Challenge Yourself to Stay Motivated

Motivation is necessary for success in any endeavor, and that is certainly true when the goal is to lower risk for type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle changes. The right amount of challenge can inspire you to achieve new heights, and here is how to do it.

Why Challenge Yourself?


It may seem strange to add in challenges if everything is going well and those healthy choices are coming more naturally. Will it not interrupt the good momentum? More likely, it will add to the momentum by increasing your efforts. Challenging yourself can have many effects.

It can keep you focused, especially as you get accustomed to a program such as Lark DPP or as you approach your original goals. Weight maintenance and regain provides a classic example, as many people are able to lose weight, but are unable to keep it off. This can come as motivation wanes when the scale stops moving down, and the regain is usually related to gradually slipping away from new eating patterns and returning to old ones, which leads to weight creeping back on. A challenge can shift focus from a static scale to progress in a different area.

Similarly, challenges can increase engagement as you plan your strategy and track your progress. Being engaged increases awareness around health and energy, which in turns leads to more motivation to improve these aspects.

Finally, challenges can make healthy choices seem closer within reach because of their temporary nature. It is far easier to commit to and strive for, say, a week of cutting desserts in half than to commit to never having a full dessert again. Knowing that success is possible makes it easier to start the challenge.

Challenge Guidelines


Setting challenges is a lot like setting goals. A good challenge is, well, challenging, but not impossible to complete. If you normally cook for the family and have years of experience in the kitchen, “I will try three new recipes this week” may be appropriate. If you are a rookie in the kitchen, a more appropriate challenge might be, “I will cook a healthy meal this week.”

The challenge should take some effort, but have room for error. Progress towards a challenge such as, “I will only eat whole grains, not refined, for the next two weeks” can quickly be derailed if your child offers you a pretzel while she is eating a snack, while a goal such as, “I will eat at least one serving of whole grains each day” allows for real life to happen.

Since there are many circumstances beyond our control, challenges are more sensible when they are focused on process, not outcomes. For example, “I will spread mustard instead of mayonnaise on my bread,” is a controllable challenge, while, “I will lose 2 pounds this week,” may or may not happen, depending not only on what you eat and how much you exercise, but also on whether you retain water on weigh-in day and whether stress interferes with your metabolism.

Challenges should also allow for flexibility to allow for unexpected events. For example, a challenge such as, “I will hike 4 days this week,” may be realistic yet challenging for you, but absolutely impossible if it rains on your scheduled hiking days. Rather than counting it as a failure, it is good to be flexible and count an indoor workout alternative as a success.

Food-Related Challenges


Food-related challenges can inspire ongoing weight loss or weight maintenance, as well as healthy choices to lower risk for type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions. They can be phrased negatively, such as, “I will not have french fries this week,” it can be more motivating and fun to phrase them positively, such as, “I will order a side salad when I order lunch this week.”

These are some other examples of food-related challenges.

  • Eat at least 3 servings of vegetables at least 5 days this week. (This is a great one to track with Lark!).

  • Try a new recipe or buy a new healthy food at the supermarket.

  • Swap at least one ingredient to make the recipe healthier next time you cook or bake, such as swapping canola oil for butter in baking or butternut squash for cream in a pot pie.

  • Pack a healthy lunch instead of eating out at least twice this week.

  • Sneak a vegetable into dinner recipes at least four times this week. For example, blending butternut squash into mac and cheese or pureed cooked carrots or bell peppers into pasta sauce.

Fun challenges can serve an additional purpose because they help make healthy choices fit better into your life. These are some examples.

  • Create a healthy meal that your fussy kids or spouse will eat. Chili is a great one to add turkey and vegetables instead of ground beef.

  • Let your kids help make a healthy meal, such as pizza on whole-grain pita.

  • Three times this week, make a change to your eating environment to make it more pleasant. E.g., soft music, a candle, flowers, tablecloth

Activity and Fitness Challenges


It is especially important with activity and fitness challenges not to compare yourself to others. They may be naturally better athletes or more adept at certain activities, for example, or have a longer history of working out regularly. Comparisons can lead to injuries from pushing too hard, or being discouraged if not performing at the same level as someone else. (That is not to say you should not work out with someone at a different fitness level…buddy workouts can be motivating, fun, and educational!).

These are some examples of challenges related to physical activity and fitness.

  • Work out 20 days in the next month.

  • Try one new fitness class at the gym each week for a month.

  • Add higher-intensity bursts to a workout twice this week.

  • Add an extra 10 minutes of walking three times this week.

  • Learn a sport.

  • Sign up for and train for a 5k walk.

  • Walk to do at least one errand this week that you would normally drive to do.

Other Lifestyle Challenges


Many other lifestyle choices can improve health and lower diabetes
risk
, so they are worth considering. In fact, Lark includes coaching on other lifestyle areas for that very reason. Such choices may improve energy or reduce stress, which in turn can lower risk for type 2 diabetes. They may simply make you happier. These are some examples.

  • Spend 20 minutes, three times a week over the next month, learning a new hobby such as crossword puzzles, knitting, or scrapbooking.

  • Dedicate 30 minutes on the weekend to yourself, such as gardening or getting a massage.

  • Get an extra 15 minutes of sleep five times this week.

Challenging yourself can increase motivation to work hard, and can boost confidence when you succeed. Plus, can help maintain focus on healthy intentions while improving self-awareness. Why not start challenging yourself today?

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Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

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