By Dr. Cindy Maynard
I was having a discussion with a dietitian colleague the other day when she asked me, “How do you motivate people?” It was an interesting question since I’ve devoted my entire career to helping motivate people towards better health. But dietitians and healthcare professionals are simply behavioral change agents. We can’t make the change for the client. So, how do people motivate themselves towards making lifestyle changes? Is there some magic formula, or is it more of a step-by-step process?
Health involves more than not feeling ill or not having a disease. Think of health as being in a state of balance, in body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, making health and lifestyle changes could mean focusing on better mental or emotional health, improving social or environmental factors, changing diet and exercise, or even self-care. Making healthy lifestyle changes isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) (Diabetes.org) says you will reach your goal faster by making a plan that is specific, realistic, and practical.
In other words, start small. But before you start, the ADA says to ask yourself these important questions and write your answers down before embarking on your plan.
- What is my goal?
- Why did I choose this goal? What are the benefits to me?
- What change (s) will help me reach my goal?
- How important (on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being most important) is it for me to reach my goal?
- What part will be hard for me, and how can I work around this? What are my barriers to success?
- How ready am I to make this change (on a scale from 1-10)? If your answer is 5 or less, chances are you won’t be successful and may need to choose another lifestyle change.
Over the years of counseling clients, I’ve learned some important steps that can help facilitate the process as you put any health goal into place.
- Take the ABIHM Holistic Health Questionnaire (see below). This questionnaire is a tool that can help make your commitment to health stronger. You can quickly see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Then make a decision to focus on those areas you want to change.
- Start out by choosing one area you would like to change. For example, it could be to start a walking program or a stress management program. Or it could be to limit fast foods to twice a week instead of five times a week.
- Commit. Make the plan of action you’ve chosen non-negotiable. This may require re-arranging your schedule. For example, if you want to start a walking program, perhaps you need to set the alarm 20 minutes earlier or walking during a lunch break. Leaving sugar out of the diet may mean simply not to have it in the house. Perhaps you want to include more fresh fruits or vegetables in your diet. Having a blender on hand to make smoothies or drinking a vegetable juice daily may be one easy fix. You get the idea. Planning ahead helps you to be successful.
- Be a mentor to your family. There is no greater motivator than realizing that the behavior you model to your family or kids is infectious. If they see you out exercising on your bicycle after work instead of lying prone in front of the TV, they’ll get the idea. Better yet, invite them along.
- Be accountable. For example, tell someone what you are doing. Keep a record or journal of your progress. Recruit a buddy to help you. Accountability helps you reach your goal through purposeful, sustainable action.
Don’t forget to reward yourself for being successful.
Cindy Maynard, Ph.D., RD, is a health psychologist, a registered dietitian, and a nationally published health and fitness writer and fellow Avila Beach resident. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.