4 powerful mindset shifts to get – and keep – your health goals on track

It’s possible to think your way toward a healthier lifestyle
Woman meditating on sofa

Have you ever heard of “depressive rumination”? Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you may be familiar with what it describes: the act of reflexively repeating negative thoughts, over and over again in your mind, dwelling on a negative event or feelings and not being able to escape the cycle. This behavior can potentially lead to symptoms of depression, which can then bring on even more health implications. Contrast that with the power of positive thinking, which may actually boost your heart health.

Many of us have been living under shelter-in-place orders, and many are experiencing increased anxiety as a result. So it’s understandable if you’re having some negative thoughts now and again – especially as the orders are extended month after month. However, one of the many wonderful things about your mind is that you have more control over it than you might think. If you set out to shift your mental attitude, you have the power to actually train your mind to transform negative thoughts into positive thoughts, and that can help get you closer to your health goals.

Now is a great time to check in with yourself and take note of your current mental state. Are you feeling stressed almost all the time? Are you concerned on a constant basis about the same things, be it your financial outlook, finding ways to stay active, or even just getting fresh air?

As we all join together to stop the spread of COVID-19, working toward a meaningful creative interest may provide a much-needed sense of structure and purpose. Even small changes to your daily routine can add up to a noticeable improvement in your physical and mental health.

Here are four simple and straightforward ways to move your mindset toward a healthier lifestyle.

  1. Shift from “I have to” to “I get to”
    Many people consider exercise and a healthy diet as being essential to their daily routines. Others know they should be more active and eating better, but don’t feel like they have the time or resources to manage it. As we shelter in place, both groups can get caught in negative mental loops.

    Those in the first group may be lamenting the difficulties of getting fresh produce and the fact that they can’t go to the gym. The second group may feel something more along the lines of “Now how will I ever get on a healthier path?”

    Instead of thinking about your health goals in terms of “I have to” or “I should really be,” try reframing them as “I get to,” a simple but powerful shift. Not only does it put you in the driver’s seat of your health, but it might also inspire you to find new ways to achieve those goals.

    If a thought like “I have to meal prep” enters your mind, acknowledge that it’s there and then let it go, without judging it. Then try thinking to yourself, “I get to meal prep,” and maybe you’ll be inspired to finally use items that have been stashed away in the back of your fridge or pantry. Gently remind yourself that it’s your choice – and that this freedom to choose can help make you feel more in control, now and in the long run
  2. Shift from “This is boring” to “How can I make this more enjoyable?”
    When was the last time you looked at a plate of grilled chicken and broccoli and thought, “Wow, what an exciting, healthy meal!”? Let’s face it: working out and eating healthy isn’t always glamorous and tantalizing. And right now, it’s only further complicated by the ongoing difficulty of accessing fresh, healthy foods. But the truth is, whether something is enjoyable or not is totally up to you. You can’t turn tofu into a cheeseburger, but you can add a bit of your own spice.

    Whenever you’re feeling uninspired by a health goal, shift your mindset by asking yourself this simple question: “How can I make this more enjoyable?” Instead of going for a walk alone, perhaps bringing your family along will help make it more fun. Or try putting on your favorite TV show or a comedy special while you do a 15-minute workout in the living room. Little changes like these can set you on the right track for tackling your health goals.
  3. Shift from “I don’t feel like it” to “I am committed to this!”
    Many people get stuck on the idea that they need to be in the right mood in order to work out or make a nutritious meal. When you make decisions based on your emotions, it can actually force you to work harder to convince yourself to make the healthy choice. Everything from being tired, to having a lousy day, to simply feeling cozy on your couch can lead to getting further off track from your goals.

    Instead, try to shift your thought process to reframe the situation. Remind yourself of your long-term health goals. Try telling yourself, “Even though I don’t feel like doing this right now, I’m committed and I’m going to stick to it.” Remind yourself of why you established your health goals in the first place. This can help you stick to your plan in that moment and over time.
  4. Shift from “I have so far to go” to “I have come so far”
    Often when it comes to your health, it’s hard to see progress. It can be very discouraging if you only think in terms of how far you have left to go to reach your goal. Thinking negatively – about what you haven’t yet done – can lead to you abandoning your scheduled workout, or ordering takeout instead of eating the healthy meal you had planned the night before.

    So take a moment to look at the positive, and recognize what you have achieved. Take a look at where you started, compared to where you are now. You may find that you have made progress; celebrate your accomplishments! When you adopt this view of tracking your health goals, you may actually feel inspired.

    Start by taking a big calendar, setting a deadline for reaching a goal, and marking an X on every day you work toward your goal until you complete it. Keep the chain of X’s going as long as you can. This will help you visualize your progress, stay motivated, and keep on track.

One thought at a time

To shift your mindset to a more positive, possibility-focused outlook, you’ll need to practice changing your thoughts, one by one. You won’t wake up tomorrow completely clear of thoughts that distract you from your goals. But over time, making a proactive effort to shift your thoughts from negative to positive can really rewire your brain to start thinking differently.

It may seem challenging to be your own voice of reason, but the good news is that our minds are so powerful that we can transform negative thinking into positive encouragement. It starts with simply being aware of your thoughts – and being willing to change them.

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