By Victoria Kessinger, MA, LPC, and Angela Wilson Pennisi, PT, MS, OCS
Leap Year only comes around once every 4 years, but our knowledge of the most effective ways to change habits and adopt healthier ones expands every day. In this article, we have compiled 29 tips to give you a much healthier lifestyle by the time the next Leap Year comes around!
First, identify the “low-hanging fruit” to increase your likelihood for success in making positive changes:
1. Make your goals specific. Avoid goals of “exercise more” or “eat healthier” and instead set specific and simple goals.
2. Connect your goals to an emotion or feeling. What in your life will be better if you adopt a new healthy habit?
3. Find your bright spots: What are you currently doing that is good for your health and why is that working for you? Leverage those strategies to make your next healthy habit a success.
4. Similarly, identify a goal you have partially accomplished and put your attention towards completion. Completing a partially finished, long-term goal is more motivating than being at the beginning stages of a newer and shorter goal.
5. Set goals that are behavior-based instead of outcome-based. Most successful changes occur when we focus on a behavior (I will drink 6 glasses of water per day) instead of an outcome (I will lose 10 pounds).
6. Avoid decision paralysis. Establish as many parameters around your new healthy habit as you can. What will you eat? When will you shop for the food? When will you prepare it? What container will you pack it in?
7. Attach your desired behavior to another activity that you already do consistently.
8. Attach your new behavior to a time and place. By imagining how and where you will do something, you increase the likelihood that you will follow through.
9. Consider missteps part of your growth along the way of your learning experience, instead of as irrecoverable setbacks, in order to build your ability to persevere instead of give up.
10. Remember that your brain is a muscle, and the more your exercise it, the more opportunity you have to master new skills.
Now that you know what you want to accomplish, here are more practical tips to help you along the way.
11. Download the Headspace free app or the subscription app Calm for short guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.
12. Add one serving of vegetables to daily intake.
13. Watch one less hour of television a week.
14. Buy a reuseable water bottle for your desk at work or you bag.
15. While eating breakfast or drinking your morning coffee, identify one thing for which you are thankful in your life.
16. Exercise with a friend or colleague by suggesting a walk at lunch. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator.
17. Celebrate! Break your larger goals into component parts and celebrate small victories in a big way to reinforce your new behaviors
18. Try one healthy food a week that you do not currently like. Mere exposure results in changing your perception as you grow accustomed to something new.
19. Lay your exercise clothes out the night before you intend to work out so they are the first thing you see in the morning.
20. Shrink your dinnerware. User smaller plates, bowls, and cups, which minimizes the amount consumed when you feel the unconscious obligation to “clean your plate.”
21. Talk with others about their healthy habits to start thinking about how you might be successful as well.
22. Log your habit. Whether it be writing down what you eat or when you exercise, recording the information increases your awareness of your behavior, regardless of whether you track calories.
23. Use a pedometer or activity tracker to identify strategies to build activity into your day.
24. Identify obstacles to your new behavior in advance and brainstorm strategies to overcome them.
25. Try something new, such as kickboxing or Zumba, to make exercise fun.
26. Build your new activity into your commute, such as walking or cycling to work.
27. Plan lunches for the week on the weekend and prepare and pack in advance to increase the likelihood of eating healthy during the week.
28. Start meals with low-sodium soup or an apple to increase your feeling of fullness and decrease the amounts of higher calorie foods eaten.
29. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or club soda to decrease both the alcohol and the calories.
Imagine how your life might look in 4 years if you choose only 4 tips off this list? Change is difficult, but these strategies can make it easier!
Pezmeki D, et al. 2010. ACSM Health and Fitness Journal.
Heath C, Heath D. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.