As obvious as this may sound, concentrating on things that make you happy seems to help motivate healthy behaviors. In a 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, older patients with high blood pressure were examined to see whether positive thinking and optimism promoted medication adherence, or proper taking of their blood pressure pills. Half of the 222 patients were coached to identify things in their lives that triggered positive feelings, and to incorporate those positive thoughts into their day. Control subjects simply got information about hypertension and goal-setting in general.
At the end of twelve months, the positive-thinking study group showed significantly better adherence to their medication regimen. The researchers cite other studies that showed positive thinking helps patients imagine a connection between the effort they’re expending, and a good outcome – as well as helping subjects to be more receptive to warning messages about their lifestyles and behavior.
2. Choose a SMART goal
Goal setting is a bit of a science unto itself. Once you've established which habits make up a healthy lifestyle, take a minute to set an achievable, realistic goal that matches your values and daily routine - it can help reaching it becoming more likely. Research shows it's never too late to make changes that will boost your longevity.
3. Look at aged photos of yourself
While it may also make a good party game, taking an image of yourself and aging it, has true motivational potential. That’s the finding of a few different studies investigating how viewing photos of what you’ll look like in the future can affect behavior today.
A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that when young female smokers were shown the effects of years of tobacco exposure on their faces – using a unique software program – many of the subjects were disturbed enough to quit their habit.
In another research project at Stanford University, students viewing aged versions of themselves in a virtual reality program were motivated to save twice as much for retirement as those not using the program. Researcher Hal Hershfield speculates that seeing what you’ll eventually look like helps to create empathy for your future self, making you more committed to taking care of your physical and financial health in the present.
This is a variation on focusing on the positive, and concentrating on what’s working as you pursue your goals, rather than what’s not. Take a look back at situations in the past that were difficult (which bad or unhealthy habits you tried to break, for example) and examine how you dealt with them successfully. It’s a great way to find inspiration and energy to propel you forward – and remind yourself that you already have many skills to help you achieve your objectives.
- Read more: Why bad habits are tough to break
5. Track Your Progress in a Longevity Journal
Some people like to write stuff down, others don’t. But even informal tracking – like sending yourself a text, jotting things down on a sticky note, or marking an “x” on the calendar can help keep you on track with healthy behaviors. A 2008 study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that subjects who kept a daily food diary lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. And the more food records they kept, the more weight they lost.
Consider investing in an inexpensive spiral-bound notebook, or a commercially available journal to help you log your food and exercise habits until they become second nature.
Athletes often use visualization of the outcome they want, like finishing a race comfortably or driving a golf ball a long distance. Self-hypnosis, the process of relaxing, focusing inwardly, and strongly visualizing a desired result, can help your mind process an event as though it’s already happened. Try sitting in a quiet spot for a few minutes, breathing deeply, and imagine enjoying a brisk walk or healthy meal. The more strongly you attach positive, vivid feelings to the action you imagine, the more you’ll boost your motivation (and squelch your reluctance) to do it.
7. Find a Buddy
Getting motivated to incorporate regular fitness or healthier foods into your week can be easier with a supportive friend. Why not link up with an exercise buddy? You might be more inclined to get out of bed for a morning walk if you know someone else is counting on your company. If you don’t have someone you can call on, consider joining a cooking or fitness class. Running, dancing or just commiserating with other people can keep your mind off the activity at hand, and give your frame of mind a boost.
8. Think Small
Often the toughest move to motivate is that first step in a healthy direction. Focus on the smallest incremental change you can make today, rather than concentrating on what may seem to be an overwhelming task or monumental goal.
Maybe it’s one new anti-aging food each week, or one new exercise activity to sample. By minimizing the effort required, you may be more inclined to simply begin, and there's nothing like success to keep you motivated.
9. Schedule an End Point
While events like a high school reunion are a bit of a motivational cliché, why not schedule an end - or mid – point, to help focus your drive? Runners often aim for a race, or a particular distance (like a 5 km, or half-marathon) to keep them on track. You can do the same by picking a date and scheduling a reward for yourself, or even a photo session to chart how you’re progressing.
Often we’re so worried our goals will prove too difficult, we keep them to ourselves. Why not share what you’re trying to achieve with friends and family members? They may have valuable tips to offer about their own struggles, and bringing your ambitions out of the closet can help keep you accountable along the way. One caveat: pick your team! Tell people whom you know will be supportive and positive, while cheering you onwards.
Carine Weiss, Dirk Hanebuth, Paola Coda, Julia Dratva, Margit Heintz, and Elisabeth Zemp Stutz. “Aging Images as a Motivational Trigger for Smoking Cessation in Young Women.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010 September; 7(9): 3499–3512.
Hal E. Hershfield, Daniel G. Goldstein, William F. Sharpe, Jesse Fox, Leo Yeykelis, Laura L. Carstensen, and Jeremy N. Bailenson. "Increasing Saving Behavior Through Age-Progressed Renderings of the Future Self". Journal of Marketing Research, November 2011, Vol.48, No.SPL:pp.S23-S37
Gbenga O. Ogedegbe et al. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Positive-Affect Intervention and Medication Adherence in Hypertensive African Americans.” Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(4):322-326.
Sarah Grogan, Keira Flett, David Clark-Carter, Brendan Gough, Rachel Davey, Deborah Richardson and Giri Rajaratnam. “Women smokers’ experiences of an age-appearance anti-smoking intervention: A qualitative study” British Journal of Health Psychology Volume 16, Issue 4, pages 675–689, November 2011.