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Get motivated! Avoid the 6 mistakes that can sabotage your best health efforts

When was the last time you stuck to a diet longer than Monday morning? Or smoked your last cigarette? Or used your stationary bike for its intended purpose rather than as a handy valet? If you’re chronically unsuccessful at making long-lasting changes, take heart. You’re about to find out what’s blocking your motivation and what to do about it. First take the quiz, then read on.

What’s blocking your motivation?

Answer “agree” or “disagree” to each statement:

  1. Whenever I start a diet, I prefer to keep it a secret.
  2. I want to stop smoking, but all my friends smoke.
  3. I’ll never find the time to start an exercise program.
  4. A two-week crash diet will give me the head start I need to stick to my long-term diet.
  5. I’m determined to diet down to my wedding dress size.
  6. I’ve only survived a week without smoking. I’ll never be able to keep it up.

Here’s what an “agree” response to each of the above statements means:

  1. You’re depriving yourself of a key motivational element—the support of others. See number 4.
  2. You should be focusing on your reasons for quitting, not for continuing to smoke! See number 2.
  3. Chances are, you—and your health—don’t appear very high on your list of priorities. See number 5.
  4. Not likely. If anything, it will set you up for a binge. See number 3.
  5. Losing weight (if you need to!) will surely improve your health and your looks. But fitting into your wedding dress again may be an unrealistic goal. See number 1.
  6. You should be patting yourself on the back, not sulking! See number 6.

  1. Setting unrealistic goals
    You won’t lose 30 pounds—or firm your gluteus maximus—in 30 short days. And forget about comparing yourself to Christie Brinkley. For most of us, the images we see in print or on screen represent unattainable (and in some cases, downright unhealthy) goals. Instead, prepare yourself for slow, steady improvement—weight loss of no more than two pounds a week and a sensible exercise program that will strengthen your cardiovascular health and build muscle over time. Focus on introducing healthful habits that gradually become an automatic part of your routine. Remember: Good looks are a by-product of good health.

  2. Doing it for all the wrong reasons
    “If I lose 20 pounds, my husband will love me more,” or “I’ll look better at my sister’s wedding” or “I may get a better job.” Sound familiar? Weight-loss experts agree that if you try to get in shape to please others, you won’t succeed. By the same token, incorporating a lot of “shoulds” or “ought tos” into your motivational “self-talk” produces a lot of guilt and little progress. So what works? Research shows that self-generated, positive motivation gets results. Instead of saying “I want to stop smoking because my mother died of lung cancer,” substitute “Quitting will give me more energy, improve my health, help me save a little extra money and I’ll have fresher breath!”

  3. Doing too much too soon
    Waking up at 5 a.m. every day to work out or starting a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet are strategies that backfire because you just can’t keep them up. When it comes to fitness, research shows that squeezing it into your current schedule rather than getting up an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later is the way to go. Aim for an enjoyable mix of activities, and try to inject more activity into your everyday routine. As for dieting, successful weight loss depends on wise food choices, not starvation or deprivation. The best results are obtained with a low-fat diet and regular exercise. To learn how to eat in moderation, start asking yourself questions such as, “Am I truly hungry for this, or am I really bored/frustrated/sad/ angry?” “Do I feel full yet?” and “How does this food fit into the context of everything else I’ve eaten today?”

  4. Going it alone
    Recognize your need for a support system that provides inspiration and a forum in which to share your frustration. Whether you find a fitness buddy, join a weight-loss group or begin a smoking-cessation program, research suggests you’ve automatically boosted your chance for success by reaching out for help.

  5. Putting yourself last
    Is tending to your husband, your children or your job more important than taking care of yourself? Developing self-respect and working to meet your own needs is essential for permanent change. Start delegating tasks to family members or exchanging favors with a neighbor to build some time for yourself.

  6. Failing to recognize—and reward—small advances
    You’ve gone one week without smoking. No big deal, right? Wrong! A single smokeless week, losing the first five pounds or sticking to your walking program for a month are significant achievements. To make sure small steps are noticed, set intermediate goals: “In honor of my first smoke-free month, I’ll treat myself to a facial.” “When I reach the next smaller dress size, I’ll buy that necklace I’ve been eyeing.”