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How often are your best health and fitness intentions thwarted when your willpower wanes, and is there anything you can do to stop this happening? 

Antonia Macaro, a long time Bristol Nordic walker who provides coaching with a focus on health and personal development, explains her top tips for keeping motivated.

When it comes to health advice, we might not know everything but we know enough to be able to make healthy choices. True, information about healthy diet is not always consistent, but the advice to eat as many vegetables as possible, and at least five portions a day, does not seem likely to change any time soon. The same goes for exercise being good for more or less every condition, physical and mental, and the advice to make sure we do at least half an hour of it every day. The exact figures may get tweaked on the basis of new research, but we get the gist. We need to be more active. 

Sometimes information is all we need, and then our motivation follows like a well-trained pet. For instance, we discover that our blood sugar level is raised, or we are overweight, and we find we just don’t want to get through our stash of chocolate, or eat anything sugary anymore. Easy! But alas, actually doing what we know is good for us is not always that smooth. More often our motivation remains stubbornly stuck in its previous position, leading us towards things we know are not good for us. Or the other way around: we know we need to exercise more but our actual motivation just isn’t on board. 

What can we do when what we know and what we are motivated to do come apart? First of all accept this is normal! Think of yourself as a complex being with many different, sometimes conflicting parts, some more interested in long-term wellbeing and some in short-term gratification. So how can we make sure we don’t allow the part of us that wants to cling to the same old habits to sabotage our long-term health goals? 

Here are a few tips. 

1 Get clear on the benefits and costs of change 
Maybe you have good reason to believe that to stay healthy you need to change your diet, or exercise more, or give up smoking. But it’s often easy to put the whole thing out of our mind, postpone, tell ourselves we’ll deal with it at some point. Instead, remind yourself of the reality of the situation by writing it all down. Exactly what are the likely consequences if you don’t make this change? Also make another list: how is this change likely to improve your life? You may find that the list of potential benefits is very long and that of drawbacks short, often amounting to the single fact that change is hard. And that is true: changing long-standing habits can be difficult, so start by accepting this and committing yourself to making that effort. It’s not so bad. 

2 Make a plan 
Once you’ve set a goal for yourself, get practical: what can you put in place to give yourself a nudge and make things easier for yourself? How can you commit yourself to the new routine? If you need to exercise more, a good example would be joining Bristol Nordic Walking! If diet is the problem, look at your shopping habits and make sure you have healthy alternatives in the fridge. If drinking is the issue, think of avoiding certain places and situations and exploring new ways to destress, for instance. 

3 Challenge your thinking 
The part of you that doesn’t want to change will probably try all sorts of tricks: ‘this is not the right time’; ‘it’s too hard’; ‘I can’t do it’; ‘it doesn’t really matter’. Be wary of it. Maybe it genuinely isn’t the right time, but it’s more likely to be an excuse. Write down all these thoughts and answer them from the healthy part’s point of view. You should have found out why it does really matter, and why it’s worth making an effort, from the first exercise. If you’re finding it hard, what resources do you already have or can get to support you? 

4 Be compassionate towards yourself when you mess up 
Messing up is also normal, and giving yourself a hard time is not likely to help. Instead, remind yourself of the goal and start again. Straight away, not next week. With kindness.” 

AntoniMacaro (antoniamacaro.com)