Sustaining Progress Toward Your Goals

It’s been about three and half months since New Year’s resolutions, goals, or words were set or defined.  There has been Super Bowl parties, Valentine’s Day celebrations and St. Patrick’s Day is just a week away.  Now is a great time to take a moment to reflect on how you are progressing.  Have you been consistent in your efforts?  Have you adapted as your needs change?  Have you taken time to celebrate your weekly and monthly accomplishments?  If the answer is no, what are you avoiding?

If you are avoiding self-reflection because you know subconsciously you have not been at your best, it is okay.  We all make mistakes from time to time; it is the resiliency to pick up where we left off or make a change that improves our overall well-being.  No one can be perfect 100% of the time.  The key to a healthy lifestyle is consistency.  Check out the tips below to help maintain a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Set realistic goals: Start with small, achievable goals and gradually increase them over time.  This will help you stay motivated and avoid feeling overwhelmed.  Suggestion: Register for a race or set a goal of working out 3 times a week gradually increasing it every 2 weeks by one day.
  2. Create a schedule: Plan your meals and workouts in advance and stick to a schedule.  This will help you stay on track and avoid making unhealthy choices when you’re hungry or pressed for time.  Suggestion: At the start of each week (I do this on Thursday evening or Saturday morning), take stock of the week ahead – note any evening obligations and then plan your meals and workouts around these obligations.  Do the kids have sports or dance until after 6 one night?  Plan a simple evening meal, make a casserole or crockpot meal, or pre-cook and chop ingredients that may take longer to save you time.  You can also pre-chop any fruits or vegetables for lunch and meal plan/cook breakfast to save time in the mornings.  It takes a bit of planning, but you may find it makes the work week less hectic and you more consistent in meeting your goals.
  3. Find an exercise you enjoy: Choose an exercise that you enjoy doing, whether it’s running, swimming, yoga or dancing.  This will make it easier to stick with your workout routine and make it feel less like a chore.  Suggestion: Find a partner.  A friend and I walk several times a week; she is more consistent and therefore keeps me accountable, I walk faster and keep her heartrate elevated.  Plus it gives us time to catch up, work through issues with our partners and/or kids, and chat about our latest show or book obsession.  And whenever possible, get outside!  The daily does of Vitamin D from the sun improves sleep and energy levels.
  4. Mix it up: Don’t do the same exercises every day.  Mix it up with different types of workouts, such as cardio, strength training, and stretching.  This is also a great way to find an exercise you enjoy. Suggestion: If you don’t belong to a gym or one with various classes, download an app on your phone or using a streaming service to find different workouts.  If you have Netflix, you can access hundreds of workouts by searching “Nike Training Club” in the search bar.  Paying for the MyFitnessPal premium or another nutrition tracking app provides another option for hundreds of workouts.  Or some apps are free with limited workouts available like HASfit or others like the Peloton or iFit app for various cardio equipment also have hundreds of workouts that include yoga, Pilates, strength training and HIIT.
  5. Track your progress: Keep a record of your workouts and meals.  This will help you see how far you’ve come and motivate you to keep going.  Suggestion:   Purchase a daily planner, download an app, or keep a journal with your progress.  You could also take monthly measurements to track your progress if you are trying to lose weight or gain muscle mass.  And while you are tracking your progress, try to never go longer than 2 days without moving your body (illness excluded).  After 2 days, it becomes easier to slip into old habits of little movement and poor nutrition.
  6. Surround yourself with support: Join a workout group or find a friend who shares your fitness goals.  Having someone to hold you accountable and provide support can make a big difference. Suggestion: If you are shy or embarrassed or living in a new city, try an online support group.  Many nutritional tracking apps have an online community.  Or you could challenge a friend in another state via a smartwatch health goals app.
  7. Become intuitive: Listen to your body and never have a “off limits” attitude. Framing foods as bad creates an unhealthy mindset around nutrition and framing any movement as “not counting as exercise” limits your options.  Suggestion: Having the piece of birthday cake will not derail your goals.  In fact some research suggests that not giving in to your cravings every once in awhile may actually cause you to overeat in other ways.  Too much of anything can be unhealthy. Instead, choose a small piece of cake or half a donut or coffee mug of ice cream.  And if your body is feeling especially tired or your muscles are sore, don’t push yourself to exertion.  Instead choose movement that will make you feel better such as a light walk or some stretching.  Sometimes, just moving a little increases your energy and you may just do an entire workout.  Other times, the light movement is all you have and that’s a sign your body needs a break.  Listen to what your body and mind need.
  8. Reward yourself: Celebrate your success with small rewards such as a new workout outfit or a healthy treat.  This will keep you motivated and on track.  Suggestion: If you haven’t already used all those holiday gift cards, make them your rewards for reaching your goals.  Massage gift card – after completing 15 workouts.  Amazon gift card – buy new workout clothes or equipment after another 15 workouts. Starbucks/Dunkin/Coffee shop gift card – use on a Saturday for a week you completed an extra workout.   Rewards don’t have to cost money either – maybe it’s sleeping in on Saturday, or reading in your PJ’s for an extra hour, or a drive to the shore for a walk on the beach.  The reward simply needs to activate the center of your brain that experiences joy.

Every week or day doesn’t need to be perfect.  You just need to make your best effort.  All those little best efforts will add up to a consistent healthy lifestyle.  And remember, you’re only one workout or meal from being back on track!  So don’t get discouraged.  Take a deep breathe, remember why you are choosing a healthier lifestyle, and do the next right thing.

Written by Kelly Reising who is passionate about nutrition, fitness and health. 

Dr. Mc Millan is a Board-Certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon practicing in the Virtua Health System of south Jersey.  For more information please visit or follow us on twitter @sportsdrsean. 

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