For many of us, it’s difficult to get motivated to exercise, eat healthy, or save money. But embarking on a positive lifestyle path may be easier than you think with the right mental approach.
Boosting your willpower to kick-start healthy habits and avoid past unhealthy behaviors calls for small, actionable steps and a new way of thinking.
“We are creatures of habit. Starting anything new can be overwhelming because it often requires a change in routine,” said Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, Ph.D., MBA, author, holistic health counselor, and national spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
One obstacle, Kennedy said, is an “information overload” of conflicting advice on the best eating and exercise plans that leave you not knowing where to start. Instead of relying on conflicting information, gain self-awareness about your behaviors through a daily log of what you eat and how much you exercise. From there, you can start to see what habits you need to change.
“Each person is different. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet or exercise plan,” Kennedy said. “Seek to become an expert on you.”
Focus on the long haul over quick fixes
Today’s prevalence of instant gratification can contribute to a short-term outlook. Unless there is a serious consequence or high level of pain associated with a current condition, Kennedy said, it may be hard to stick with a healthy plan for the long haul.
“We might start something with enthusiasm — like those New Year’s resolutions — but the energy wanes unless you can see results. We are conditioned for the quick fix,” she said.
Make Wealth + Health lifestyle decisions when your willpower is high, such as cleaning junk food out of your pantry so you won’t be tempted by it later, making a plan to attend an exercise class with a friend later in the day or week, and deciding in advance to place a certain percentage of each paycheck in a savings or retirement account.
Creating a household budget by setting goals and tracking your progress can help you work toward achieving financial freedom in the long term. It can help you pay off debt and save for retirement or special items like a vacation or home remodel.
Take it slow and steady
By starting small, you can achieve incremental victories. Make your goals S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely, Kennedy said. If necessary, break a goal down into even smaller milestones.
For example, add nutrient dense foods like fruits and nuts to your eating plan and crowd out processed foods. Try different nutritious foods to find what you prefer. “Make it about exploration and moderation versus deprivation,” she said.
To gradually incorporate movement into your daily routine, use the stairs instead of the elevator, and take 10- to 15-minute movement breaks throughout the day, rather than every couple of hours. Use your breaks for taking a walk, chair yoga, or deep breathing.
By having your workout bag or yoga mat ready to go, heading off to an exercise session becomes more convenient. If you don’t enjoy the gym, find other ways to get physically active. Play some music and dance freestyle. If that becomes your new daily ritual at a specific time, after three or four weeks, it will become a habit, Kennedy said.
Find your ‘motivating why’
Look for an overarching vision for the reasons why you’d like to live a healthier lifestyle or make better decisions about money, Kennedy said.
“It could be because you want the energy to play with your children, or you want to save to start your own business. I tell my clients that with a ‘motivating why,’ the ‘how’ becomes easier,” she said.
Try to practice mindfulness, which will increase your skill of noticing and take you out of an “automatic mode,” she said. You can set yourself up for success by practicing self-care and getting enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation can increase hunger and affect your memory and mood. Poor sleep quality has also been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, which is a potential cause of heart disease.
As you boost your willpower and make lifestyle changes, keep in mind that occasional slip-ups may happen. If they do, keep moving forward, Kennedy said.
“Simply get back on track and don’t beat yourself up. Play the long game,” she said. “You want to deepen your belief that you can do this!”
Things to Consider:
- Try to keep a lifestyle log to track eating patterns and other habits so you’ll know what you want to change.
- Think about small steps and set specific, measurable goals to achieve success and keep your motivation high.
- Consider the “why” for changing your behavior, which can help you better decide on the “how.”
 “How to Boost Willpower (infographic),” American Heart Association, 2018
 “How to Boost Your Willpower to Help Make Healthy Choices Easy,” American Heart Association, 2018
 “How much physical activity do you need?,” American Heart Association, 2018
 “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation,” John Hopkins Medicine, Accessed April 2019.