Making goals to get in shape or lose weight is easy -- anyone can do it! However, the hardest part for many of us is seeing those goals through and turning exercise into a consistent habit.
There are many ways to stall out and lose motivation along the way, but certain strategies can actually help keep you on track. From sleep to smart goal setting, here are five habits to help support your fitness goals and make you more successful.
1. Embrace Your Bed and Fuel Up
Perhaps one of the most important ways to support fitness is ensuring you give your body adequate fuel in the form of rest and healthy food. If you are fatigued, hungry or missing vital nutrients, physical activity is going to seem unappealing from the get go.
For example, Stanford researchers found that their basketball players improved on sprint time, shooting accuracy and more. Other studies have also found that sleep is important for energy, muscle recovery and for making healthy food choices as well.
The average adult needs at least seven hours of quality sleep (up to nine hours), and that means hours actually spent asleep, not just in bed. Make sure your schedule gives you enough time for sleep and incorporate healthy sleep habits into your evening routine.
There are many different schools of thought as to the best nutrition habits for fitness and weight loss, but basically they come down to getting healthy proteins, diverse fresh veggies, healthy carbs and plenty of pure water in lieu of junk food and empty calories.
2. Set Small, Action-Based Goals
Breaking a big goal into smaller steps is an easy way to keep motivation on track and not get overwhelmed. Think about it this way -- if you are climbing a mountain, you focus on moving toward the area directly in front of you, not on the peak.
Beating smaller goals on the way to your big goal feels good and fosters a sense of accomplishment. Some fitness experts suggest NOT setting specific goals for weight loss, especially in the beginning, as people lose weight differently and the first few weeks might feel discouraging. Instead of results, focus your goals on the fitness habits you want to achieve.
Say your goal is to be able to run/walk four miles or to workout for 30 minutes. These goals could break down to increasing your distance by 1/4 to 1/2 mile or adding three to five minutes of gym time per week. The goal should be realistic and practical for you, enough to give you a challenge but not so difficult that you get frustrated.
3. Create External Accountability
Accountability is a proven way to encourage goal completion as it gives you a reason outside of yourself to get up and get moving. There are many ways to create accountability, for example:
Pair with a motivated friend, checking in with and encouraging each other. You could partner for evening walks, bike to work together one or two days per week, or just update each other on your individual progress.
If you like group accountability, try popular weight loss programs, exercise classes or personal trainers.
If you prefer individual accountability, there are all kinds of apps to encourage you. Some tweet or post to your Facebook wall if you miss a workout, some connect you with motivated peers, while others simply create personal accountability through reminders and goal tracking.
Setting up some sort of accountability system can help you stay on track and give you that little bit of extra support on those days you need it. Encouraging someone else can also help motivate you as well!
4. Track What You Do
Monitoring your activity levels helps you see your progress and can also be helpful for budgeting both workout time and diet. Measuring progress is also an important part of goals.
Wearable fitness trackers monitor things like your overall steps, intensity of activity, heart rate, and calories burned, usually providing you with reports. There are also phone apps that allow you to log workouts and diets for similar effect. You could even do this manually by making notes after each workout in a spreadsheet or notepad.
Whichever method of tracking you prefer, it's important to stay consistent and to review your progress occasionally to get an idea of where you are excelling and where you can do better. It can help you see if you need to adjust or update your goals, and it can even be fun to compete against and beat your personal bests.
5. Eyes On the Prize
While getting in the habit of expecting a reward for every workout may not be the best long-term strategy, behavioral studies have consistently shown that rewards do indeed help motivate us. If you are just starting out, small rewards may be a helpful way to create and solidify consistent workout habits.
Pick a proportionate award for achieving your small goals and your bigger goals - something worthwhile to YOU (preferably not food-related). For example, after you workout, the reward could be a few Netflix episodes, new song or spa time - something that makes you feel good. Bigger achievements might warrant new workout gear, a vacation or other treats. Being cognizant of the intrinsic rewards of exercising, such as feeling and looking good, will also help strengthen this connection.
As you work towards your goals and creating healthier habits, don't forget that goals should also be flexible and that missing one week doesn't mean your plan is wrecked or that you failed.
If you find the your initial goals were too lofty or too easy, change them! If you fall off this week, simply pick back up where you left off! Researchers have found dieters that allowed for flexibility in their plans were more successful than rigid dieters, and getting too caught up in success or failure can be stressful and discouraging.
Ultimately, the key to reaching fitness goals is finding ways to integrate fitness into your lifestyle. Adopting complementary habits like sleeping and eating well helps boost willpower, and setting smart goals, finding support, and monitoring progress all provide the structure and motivation that helps transform behaviors into consistent habits.
Which habits help motivate you? How do you plan to stick to your fitness goals this year?