They say it’s not the destination, but rather the journey that matters. For many people this rings true, especially in regard to adopting a healthy lifestyle that, we are told, is so important for our physical and emotional well-being. But what about the starting point?
How can we take those first steps and continue on the path ahead without giving up at the first setback or beating ourselves up when we do something that is not in keeping with our healthy regime? It’s easy to have good intentions, but it’s much harder to see them through when faced with the stresses and temptations of everyday life. Below, I look at some of the things that can help you stay motivated in your quest for a healthier lifestyle. By taking small steps each day, you can make it just that; a lifestyle that you actually enjoy, rather than something that must be endured for a specific amount of time.
Social media is a great way to find inspiration, but be aware of its limitations
Inspiration is everywhere for those who seek it. Obvious starting points are the social media accounts of people who you admire and whose achievements you aspire to. This may not necessarily be the lithest yogi or the guy who seems like a real-life action man; there are plenty of people out there who are more ‘normal’ and relatable, yet have still made huge progress in terms of their health and general way of life. This may be to do with exercise, food, mindfulness, travel, or even a combination of everything – the main idea here is to learn from their experiences and how they now live their lives. Be aware that, of course, not everything you see on social media or on blogs will necessarily be an accurate picture. There’s been a lot about how people portray themselves on social media compared to how they actually live in the news recently – just take everything you see as an example and don’t try to compare yourself.
Don’t compare yourself to others, but draw from their achievements
Similarly, the ‘real’ people around you can also be great motivators. Even if they’re stronger, leaner, faster or more accomplished than you could ever dream to be, it’s their progress and general achievements that should inspire you. Don’t compare things like times, trophies, weight loss or fat to muscle ratio. Instead, look at the amount of effort they put in to achieve their dreams, and how they are rewarded. This is where you will find inspiration; in the belief that everybody, no matter who they are, can make huge improvements to their lifestyle if they are only willing to try.
Having said all of this, there is one important word to keep in mind: ‘balance’. Adopting a healthier lifestyle 100 per cent of the time is not only impossible, but can lead to you feeling like a failure if you make a mistake. And we all know that there’s nothing like feeling that you have failed at something to make you want to give up all together. Moreover, your new, healthier habits will take time to become second nature, and may feel a little alien at first. Stick with it, and before too much longer you’ll find that smarter choices will come naturally. When you’re eating more healthily and exercising frequently, it doesn’t matter if occasionally you enjoy an entire pizza by yourself or take a couple of days off training. It’s not going to somehow ‘undo’ all your good work. In all likelihood, you’ll be eager to get going again after having the occasional treat. Start small, with simple changes everyday. It could be something as easy as adding vegetables to every meal, or swimming for ten minutes in a morning. Whilst getting started is often the hardest step to take, this is also the time you’ll see the most progress, which in itself is highly motivating.
Arrange healthy pursuits with friends and hold yourself accountable
Joining a club or class can be intimidating, but it can also work wonders. Firstly, a club is a great way to make friends with like minded people who will motivate you to keep making changes, and who you might even find yourself getting a little competitive with. Secondly, getting involved in whatever makes you happy and healthy, be it a running club, an art class or a yoga or nutrition workshop, will increase not only your knowledge and skills, but hopefully also your drive to achieve and progress. It’s easy to think we’re not good enough, but the truth is that people aren’t the same, and yes, of course some will be better than others; but you might also discover that you’re better than you originally believed.
Involving others in the things that improve the overall quality of your lifestyle also holds you accountable; nobody wants to be the person who drops out at the last minute and lets everybody else down. In time, you may even look forward to whatever you do as part of a group, be it a sunrise walk on the beach or an 80km cycle at Al Qudra on the weekend – and you’ll miss it on the rare occasions that you can’t make it. By making plans and arranging times, you’ll know exactly when you’ll be putting the effort in, rather than leaving it to ‘when you feel like it’. If Saturday evenings are dedicated to food preparation for the week ahead, then you know that time will be taken up. You’ll also know that you’ll therefore have more time free after work, as most of your meals will already be prepared.
Remember that rest and recovery are crucial
Adopting a healthier lifestyle isn’t all about hard work. Rest and recovery are key for both mind and body. Make sure you spend time relaxing and embrace some time away from technology. Whilst social media and the internet can be a great source of motivation, it’s easy to lose hours dreaming rather than doing. Marathons are not run by reading about them, and healthy food is not prepared by drooling over pictures, so it’s important to keep a check on the amount of time you spend sat in front of a screen. Moreover, sitting in front of a tablet or other device is exactly that; sitting. Quite possibly one of the worst things you can do for your health is to spend too much time sitting. It messes with your posture and makes it far too tempting to believe we’re hungry and snack on things that might not be the best choice. Get up and move, stretch, and try to accomplish a little, then a little more, each day.
Reward yourself with whatever makes you happy after you have achieved the mini goals that you have set. It may be new workout gear for the gym or a juicer for the kitchen. Whatever you do, make sure you’ve earned it. That way, you’re more likely to wear the said work out gear and use the juicer thanks to your newly formed habits, rather than letting them sit in the cupboard alongside your foot spa from 1993.
It’s hard to write about motivation. Being something that comes from within a person, it cannot be taught or bought. Rather, a spark needs to form that will eventually ignite as the small changes towards health become part of everyday life. So go out there, and start today. There’s no such thing as the perfect time; something will always get in the way. Instead, relish the challenge and start making changes. And remember, one day you too will be somebody else’s inspiration.