Did you make a resolution to take on more healthy habits this year and you’re already falling off the wagon?  Here is a fool-proof strategy for how to motivate yourself this year.  

This is the first post in a five part series on the topic of how to stay healthy and keep good habits going.

How to Motivate Yourself

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, roughly 52% of us made New Year’s Resolutions that involved getting healthier – like losing weight, stopping smoking, working out more or some sort of self-improvement in 2017. They also report that (42%) of us will be dropping these resolutions after a month.

So why is this the case? I mean, we’re generally pretty good about keeping other commitments in our lives, why can’t we keep well-intentioned commitments when it comes to health?

Becoming healthier is a really good idea. But to get us to change our behavior – to actually change the way we eat, move, sleep and manage our stress on an ongoing basis – requires a really powerful motivator.  We need a reason that makes it “absolutely essential” for us to do something differently, and think of ourselves differently.  Our lame excuses need to be trumped by a greater calling.  We need a real sense of urgency and a stronger “why.”

I recently had a coach from the Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute paint a picture of this for me which illustrates the concept perfectly.

“Imagine you are standing by a plate glass window on the 25th story of a building, and I told you that if you walked the long narrow plank between your building and the building next door, that I would give you a million dollars.  Not before you get too excited, I should tell you that your chances for survival are pretty slim, because a strong wind is likely to push you off balance, and the plank you will be walking on is fairly unstable.  Would you walk the plank?”  I like to think of myself as a bit of a risk taker, and a million dollars is a lot of money, but somehow I just could not see myself taking her up on an offer like that.

Then my coach altered the scenario.  “What if I told you that the building next door was on fire, and that your children were in it?  Would you walk the plank then?”  I have two little girls, and if they are in grave danger, you bet I would walk across that plank, maybe even in high heels to save them!  And then, in a flash, I understood what she was really trying to say.

Deciding to be healthy has to be more than just a cool thing to do or a “nice to have.”  Making the decision to change lifelong habits for the better requires steely resolve and a strong, unquestionable purpose.  It has to be bullet-proof.  Maybe you don’t have children (or don’t like them very much) and your motivation to be healthy is for other reasons.  Maybe you need to be your healthy best to support other family members, or friends, or a cause you really care about.  It doesn’t matter what, as long as you have strong feelings about it.

What You Can Do

So what can you do to create a strong “intrinsic motivator” for yourself?  Think about the story above. What would incentivize you to cross that plank?  Write down what motivates you and put it someplace where you will see it on a regular basis. This is your “why.” As a good friend of mine says, “A strong ‘why’ can navigate when the how is not so clear.”

Want more ideas for how to stay healthy?

Use Peer Pressure to Stay Healthy

Find an Accountability Partner to Stay Healthy

Best Health Apps to Motivate You  

A Healthy Environment Can Nudge Behavior

Photograph of Leigh StringerLeigh Stringer is a workplace strategy expert and researcher.  She works for EYP, an architecture, engineering and building technology firm and is the author of The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees—and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line.