Start Making Progress Towards Your Goals (Again)


Use this step-by-step plan to get—and stay—on the wellness wagon for good.

Last updated: 1 February 2022
5 min read
  • Falling out of your routine is an inevitable part of any health journey.
  • Changing your self-talk and embracing imperfection can help boost your confidence, so you can go after your goals.
  • Get fired up with inspiring athletes on Trained, then explore tons of healthy habits from experts you can build into your routine.

Read on to learn more ...

How to Start — or Restart — a Wellness Routine

If your vow to HIIT harder or eat more vegetables has fizzled out, don't let it sap your confidence. Promises we make to ourselves aren't always easy to keep, as a landmark University of Scranton study found. Only 19 percent of 200 people who made New Year's resolutions stuck with them for at least two years.

No worries if you're in that 81 percent. Here are five small, simple steps that can help you make progress towards any goal and keep your spirit strong too.

1. Pinpoint what's driving you.

Nebulous goals do not work, says Nick Wignall, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the host of Minds & Mics, a mental health and performance podcast. "Yes, eating healthier, getting in shape and improving your sleep are really good things to do", he says. "The problem is they're conceptual and vague; they don't have much motivating pull".

For a routine to really grab you, says Wignall, you need to get super-specific about why it matters. To do that, start asking questions. For example, if you want to get stronger, ask yourself why that's important to you. What immediate and long-term benefits will you get? How will your life look different if you stick to a strength-training routine? Answering these why, what and how queries takes you from "I want to be stronger" to "I want to lift weights because it makes me feel powerful, confident and like I can tackle everyday challenges more easily". Now that's a goal with some gravity.

2. Get—and stay—fired up.

A simple, effective way to feel compelled to follow through: put a calendar on your desk or wall, and for each day you stick to your healthy routine—eating a veggiewith every meal, getting in bed by 10pm—draw a red X or any colour-symbol combo that speaks to you. Wignall calls this the "big red X strategy" (BRXS), and it has a hat trick of payoffs.

Firstly, BRXS forces your routine front and centre. Now you have a clear, constant reminder, says Wignall. Secondly, making that X is rewarding, and that's a feeling you'll work to score again and again. "Immediately getting to use your big red marker to cross off a day is much more rewarding than saying, 'If I do 30 days of exercise, then I'm going to the spa".

Finally, seeing all of those beautiful red Xs in a row reinforces all the awesome progress you've made, which should boost your confidence, says Wignall.

How to Start — or Restart — a Wellness Routine

3. Evolve how you talk to yourself.

When it comes to making changes, we often hear a voice in our head telling us how to feel and it tends to take one of two tones. The first is "the drill sergeant", the tough, burly guy who yells at recruits in war films, says Wignall. The second is "the shamer", says Sasha Heinz, PhD, a developmental psychologist and mindset coach who specialises in goal-setting and behaviour change. This is the voice saying that you must get fit or eat better because otherwise you'll be unacceptable or unworthy.

Both are destructive. "When you are really hard on yourself, you create excess negative emotion, which just provides more friction between you and your goal", says Wignall. "Remove that burden and it's amazing how much energy you can have to move towards what you want".

Try saying aloud the wellness goal you're aiming to hit. Now, listen to how the voice in your head instantly reacts. Is it telling you, "Yep, you've got this"? Or is it yelling and dictating, like the sergeant, or making you feel bad about yourself, like the shamer?

If the answer is one of the latter, reframe your self-talk to be kind, encouraging or even neutral. This can be as simple as replacing words like "must", "need" and "should" with more positive verbs like "can", "want" and "will". Then, says Wignall, see what happens next. "When, inevitably, you end up doing just fine if not better, your brain will register that there's no benefit to putting yourself down", he says.

4. Home in on the good stuff.

Say you're trying to run regularly. It might suck to set your alarm for sunrise, but it also feels amazing each time you complete a workout. Heinz says to obsess over that second part. When your brain drifts to the ugh moments in your routine, pull it back to the positives. Yes, going to bed early is difficult, but you always feel refreshed in the morning. Yes, doing a warm-up takes time, but you haven't been injured in months.

Still find yourself dwelling on the hard parts? Heinz recommends considering how much tougher life would be if you were blowing off your goal. This outlook can lead you to a "radical truth", she says that these actions add up to a better quality of life.

5. Embrace imperfection.

To prepare for the inevitable bumps in your journey, Wignall suggests following this go-to mantra from motivation expert James Clear: never miss twice. In other words, if you skipped your run or stayed up half the night watching TV, tell yourself it won't happen again. "This urges ambition and working hard to keep up your routine", explains Wignall, "but it also includes self-compassion, an understanding that you can and will miss once in a while". There's a trick to sticking to this mantra without falling back on the drill sergeant or shamer voice, says Wignall. When a slip-up happens, treat yourself like you would a good friend. "You would probably acknowledge the miss but be largely encouraging and supportive—certainly not judgemental and critical", he says.

What all of these tips have in common is that they require little changes, not perfection. But their collective payoff is major: you go from swearing this is the year healthy will happen to actually living it.

Words: Marissa Stephenson
Illustration: Davide Bonazzi


Looking for more advice on building a wellness routine that works? Listen to a Trained convo with CrossFit athlete Logan Aldridge for inspo, then check out more get-healthy tips from experts.

Originally published: 31 January 2022

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