Changing Health Habits: 4 Steps to Getting Un-Stuck

When Kerry (not her real name) hired me as her wellness coach, she was frustrated and discouraged about her health. She was 40-something, overweight, sedentary, and had recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Her doctor put her on medication, told her to lose weight, and exercise.

Like many people, Kerry had tried to lose weight and become more active many times before; after years of unsuccessful attempts, her confidence was low and she didn’t believe she could really make it happen.

Sound familiar? Adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors is hard work. And it’s easy to get down on yourself when you don’t make the progress you’re looking for as quickly as you want to — or at all.

As a wellness coach, I apply principles of behavioral, motivational, and positive psychology to help my clients see beyond their frustrations and challenges, envision the quality of life they desire, and help them set realistic – yet challenging – goals to get there.

If you’re feeling stuck in a wellness rut or plateau, get moving on a path to sustainable success by following these steps:

  1. Establish a wellbeing vision What do you want your life to look and feel like in 6 months to 1 year? Can you see yourself enjoying an active lifestyle, with more energy and stamina to do the things you enjoy? Be very detailed as you paint a picture of how life will be better after you’ve integrated healthful habits with your daily life. Kerry wanted to feel a zest for life again; she wanted to be active, to eat more produce, and to have a less cluttered house. She also wanted to control her blood pressure without medication.
  2. Set SMART behavioral goals With your well-being vision in mind, set a few 3-month goals; they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed. You wouldn’t, for example, write, I will exercise more. That’s much too broad. Instead, write, in 3 months, I will be walking for 30-45 minutes, 4 days a week. That’s very specific, and you’ll know whether or not you’re making progress toward it. Then, set 1-3 goals for the next week as you work towards achieving your 3-month goals. Each week, evaluate your progress. Celebrate your successes, and adjust your goals if you find they’re too hard — or too easy.
  3. Create a list of major accomplishments and character strengths You’ve already experienced a great number of successes in your life — remind yourself what you’re capable of. List things like learning how to drive; graduating from high school, trade school, or college; learning a foreign language; raising a child. The truth is that none of these things happened without hard work and consistent effort. So, go ahead and list your strong points — are you persistent, tenacious, curious? Are you creative, competitive, or hopeful? Your character strengths will be enormously helpful as you tackle the hard work of health behavior change — be sure to call them into play every day.
  4. Enlist support The right level of social support can make all the difference as you work to improve your wellbeing. Invite a few people you trust to be your support team, and be very specific about what you want them to do — whether it’s working out with you, reviewing your progress once a week, or being available for phone calls or texts when you’re feeling discouraged.

Kerry and I walked through all these steps together as she made significant changes in her lifestyle. As she learned to draw on her character strengths and focus on daily accomplishments instead of getting mired in regret slips and lapses, Kerry developed confidence. Ultimately, she achieved and maintained her goals of eating an average of 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, walking on her treadmill for 45-60 minutes, 5 days a week, substantial weight loss, and feeling more energetic and excited about life. Kerry’s doctor was thrilled with her blood pressure and cholesterol results, and with his permission, she was able to discontinue the medication.  She even got rid of her household clutter.

If you’re stuck in a pattern of behavior that’s not working for you, why not try a new, more positive approach? Spend more time envisioning, reflecting, and preparing; become your best ally —and expect better results. You can do this.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.

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