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5 Tips For Determining Realistic Health Goals That You'll Actually Stick With All Year (& Beyond)

Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor By Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.
5 Doable Steps You Should Make To Live An *Actually* Healthier Life

A healthy lifestyle is ultimately nothing more than a culmination of habits that support your goals and help you feel great. But setting those goals is half the battle, and it can be difficult to determine what to focus on that will be both achievable and sustainable over an extended period of time so you don't get discouraged. Creating realistic goals will put you on the path to success, and making small changes to your less healthy habits is just the first step toward crafting a lifestyle you can actually stick to. 

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A lot of us tend to set new goals at the beginning of the year, when it feels like a fresh, exciting start. But often, it can be easy to get a bit lofty with our expectations. For instance, if you're just starting out your health journey, instead of jumping to a goal like running a marathon or completing a triathlon (you'll get there!), it's worth figuring out the root of what you're hoping to achieve and starting with the basics.

Need a little help figuring out how to set those goals? That's a topic our mbg Health Coaching program covers at length, but here are a few expert-backed tips to help you suss out the best options for yourself and how to spruce up your existing ones:

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1. Start small.

There's a reason that one of the most popular running plans is the couch to 5K and not the couch to a full marathon. Especially if you're coming from a more sedentary or less healthy lifestyle, starting small with your goals is going to make it easier to sustain in the long term and can boost your confidence when you're actually able to achieve them. Are you going to be able to stick to something that forever seems out of reach? Probably not, so keep this in mind when creating a list of your primary health goals.

"Pick one to three things to focus on at a time," suggests dietitian, health coach, and mbg instructor Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, INHC. "My patients and clients have called my actionable, snackable recommendations 'little game-changers.' It's amazing what a difference even a tiny tweak can make." Setting these smaller goals will also allow you to be more flexible in your wellness approach, and especially if you're working around a busy lifestyle, you'll want to make your goals as realistic as possible.

2. Be flexible.

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to setting and adjusting your goals, and you should allow some leeway to alter your expectations as time goes on. Holding on to goals that are no longer relevant can actually hold you back, so taking time to reevaluate where you're at every few months and updating your plan to fit your current lifestyle will make sure your new habits actually stick.

"I sometimes see people holding on to old goals that no longer serve them but that are connected to a time in their life they see as better than where they are now," warns Cording. "Let's not forget that sometimes life can bring major challenges that are out of our control, and this can throw us off balance." Being able to pivot will make your goals sustainable for the long term, not to mention it's great practice for being flexible with whatever life throws at you.

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3. Make them meaningful.

It's time to be honest with yourself because if you don't really care about the goals you're setting it's unlikely you'll stick to them over a long period of time. So, what is meaningful in your health and wellness journey that you can work toward? Have you always wanted to do a set of pushups on your toes? Squat your body weight? Create a more balanced diet? The more personal your goals are, the better.

"You could start by creating a longer list of health goals, then prioritize what is most important to you. Start there," suggests Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., head of nutrition communications for The Wonderful Company. Once you have a general idea, write down the steps you'll have to take to reach those goals, making them achievable and motivating. These sub-goals will pave your way to success.

4. Make it easy for yourself.

Convenience is key when it comes to sticking to your goals, especially early on before you've established any real habits. Cording recommends surrounding yourself with the tools you need to succeed. This might include signing up for a workout streaming service (or checking out mbg's fitness routines), or meal planning to make nourishing your body as turnkey as possible. "With movement, choose a type of exercise you enjoy and can be consistent with. Think about potential barriers you may face, and create a plan to address them," she adds.

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5. Try habit stacking.

Maintaining new habits isn't always easy, so habit stacking is a great way to hack the system and integrate routines into your life that work alongside your current ones. "When you're doing something new, it can help to tack it on to an existing habit that's already sticky," suggests Moon. "Do you make coffee every morning? You could add 10 deep breaths, write down five things you're grateful for, or pack your healthy snacks for the day while it's brewing, for example." You just hacked your way to a new habit! 

The bottom line.

Setting goals that excite and motivate you makes creating a healthy lifestyle that much easier, and so long as you're being realistic about your expectations for the time it takes to achieve success, you'll be able to build a more sustainable life with consistency and a solid plan. Changes don't happen overnight, but choosing achievable goals broken down into bite-size pieces will make your health journey that much less daunting. Who says you have to wait for the new year to improve your life?

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