Strategies that don’t work:
1. Diet – Diets in and of themselves rarely work and cannot be sustained indefinitely. The longer someone is on a diet, the harder it gets. Dieters tend to stretch their willpower too far and eventually end up caving in to temptation usually ending up right back where they started.
2. Visualize Success – One strategy that has been made popular by self-help books such as “The Secret” is to accomplish our goals simply by imagining them as reality. The problem with this strategy is that visualization only works insomuch as it inspires confidence and action that propel the person to do what is needed. If people choose visualization in lieu of action, they are doomed for failure.
3. Overcome Obstacles – Some people, rather than keeping their eye on the goal, they focus on the challenges that are in their way. Overcoming the obstacles can seem like an important way to reach a goal but it can also be demotivating. Obstacles can easily become excuses that help to justify our inability to make headway.
4. Shortcuts – If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. The miracle pill or surgery that is promised to bring you instant health and happiness usually won’t. Most shortcut solutions are designed to change the superficial symptoms without addressing the underlying problems. Or they simply “move the boo-boo” from one place to another. These strategies also lure us away from doing the hard work that true wellness requires.
5. Contemplation – Most people spend a lot more time planning their wellness strategies than they do actually executing them. Reading about wellness is not a strategy. Talking about wellness is not a strategy. Hope is not a strategy. Only when contemplation turns into action do we see results (see Prochaska’s stages of change.)
Strategies that do work:
1. Exercise – Unlike diet, exercise gets easier with practice. The more people exercise, the more likely it becomes a sustainable part of their lifestyle. Also, unlike dieting, exercise simultaneously boosts mood and psychological wellbeing while improving physical fitness.
2. Future Time Perspective – Visualization in and of itself doesn’t work, but thinking about your future can keep you more focused on doing what you need to do in the present. What is willpower, after all, but the ability to delay immediate gratification in order to achieve long term goals. Thinking about the future outcomes you wish to achieve can motivate and inspire you to make the sacrifices necessary in the short term. (See Zimbardo’s “The Time Paradox.”)
3. Mental Contrasting – Effective goal accomplishment comes when you can simultaneously hold the future vision of success in mind while contrasting it against the obstacles that need to be overcome. The future vision of the goal provides the motivation, while the awareness of the obstacles helps to prepare you to take appropriate action when they inevitably pop up. Try a mental contrasting exercise here.
4. Mindfulness – A mindfulness practice helps develop skills that shift our attention to where we want it to go, rather than wherever it gets pulled. Mindful eating, for example, is more effective than dieting for developing healthy habits.
5. Be Social – Wellness is contagious. (So is obesity.) Both positive and negative health habits tend to spread through social networks. So connect with people that have the kind of health you would like to have. Working out with a friend, or sharing your progress on wellness goals via social media channels can both help motivate you to achieve your goals.
What works for you?
References and recommended reading:
Halvorson, H. G. (2010). Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. Hudson Street Press.
Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2011). Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. Sterling.