By Jennifer Boltz Harvey

I thought for the first article of this new health column, I would start by encouraging readers who want to improve their health – whether that be physical, mental or emotional – to “just start.” Start somewhere, anywhere. Start with something you feel needs some tending to. Maybe you’ve been thinking you need to start exercising, or you’ve noticed your sleep habits aren’t very good, or maybe you’ve been told by a physician you must start eating better (I will get more into these topics in future columns).  

I have found over my 11 years as a personal trainer and nutrition coach that many people get easily overwhelmed when starting a new health habit. The idea of changing can create anxiety and before the person even starts, they’ve talked themselves out of it altogether. Have you been there? I know I have. Which is why I think it important to take things little by little. Below is an outline I use when starting a new habit or helping a client to make a change. Having a guide to help you define your new habit and defining why you are doing it will make your goals less overwhelming and much easier to adhere to.  

Start by choosing the habit you’d like to achieve, along with why you want to achieve it and three things you need to accomplish to help you achieve it. Then, think about what will change when you achieve the habit. How will you feel when you achieve it? And finally, when would you like to achieve this habit?

Once you’ve filled out the guide, start the next step: breaking the goals down to make the habit happen. Break each goal into smaller steps until you have a clear vision of what needs to be done. 

If that seems like too big a challenge, start by using the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to help you set a goal.  

Specific: Clearly defined, not ambiguous.

Measurable: What criteria are you measuring and how will you measure your progress?

Achievable: Is the goal attainable?

Realistic: Is this goal reasonable and within reach?

Timely: Create a specific start and target end date.

For example: 

Perhaps a habit you’d like to start is to get “8 hours of sleep each night.” One of your goals to achieve this habit may be to start going to bed earlier. By using the S.M.A.R.T. method, the breakdown of that goal would look like this: 

Specific – Start by going to bed by 9:30 p.m. 

Measurable – Keep a calendar next to my bed and check off each day I make it into bed by 9:30 each night.

Achievable – Yes, I don’t need to watch TV past 9:30 p.m. 

Realistic – Yes, I am the only one responsible for making this happen. Nothing else is in my way. 

Timely – I am going to start my new bedtime routine today, and in three weeks I want to be consistently going to bed by 9:30 p.m.  

There are other methods you can use when goal setting, but I find this one to be the most effective. The method you choose is up to you, but no matter what, if you want to live a healthy and happy life, you must actively commit to pursuing it. Healthy and happy looks different for everyone, but the challenge of getting there is the same. Consistent small changes over time become habits. Consistent habits over time become a way of life. Consistency is the common denominator in the equation of achievement. If you wait for motivation to strike to make a change, you may be waiting for a very long time. So start now – you are worth it!