Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that we never even consider. If you struggle with motivation, consistency, or just need a kick in the ass, this list is for you. It’s a practical approach that will help you eat better, exercise more effectively, and win the mental battle that allows you to improve your health.
Some of these tips might seem a little too simple. Others might sound bizarre. But all of them have been proven to be effective. So what are you waiting for? Maybe it’s time to give them a try.
1. Think less
Most people looking to improve their health and fitness have a common theme—and it’s not weight loss, muscle gain, or improving their 5K time. It’s paralysis by analysis. Health has been examined from so many different angles that we’ve turned what should be small, simple life decisions into a
complex equation that makes living healthy a frustrating process. People need to spend a lot less time wondering if they need to eat exactly 27 minutes after their workout is over (nope), if antioxidant-infused cereal will fight off disease (it won’t), or debating whether white bread and rice should never be consumed (for the record: the white stuff won’t kill you).
The more you focus on the little details, the farther you get from the big picture. So start simple.
Eat more natural foods. Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein (whether animal or not—depending on your dietary preferences). It can be a battle for people who don’t like these foods, so swap them gradually. Make “shakes” if you must, but there’s nothing special about those either. They’re just another way to make eating healthier a little bit easier. Find an eating schedule that works—whether it’s 3 or 6 meals. Limit the amount of crap you eat. Hit the gym—and work hard. But find a program that’s both challenging and fun. Make it a game and workout with friends. If you hate the gym, don’t force it (at least not initially). Find other ways to push yourself hard like playing sports or swimming. Activity has many faces.
You’ll find that starting simple can be incredibly effective. Because when you think too much, you oftentimes don’t act at all. Or you make yourself believe that it’s too hard. As the saying goes, “nothing happens until you start moving.” So what are you waiting for?
2. Write More
I’m constantly asked how I stay motivated. After all, the psychological and mental approach to your health is probably the most underrated aspect of the industry. Most people don’t inherently enjoy exercise or eating well, so they need to know how to push their buttons to elicit behavior. So if I’m struggling, I use a technique that works for me at my job: I write down my goals. In fact, I start every day writing down my goals for the entire day. It might consist of articles I need to complete, attending meetings, eating more vegetables, hitting the gym, and making dinner for my wife. It’s my own accountability checklist. And that list stays with me all day as a reminder.
I sincerely enjoy the process of crossing off items on the list. It gives me an agenda and a goal. And when I fall short of my expectations, it only provides more motivation to improve the next day. Admittedly, writing a checklist might not be your style, so find what makes you work harder in your life and apply it to fitness. But there’s something about writing it down that makes it feel more binding.
3. Track your progress
This is simple: You don’t know where you’re going or what you’ve achieved (or haven’t achieved), if you can’t accurately see where you’ve been. The reality is, most people underestimate how much they eat and overestimate how much they exercise—and that includes people who are in great shape.
Track your foods. Track your fitness. There are many free sites that you can also download it on your mobile app. There’s a reason people have burned tens of millions of pounds (yes, literally that much) using such apps, it works. Give it a try and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.
4. Reward yourself
In every area of life, we create an expectation that good performance will yield some additional benefit. In work, this manifests itself as a raise. In your personal life, it’s a vacation. Health and fitness should be no different. You should be setting short and long-term goals, and rewarding yourself with things that matter to you. That can be a trip, new clothes, tickets to a sporting event, or whatever brings you joy. It not only reminds you that you’ve done a good job, but it offers a little extra motivation. Your health and longevity should be enough to keep you pushing forward (after all, you only have one life to live), but sometimes it’s tough to see the forest through the trees. So go ahead: Bribe yourself. If that’s what it takes to keep you eating well and hitting the gym, the investment is more than worth it.
5. Eat dessert
Some of you might disagree, but I believe that every diet has room for dessert. In fact, science agrees with me. At the end of the day, your effectiveness at gaining or losing weight is a simple caloric equation. Did you eat more or less calories than you burned? This is why tracking your calories is so effective—you can actually know if you’ve had too much, or if you have a little room to spare. It’s no different than budgeting your money.
Me? I like to budget some dessert into my life. The problem for most people is being able to cut themselves off or becoming hooked on the sweet stuff. So start infrequently until you have a handle of what you can do successfully. But eating right shouldn’t be painful. Life is about enjoying—so save some room for your favorites.
6. Challenge your beliefs
I think stubbornness is a disease, and one that is very prevalent in the health field. We all have our personal preferences, and that’s fine. But oftentimes what we hold true isn’t actually reality. And that doesn’t mean that every new trend or research needs to be applied to your life. That’s not what living is about.
You’re still the one who will determine what’s best for you. And you might have reasons for following the diet you choose or the exercise plan that you enjoy. But that doesn’t mean anything that runs contrary to your personal preferences doesn’t work or is wrong. The best way to improve health—globally—is to improve education and reduce ignorance. And the only way to do that is by keeping an open mind. I’m constantly learning and many of the things I “knew” yesterday won’t necessarily be true tomorrow. But I’m OK admitting when I’m wrong, as long as it means I’m informed and I can do a better job of helping people live a better life.
7. Visit your doctor
Be like Nike and Just Do It!
(Does this really need more of an explanation? There are enough hidden diseases and problems that you need a professional to check on your health. You can thank me later)
8. Ask questions
This is closely linked to #6 (Challenge Your Beliefs). You should never feel that you need to blindly accept what is viewed as common knowledge. You should not only understand your behaviors—but understand why. It’s easy for us to just follow the lead of the majority. Heck, it’s even happened to me several times in this field, and this is what I do for a living.
It’s embarrassing to me, but there was a period in time when I was suckered into believing that all carbs were bad. So I removed them completely. Breads, fruits, veggies. You name it. Sure, I was young and stupid, but it happened. Even more recently, I used to avoid eating big meals late at night or I thought that 6 meals a day was the best way to approach a diet. While either of these methods CAN be effective, they aren’t the rule. You can eat big late at night, just as there’s nothing wrong with eating two meals a day. But I was only able to draw those conclusions by looking at my behaviors and making sure that there was a legitimate reason for what I was doing.
Even if you’re learning from someone who is smarter and more experienced than you, that’s not a reason to hold back your questions. If they can’t give you a good reason—and an informed reason, then there’s a good chance there’s more flexibility to what you’re doing and how you can live than you might have previously thought.
9. Sleep more
When you get more rest, you burn more fat, build more muscle, feel better, perform better, are smarter, don’t feel as hungry, have more energy, ward of disease, and age better. Any questions?
Aim for at least 8 hours per night. That’s the sweet spot. (And yes, I’m bad at this too. We can all work on it together…well, not literally. Don’t think my wife would like that)
10. Grade yourself
Need another motivation trick? Create a grading system where you assess your health from everything that makes a difference (eating, sleeping, exercise, free time, achieving your goals). And then rate yourself every week, two weeks, or month. It’s a great way to establish self-accountability. If you know you’re grading yourself, it might incentivize you to work harder.
Even more effective? If you don’t make the grade, you receive some sort of punishment that you actually care about. Consider it your health detention—and earning your way out can pay big dividends to how you look and feel.
11. Take pictures
Listen, I know that taking pictures of yourself is not the most comfortable thing to do. But that’s exactly why you should do it. At some basic level, we all possess vanity traits—even if that isn’t why you train or eat well (I do it to fight off disease and injury—two things that have plagued me in the past). So when you see an image of yourself, it can serve not only as motivation, but also as a starting point so that you know how far you’ve come. Not all goals are aesthetic, so this does not apply to every health goal. But it’s still something I’d recommend. We all need reminders sometimes about how far we’ve come and what we accomplished.
Or, if you’re weird like me, you can take pictures of your fridge and pantry. And then track how much you change your eating habits.
12. Read labels
If you want to start eating better, you should know what’s in your food. Check the total number of calories, the macros (proteins, carbs, fats), and even the ingredient list. If your food doesn’t have an ingredient list (think fruits, veggies, lean sources of protein), then you’re probably buying the right stuff.
13. Train Less
Most people overestimate how much exercise they actually need to be fit. You can train 5 or 6 days per week if that’s what you want and enjoy. It can be done. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary. I rarely train for more than 45 to 60 minutes per session, and usually only 3 or 4 days per week. And some weeks, especially when I’m on the road, I’ll do some metabolic workouts that take only 15 to 20 minutes—and they are some of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done. In fact, every Tuesday and Thursday I lead my company through a 30-minute boot camp. You can ask them: It’s more than long enough to see results and feel great.
Most people think they don’t have time to exercise. And I completely respect the difficulty of your busy schedule. But there are few things more important than your health. And it requires much less time and maintenance than you think. So find the time that works best in your day, and make it a part of your schedule. Start with just three days, and see how you respond. If you’re doing the right things, I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.
14. Train harder
Once you start exercising consistently, make sure you are pushing yourself as hard as you can. This does not mean just doing endless reps and spending hours in the gym. As I just mentioned, a longer workout is NOT a better workout. Your success will ultimately be determined by your intensity. That means being focused. No more cell phones or checking emails. No more watching TV for 5 minutes between sets. Your mind should be on the job at hand. It’s no different than when you’re at work: If you’re multi-tasking, your primary focus will suffer. Don’t let your body suffer. Work hard, work efficient, sweat, laugh, and enjoy. And then rest. Keeping you fresh and energized is all part of a good plan.
15. Cook More
If you want to eat better, start here. Most restaurants load your foods up with unnecessary calories in an attempt to make the food taste better. But you know what? Good foods are inherently delicious. They don’t need much “dressing up” to bring out the flavor. Cooking puts you in control of your diet, and allows you to develop new favorites. It also helps you have leftovers—which prepares you for the following workday and ensures better eating habits. It doesn’t have to be fancy or time-consuming, but a little extra time in the kitchen will probably result in a few extra pounds off the scale