The benefits of planning and setting goals are well known. People are more likely to achieve reasonable goals by setting objectives than by saying they want to accomplish something without setting a plan of action. Use this same advice to develop a lifestyle change plan.
The key to achieving an objective is twofold. First, identify what you’d like to accomplish and set a realistic time-frame to achieve it. That’s the easy part. The second piece of the puzzle is to figure out how to do it.
Is your goal to eat less junk food? If so, it’s useful to know what triggers you to turn to junk food. For this issue, it’s helpful to keep a food diary to track when you eat it and briefly note how you’re feeling at the time. This strategy will reveal patterns of behavior that you might be unaware of that you can then address.
Before my lifestyle change, I was more likely to eat junk food when I was on the run or stressed out. Instead of planning what I’d eat if I was really busy or how to find other ways to cope with being stressed out, I’d turn to junk food. My lifestyle change made me much more aware of how often I was prone to this behavior. Once I was aware of my behavioral patterns (especially prone while eating on the road or late at night), it was easier to intervene before I scarfed down a bag of Doritos without realizing I much I’d eaten.
Is your goal to get more sleep? There are loads of good reasons to work on this issue. Not only will you feel more energetic, but plenty of research has found that overeating is linked to sleep deprivation. A recent meta-study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a correlation between increased food intake to fight sleep deprivation and potential long term weight gain.
Want to get more exercise? Those sneakers aren’t going to walk themselves. It’s imperative to have a plan. Many argue that if you want to be certain that you exercise, do it first thing in the day. I’m not a morning person, so that strategy has never worked for me. When I started my lifestyle change, I decided that I would walk a bit after dinner most days (5 or 6) of the week.
I started small and didn’t pressure myself with how fast or far or long I went. What I found was that I really enjoyed doing it. It was just as psychologically rewarding as it was physically beneficial. I quickly came to look forward to doing it.
On days I when I was reluctant, I’d tell myself to Just Do It. (Seriously.) If I really couldn’t get up the motivation, I’d ask myself whether it was because I was feeling lazy or whether I really just needed a break that day. Most of the time, I’d just do it. But again, I didn’t pressure myself because I didn’t want to end up hating it. If it was the latter, I’d try to find another activity that got me moving around, to mix it up a bit.
One of the best things you can do is to identify your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the goal. If you want to eat less junk, what has to happen to integrate more healthful choices into your diet? What are you willing to give up–or not? The second part is just as important: Knowing where you just aren’t willing to compromise. Sometimes eating junk food is the only option. But if you accept that you’re going to indulge, figure out what you are willing to jettison to eat those Doritos.