How motivated are you to live a healthy life?
Perhaps there’s no single thing you can do more to prevent chronic disease than to actively engage in healthy lifestyle choices. World Health Organization research suggests that in the Western world chronic disease killers such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes could be greatly reduced by making better lifestyle choices. In fact, healthy lifestyle choices could eliminate 80 per cent of all heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes cases.
Most adults in North America know that risk factors, such as smoking and drinking to excess, and engaging in pro-health behaviours like exercise, diet and sleep, collectively impact their health. Even with this life-and-death information many fail to act or stay motivated.
It’s a common human experience for people to one day decide to take better care of their health. The decision to do so can be influenced from outside or come from within. However, within a few days they get distracted by life and lose focus or stop trying.
Why? One reason could be health fatigue. This happens when the activity to get healthy feels difficult and requires too much energy or discipline. Employers should also keep in mind how they can help employees stay motivated once they decide to make a positive change, through various workplace programs.
Another reason many fail to maintain a healthy lifestyle is gaps in their motivation. To change this, you need to manage your motivation and home in on what will keep you on task and on target.
The microskill of motivation management is the discipline of staying in tune with your drive to achieve a defined outcome or goal. Different kinds of motivation, such as the stick (fear) and the carrot (positive opportunity) can spark a need for change. And sparks that can keep you focused and motivated can come from both external or internal sources.
Here are some tactics to help you improve your motivation to stay healthy and make healthy choices.
Stop for a moment and focus on one area of your health you may like to improve. It can be helpful to write out exactly what you want to change and why, and then evaluate the driving force behind this motivation. Is your motivation to change linked to some fear or opportunity? Tapping into the motivation can spark the energy and discipline required to achieve your goal. It’s important to be specific as to what success is for you personally.
Test your current level of readiness for making this change by using this motivation for change quick survey.
Define what sparks will ignite your motivation. One common spark is tuning in to the positive and negative consequences for your pursuit. External motivation can be helpful for some; for others, internal motivation is the most important, especially when they consider the effects on their family, self, relationships, quality and length of life, and job. Internal motivation can be linked to a purpose or a set of values. It’s common to use a combination of internal and external motivations to stay focused on a desired goal.
One approach to motivation management is a game plan to stay focused on achieving your targeted outcome. Ultimately, motivation management is paying attention to the sparks that influence and encourage you. The end goal for health habits is that they become ingrained and automatic. However, since so many start and stop, there can be value in paying attention not only to what you are going to do or how, but also why.
- Confirm in writing the target area to change. Be clear on the value to you and why you want to make this change.
- Determine the specific success target. To avoid being vague, attach a number: “For me, success equals …”
- Write out the specific steps you will take and the action required to achieve your goal: “I will …”
- Decide if you will use any external consequences to motivate yourself. If you do, ensure that whatever you pick is something you enjoy and something you prefer not to do. For example, “When I achieve … I will treat myself to (reward: something you enjoy and can afford), if not, I will (consequence: do some household chore you don’t like for a week).” Sometimes people engage in peer challenges for motivation.
- Decide what internal motivation can spark you – perhaps being able to play with your children or see your grandchildren. Ultimately, to achieve long-term health, the more you can tap into internal motivation, the higher the probability you will achieve it.
- To manage your motivation, it’s helpful to track your daily progress. On-line resources like www.stickk.com and others can help you reach your goal.
Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.
This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first.