Many of us struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We are often painfully aware of our shortcomings when we try to eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, or cut back on our vices. Even if we were to limit our goals to “do the things we know we should do and ‘don’t do the things we know we shouldn’t do“, most of us would still hesitate in our quest for health. At the individual level, motivation is key.
This article highlights the STRENGTH needed with eight ways to motivate yourself to be healthy.
1. Self-determination: do it your way.
Self-determination theory has been used to explain the motivation to maintain healthy habits. Autonomy is central to this behavior change framework, which highlights the importance of feeling in control of one’s experiences. Feeling empowered to make your own choices gives value to our health decisions. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by snippets of other people’s lives, it can be easy to feel like we are missing out on a myriad of experiences.
The range of possible experiences you could have is endless, but you will miss almost all of them. Having autonomy over your choices to select the healthy experiences you want is precisely what makes them meaningful. So however you choose to be healthy, be sure to do it your way.
2. Technique: Do it right.
Once you decide to be healthy, start getting good. In the Competence and motivation manual, Elliot and Dweck suggest that competence is an inherent psychological need in all of us. The desire to become efficient and capable can be a driving force in health promotion.
You can choose to sharpen your culinary skills, develop expertise in your favorite sport, or strengthen your self-discipline. Whatever your approach, improving your skill-seeking technique can help you stay motivated. The healthier you are, the more you want to stick with it.
3. Relationship: Do it together.
Feeling close to others and valued by them is essential to maintaining your motivation to be healthy. Social connection in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle can take many forms. For example, a Danish study of patients with type 2 diabetes found that sustained progress after a health intervention was enhanced by supportive communities, such as membership in an exercise group or ongoing support by pairs.
Other studies have also shown that peer or family support can increase physical activity and fruit and vegetable intake. Choosing to exercise with friends, share meal plans with family, or seek out positive support can help you stay motivated.
4. External awareness: Understand your situation.
Being aware of your surroundings and personal circumstances can help you stay grounded in your health expectations. It is important to note that despite the emphasis on the importance of autonomy, some aspects of health remain beyond your control. Most of us cannot simply change where we live or work to maximize our health. The range of possible health outcomes we will experience is tied to the limitations of our genes and past experiences, as well as political and environmental changes around us.
You are definitely not going to win the coveted healthiest human award. That said, if you can make the most of the existential cards you’ve been dealt, you could be in contention for the equally prestigious ‘best version of you‘ Category.
5. Novelty: mix it up.
The initial enthusiasm you feel for any activity will inevitably fade. That’s not to say your overall motivation to stay healthy should decrease as well. Finding creative tweaks to shake up your eating and exercise routines can keep things from going stale. It can be as simple as inviting a friend to join your workout or buying your groceries from another store. The internet is a limitless source of new, original twists on even the most basic healthy activities.
6. Goal Setting: Set clear, controllable, and inherently rewarding goals.
How you set your goals will likely determine whether or not you can achieve them. Research on motivation and reward mechanisms suggests that we should focus more on positively worded goals rather than striving to avoid negative outcomes. Goals should be intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when you act for the enjoyment inherent in what you are doing.
Motivation Essential Readings
Choose to pursue the exercise that gives you the most pleasure and choose the foods that make you feel good (not just in the moment). Sometimes your pursuit of a goal can involve temporarily unpleasant activities, like the last 10 minutes of your workout. But aligning your choices with intrinsically motivated goals (such as the goal of feeling vibrant and energized) is more likely to bring lasting success than external goals (such as seeking the approval of others).
7. Tenacity: Be tenacious.
Angela Duckworth’s work on creak emphasizes consistency of interests and perseverance in endeavors as key ingredients for success. It sums up “tenacity”, the persistence in maintaining or pursuing something valuable or desired. This quality has been associated with successful aging by predicting higher energy and general health measures as we age. There will undoubtedly be times when the world will feel against us and we will be tempted to abandon our goals. Fostering the ability to be tenacious in our pursuit of health can help us weather the storm.
8. Honesty: Be honest about what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what you’d like to accomplish.
There is indeed an objective reality to the state of our health. However, our experiences of health are often guided by the stories we tell ourselves. Whether we bury our heads in the sand or blame bad luck for our inaction. Whatever we tell ourselves, we are the authors, protagonists, narrators and readers of our own health stories.
If we are honest about our experiences, our efforts in the present, and our hopes for the future, we have a better chance of sticking to the tasks in pursuit of a healthy life.