Reward Your Achievements Without Food

We’ve been talking a lot about goals these past few weeks, but that’s because setting and achieving goals is hard! This is especially true if you’re trying to make a lifestyle change. “Getting healthy” means breaking old habits and creating new ones that stick, which is no easy feat.

Dhruti mentioned rewarding yourself, but that can also be tricky. The reward must fit the effort and it shouldn’t undo any of the progress that you’ve achieved. For instance, don’t reward yourself for losing five pounds by celebrating with a cheeseburger, french fries, a soda, and a brownie sundae. Rewarding yourself is no different than planning out how you’ll achieve your goals—you still need to be strategic.

When you’re starting out, it may help to schedule regular, small rewards to keep you motivated. Aim for inexpensive rewards that celebrate your achievement for just sticking with a plan. Say you start with 40-50 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for your first week, and then slowly increase that by 20 minutes every 1-2 weeks until you’ve reached a goal of 150 minutes per week. Rather than waiting several weeks to reward yourself for achieving that goal, you can motivate yourself to follow your plan by scheduling small rewards every 2-3 weeks. These small rewards can be relatively inexpensive items or activities that you may otherwise think twice about getting or doing, like:

  • A metal water bottle,
  • A new workout shirt,
  • Your own yoga mat (freedom from other people’s sweat and stink!),
  • A cookbook,
  • Taking a nap or going to bed early.
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The moment in every class when I wish I had my own yoga mat. Every time I think about buying one, the thrifty side of me says, “How bad can those gym mats be?!”… which really makes it the perfect reward.

Remember, you have to actually follow your program to get the rewards. While these motivational rewards may help ease you into the rhythm of working towards your goal, once you feel like you’re in that rhythm, shift towards rewarding yourself for achieving bigger goals. These bigger goals, like achieving the 150 minutes of exercise per week, deserve something a little more exciting, like:

  • New shoes or hiking boots,
  • Base layers to keep you comfortable outside,
  • A subscription to a music streaming service,
  • A cooking class,
  • A pass for specialized exercise classes (yoga, boutique spin class, rock climbing).

Just because you may have reached your goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise in a week, doesn’t mean you’re done. You want to strive for that amount of exercise until it becomes a habit. So you can also use those rewards to celebrate, say, six months of regularly exercising 150 minutes/week.

Once you’ve adopted your goal as a lifestyle (you’ll know when you start thinking about new goals), then you get to have some real fun with bigger rewards, like:

  • Tickets to a comedy show, concert, sporting event, or play,
  • Upgrading your blender or slow cooker—or even, hand tools,
  • A massage,
  • Sessions with a personal trainer,
  • Part of a day to be on your own and do what you enjoy.

These ideas are just some of my favorite things. To make sure you’re effectively motivating and rewarding yourself, choose something that excites you and fits your goals.

Be S.M.A.R.T. About Your Goals

Carrie and Dhruti have recently posted some helpful tips about settings goals and sticking with them. Dhruti talked about starting with realistic and small goals, but it can be hard to know what that means. So, I’ll be providing more detail about how to set effective goals.

To make them achievable, they must be SMART. The process to making SMART goals applies to any goal—whether you have resolved to improve your financial situation, lose weight, get in shape, or start school.

S – Specific
I used to teach first-year college students, some of whom learned the hard way that college is much different than high school. After a month, they were getting failing grades. When asked about their plans, they almost always said they would study harder. As you can see, these plans are not very specific and the students rarely achieved the desired result. An example of a good financial goal is to save $500 a month to purchase a car by the end of July.

M – Measurable
You must be able to measure your goal: number of minutes you exercise each week, the steps completed to apply for school, pant size, ounces of water you drank today, how early you got to bed last night. In the example with the car, there are two ways to measure. First, the overall goal, which is the total price of the car. Second, progress along the way, which is to save monthly until you’ve reached the total.

A – Achievable
Did you establish a goal that you can achieve? If you bring home $1,000 a month and you plan to put $500 toward the car, is that possible? Will other bills or spending habits prevent you from saving that much money? These are all things to consider when determining if your goal is achievable.

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Plan out the steps of your goal by breaking it down into manageable pieces and setting a deadline for them – even if you think it will take you several years. (Photo by Estee Janssens)

R – Realistic
When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional football player. While it’s good to pursue your dreams and aspirations, there comes a time when your dream becomes unrealistic. Striving for unrealistic goals can cost you time and money. Make sure your goal is realistic. It can help to break up the goal into smaller, more manageable steps that build up your ability and confidence.

T – Time Oriented
Goals can be short-term (up to 1 year), intermediate (1-5 years), and long-term (5 or more years). The important component is that it must have an end date.  Goals can be forgotten when there is no time frame or way to measure progress. A good example is saving money for a house. You may need as much as ten thousand dollars. By setting a date and measuring your progress, you will stay motivated to reach the end goal.

Keep your goals fresh and review them on a regular basis. Once a goal is achieved, create a new one. If you are no longer making progress, reassess, and try something else. Don’t let your goals get stale.

Good luck in the New Year and be SMART!

Create New Year’s Resolutions That Stick

You may be familiar with the excitement of setting New Year’s resolutions and the disappointment that comes when you aren’t able to reach those goals. Resolutions often fail because of lack of in-depth planning, inconsistency with motivation, and insufficient information. Carrie recently posted about using previous successes and failures to determine what does or doesn’t work for you. Today, I’m offering a few more steps to help make your New Year’s resolutions stick.

Bring your heart and head together to create a great resolution
Get in touch with your emotions, beliefs, and true purpose of “why” you want the resolution fulfilled. Then use those feelings to create a logical process and plan. Research materials, talk to experts, and ask for help to get comprehensive idea of what it will take to achieve your goals.

Keep it realistic—Start small!
Once your overarching goal is identified, break them down to several smaller, more realistic goals. Realistic goals are more easily executed and they can help boost your morale. Let’s say you want to run a 10K next fall, but you haven’t been active in some time. To build strength, stamina, and confidence, you would start by walking, jogging, or running smaller distances a few times a week.

Be your own critic
No one is perfect. You will make some mistakes. When you do, take note and own your mistakes with compassion. Then let it go and divert yourself back on-course again. Be an honest friend to yourself, one who is unafraid to tell the truth with love and compassion.

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Don’t be too hard on yourself if you ate too much at brunch with your friends or have had a hard time getting back into gym after a cold. It’s important to acknowledge that you slipped and think about how to avoid that situation again, but then let it go, adjust, and try again. (Photo by Daria Shevtsova)

Write it, draw it, craft it
Pick any hobby you like­—writing, drawing, crafts, graphics—and create a visual representation of what your goals look like. Be specific and have fun! Pour your personality and feelings into visualizing what it looks like to achieve your goals and the process to get there. Then display your goals in the most visited spot in your home.

Announce it and share it
It is easy to revert back to old habits when you keep your goals to yourself. By declaring your resolutions to your family and friends, you will build in more support and accountability. Your loves ones will cheer you on and you will work harder so as not to disappoint them.

Be your own cheerleader
Take time this year to appreciate all of your accomplishments, struggles, and hard work. Starting right now! Raise your one arm towards the sky (I know its awkward, but please go with it). Bring down your raised palm and touch your back. And now give yourself a loving pat for all the wonderful things you will accomplish this year.

I wish you a very happy and fulfilling new year.

Look Back For Resolution Success

As 2018 winds down, you may be planning your 2019 resolutions. The beginning of a new year seems like a natural time to set goals and start planning for the future, but you should also look back on the year before jumping into your resolutions! Looking back at previous resolutions and goals can be a great step towards achieving success in the year to come.

If you’ve ever made a resolution or simply set a goal to exercise more, eat better, stress less, improve your finances, or any other aspirations (all goals count!), look back on those efforts to learn about the goals you set for yourself and the ways you have tried to reach them. Then write responses to the following questions for each goal or resolution:

  1. Was it successful? This isn’t a yes or no question ! Maybe you made some progress, but not as much as you were hoping to make. If your goal was to exercise more, taking even one walk is a small success!
  2. What steps did you take? This could include making a plan, tracking your behavior, working with a professional, getting help from your friends and family, etc.
  3. Did anyone in particular help you: a medical professional, family member, friend, coworker, even a furry friend?
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Looking at past successes and failures can help you identify what does and doesn’t work for achieving your goals. (Photo by Ana Tavares)

After you have some things written down about how you did with your previous goals, check out what you have written. Was there a common theme for goals you were able to reach or almost reach? You may find that when you use a specific strategy, you have more success. You may also find that when you use certain strategies, you are rarely successful! The most important thing is taking the time to think about what works for you.

When you put into words all you have done to achieve your goals, you may think about those steps in a new way. For example, if you write down a goal, but can’t think of any steps you took to achieve that goal, you may realize that the goal hadn’t been that important or seemed too big to take on. By reviewing how you have set your goals and the steps you took (or didn’t take) to achieve them, you can get a good idea of what strategies will most likely to lead to your success!

As you charge into a new year, think about any changes you would like to make in your life and use your best strategies to make them happen! By reviewing the past, you can plan even better for the future!

To Get Moving, Know Where You’re Going

Have you ever started off on a trip with no destination in mind? For some, it can be fun to get out on the road with no plan in mind and see where the wind takes them. But with exercise, heading out on the open road with no map can lead to a lot of detours and dead ends.

Still, it happens all the time! People decide “I am going to start exercising so that I can get healthier”, but they don’t define what healthier means, which makes it hard to know what steps to take to get healthy. You may have read my previous post about how I struggled with sticking to an exercise plan until I began training with my dad for a 5K run. With the 5K in mind, I was able to research how to reasonably train for this goal and develop a training program with daily plans.

After the 5K, I thought that I would magically become a person who exercises every day—no matter what. However, I ended up struggling to continue exercising. I finally realized that without a clear goal, I couldn’t decide what exercises to do, how long to do them, or whether to do them at all. I eventually realized that I needed a clear and defined plan.

Research supports that a clear plan is an important part of goal setting! In one study, people who set specific physical activity goals, rather than general weight loss goals, were more likely to use strategies to keep them accountable, like tracking their activity, inviting a friend to exercise, or rewarding themselves for their efforts. If you said, “I want to be healthier and more active”, it is hard to know exactly what you mean. But if you said, “I want to walk for 30 minutes without stopping”, now you have a specific goal and can start searching for an online plan or app, seeking advice from friends, or working with a physical trainer.

When I didn’t have a plan, exercise felt like something extra I had to do and it was easy to justify not exercising after a long day. With a plan that built exercise into my schedule, I knew exactly what I would be doing when I got home each day. So, I set out a new goal: I registered for a 10K with my family and started a new training plan. We successfully completed our 10K in November and jumped immediately into planning our next race—an obstacle course next July!

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My dad (and training partner) and I running in downtown Annapolis during our 10K. (Photo by my husband, Josh Sorenson, who was running with us)

Wanting to exercise won’t necessarily help you figure out what you are going to do. Clear goals provide a road map to help you avoid too many detours! There may still be a pit stop or wrong turn, but with your map in hand you can get back on track.

Carrie and Family
Our team, “Here for the Snacks”, got a lot more out of the run than snacks and medals! Our team members include (from left to right) Josh Sorenson, me, Dan Rishell, Maggie Wolen, and Jacob Wolen. Stay tuned for the results from our next race. (Photo by my mom, Donna Rishell)


Creating a Healthy Lifestyle for You

We all have a general sense of what it means to be healthy: eat right and exercise. But those two things are hard enough, once you throw in the other aspects of healthlike getting enough sleep, not getting too stressed, or kicking cigarettesthe notion of getting healthy makes anyone want to binge-watch and eat their way through the weekend. Where do you even start?

Hopefully, here; with our new blog, Breathing Room. We’re a group of educators from the University of Maryland Extension. We work across Maryland to help people live healthier by eating better, moving more, reducing stress, and managing finances. We want to use this blog to get you thinking about the little changes you can make to improve your health and well-being. We will be covering a lot of topics in this blog, butas with most things related to healththey will have one thing in common: making a choice to create a new habit. After all, a healthy lifestyle is nothing but a series of habits.

So, let’s talk habits. A habit is a repetitive behavior that is so ingrained that it becomes automatic. Breaking a habit or creating a new one takes time, anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the habit. That means, if you keep trying all the latest diets and have turned your gym equipment into really expensive laundry racks, then start smaller next time. Setting big goals are great, but getting and staying healthy is a lifestyle, which means you need to create habits that you will enjoy and stick with. Drastic diet changes and grand workout plans are often too hard to maintain and just make us feel terrible. If you ask your healthiest friends how they got healthy, I promise they won’t tell you it’s because they slogged their way through life by depriving themselves of all the things they enjoy.

Everybodyand every bodyis different. Finding the healthy lifestyle for you means finding ways to create healthy habits that will still leave you feeling good. Maybe you can’t give up chocolate cake, but you could wean yourself off of soda. Or maybe the idea of lifting weights makes you want to toss your sneakers into the trash, but walking with a friend sounds fun. Once you’ve made those smaller changes, you can start thinking about making bigger ones.

When breaking a habit, pay particular attention to the trigger that makes you perform your habit and the reward that you’re getting from performing it. If the box of cookies in the pantry triggers your 9pm sweet tooth, can you eliminate cookies from the house or replace them with something less sugary and caloric, like this chocolatey frozen treat? Maybe you love to laugh with your friends over dinner and drinks, but how about scheduling a walk, hike, or mud-run instead?

When creating a healthy habit, try to create a successful pathway. Maybe you’ve been paying that gym subscription for months but can’t seem to get yourself there. Would scheduling time with a friend or trainer get you there? How about taking your gym bag to work so that you can go straight to the gym instead of changing at home, where the soft, comfy couch will be singing her siren song?

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It’s hard to convince yourself to go to the gym once you’ve reached this point in the day.

If you and your doctor have a lot of concerns about your health, then work with your doctor to figure out a plan. Creating habits takes a lot of awareness, practice, and support before everything becomes automatic. Be flexible and try different things. You will have bad moments and, sometimes, days. But that’s okit’s a part of the process of learning and changing. Don’t beat yourself up when you mess up. And when you do get it right, make sure to praise yourselfyou deserve that internal high five.