite dress might exclaim that she will never eat sweets again. Sometimes it’s born from a moment of great enthusiasm—a person might get really excited and in the heat of the moment and set a too-lofty goal. But huge, expansive goals are more likely to fizzle out. If a goal is seemingly unreachable, people are more likely to fall prey to the “what the heck” effect, meaning that if the goal is to run 8 miles that day that you’re feeling too tired, you’ll run 0 miles instead of the 3 miles you’re actually capable of doing. It’s important to push yourself and not make the goal too easy, but it’s much too hard to get into a health and fitness habit if it seems insurmountable.
Get some good social support. It’s so helpful to have a friend along for the ride. Try finding a friend or two who have similar health and fitness goals. You can exercise together, sign up for a race together, swap healthy recipes, and engage in other healthy habits.
Keep in mind that you’re much more likely to stick with a health and fitness habit if it’s something you enjoy (or at least don’t dread). If you hate running, don’t sign up for a half marathon and try to force yourself to run. Instead, figure out another type of exercise you enjoy. Do you like hiking? Dancing? Playing softball? Find the exercise you enjoy, and set a related goal. Maybe you want to hike a new, longer trail. Maybe you want to complete a round of dance classes. Maybe you want to get a certain batting average in a recreational softball league. Whatever your goal, make it a fun one.