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Achieving your goals - motivation

In the second part of our 'achieving your goals' series, lifestyle coach Effie Parnell-Hopkinson gives her top tips on how to keep the motivation going in order to stick to your goals.

In the second part of our 'achieving your goals' series, lifestyle coach Effie Parnell-Hopkinson gives her top tips on how to keep the motivation going.

How are your 2021 goals holding up so far?

The research suggests that 30% of us do not even make it to the two-week mark after setting goals. If you find yourself here, don’t give up yet! This is the perfect time to reassess and re-evaluate your progress. The key here is to reflect on what made you slip up initially. This will enable you to go through a problem-solving process to make sure you come back stronger, and back on the right path. Firstly, it is important to remember that no one can change their behaviour overnight. A change of behaviour takes consistent, focused work broken down into manageable and achievable steps.

Most people set their goals far too high and end up falling at the first hurdle. Starting to see where you might have gone wrong? Try our tips and tricks to keep up your momentum.

Create little wins

When setting new goals, your motivation is sky high, you have all your dreams pinned up in front of you and a motivational quote as the background on your phone. 

However, after cutting out all sugar, dramatically reducing your daily calorie intake or doing a daily morning jog, like you said you would, you now feel fed up. You do not feel like carrying on and ‘giving up’ is on the horizon. Why is this?

Because the eager, motivated you thought that aiming high was a great idea. But perhaps upon reflection it was not. You are left feeling disappointed and deflated! Instead, aim for smaller change. Try starting with small, digestible mini goals that are easy to reach. This will help keep you aligned with your main overall goal.

For example, say you want to reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Instead of aiming to cut out all sugar from your diet at once, try just cutting it out of tea or coffee first. Or perhaps switch your ‘full sugar’ drinks to ‘sugar-free’ versions. 

Once you have achieved this small change, you have already won! In turn, this feeling of accomplishment helps to keep you motivated, and you can slowly increase your mini goals to keep progress ticking along. For example, your next mini goal could aim to cut out biscuits, or chocolate, from your diet. In turn, all these mini-goals (or little wins) work together to support you in achieving your overall goal. 

Enjoy the process

This is by far the most important aspect of motivation. Compared to external regulation, such as being told to do something, it has been found that if a person enjoys performing a behaviour or finds it interesting, fulfilling or satisfying (intrinsic regulation), they are much more likely to change their behaviour [2]. This is by far the most effective way to achieve long-term behaviour change. 

For example, perhaps you think that healthy food not for your taste. You find vegetables bitter or bland and really struggle to incorporate into your daily diet. The only thing you can think about is when your ‘diet’ will end… The truth is, there are millions of healthy recipes out there which are both nutritious and delicious (honestly!). Finding the healthy recipes that you enjoy will support your change to a more nutritious and enjoyable diet.

Let’s take a look at another example. Perhaps you feel that jogging is not ‘for you’. You find it boring, a waste of time, and perhaps just difficult. The truth is you’re probably not doing anything to make it easy or enjoyable for yourself. You could try running with a friend, and at the same time catching-up and making it fun. You’d be surprised how well distracted you can be from the jogging (and the pain!) when laughing and smiling with friends.

You’ll quickly realise that it’s not about ‘how long you can stick it out for’ or about forcing yourself to go to the gym. What it is about is finding ways to enjoy the process. 

Habits

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

A habit is defined as a behaviour which becomes automatic [1]. In other words, you do not even have to think about doing it, planning for it, or worrying about it – you just do it!

Habits are what solidifies your little wins into long-term change. Ingraining healthier new habits into your routine is a fundamental element to achieving healthier behaviour change. Without solid habits you cannot achieve long-term change and it becomes too easy to fall back into your old ways.

This is because habits are needed when it comes to building a bulletproof routine that will set you up for sustainable change right now and long into the future. Your routine is what you do every day, and your routine is made up of a series of automated actions that you perform subconsciously. 

The empowering thing is that habits can be deliberately cultivated, or eliminated, to better suit one’s personal goals, whatever it may be [1].

How to build healthier habits into your routine 

There is common knowledge that it takes 28 days to build a new habit, but the reality is, it depends very much on the habit (and the person!) to how long it can take.

The process of creating good habits can be broken down into three parts; the cue that initiates the habit, the behaviour that is the outward manifestation of the habit, and the reward that reinforces the habit.
Let’s use an example of going to the gym after work on a weeknight.

Now instead of focusing on ‘working out more’, shift your focus to developing a routine. An easy way to start is to choose a cue that already is a part of your everyday routine, such as packing your bag for work. During the early stages of developing this new habit, focus your efforts on packing your workout clothes along with everything else. This will make it far more likely you’ll go to the gym after work, giving yourself an easy win!

After consistent practice over time, you will notice that packing your bag in the morning (the cue) and heading to the gym (behaviour/habitual response) after work becomes effortless.

The third stage of the habit-forming process involves a reward. An example might be treating yourself to a healthy snack after the gym, scheduling in a post-gym swim/sauna or watching an episode of your favourite TV show. The key here is ensuring you are incorporating a healthy reward into your routine.
So there we have it! If you feel like you have fallen off track with reaching your goals, make sure you set manageable, small goals. Focus on building healthy habits into your routine in ways that set yourself up for easy wins! Remember, all of this takes time, but as long as you combine robust SMART goals with little-wins and habit building, then you will be on track in no time! But most importantly, make it an enjoyable process. 

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/habit-formation
[2] Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M., 2012. Self-determination theory.
[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-happiness-project/200910/stop-expecting-change-your-habit-in-21-days