Healthy living–is there anything more idealized in our culture and yet more difficult to achieve? One of the barriers to our health is that, while there’s no shortage of helpful experts communicating what we should do, healthy living is extremely personal.

What works for your best friend, your coworker, and your mother-in-law might not work for you. The ideal option, then, is to create a customized healthy living plan, but how can you do that when you’re not even sure where to start?

Take a deep breath, relax, and keep reading, because we’re sharing our best tricks, tools, and tips to guide you through the process of creating your own customized healthy living plan, one that will help you reach your goals without depriving yourself, losing your identity, or making you miserable.

Health Food

Image via Pulse

Step One: Assess

While your first inclination upon trying to create a customized healthy living plan may be to enroll at your local gym, that is not the best place to start. Instead, we’re going to make a plan. We’re willing to bet, in fact, that if you’ve tried and failed at New Year’s resolutions, weight loss goals, or other objectives, it’s because you either didn’t make a plan, or your plan was comprehensive and realistic enough.

The first step in your plan, however, is to assess your current situation and assessment. A good step here would be to visit your doctor for a physical. Are you healthy overall or do you have areas to work on? It’s not uncommon for individuals, especially as we start to age, to experience fatigue, stiff or injured muscles, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, or muscle weakness.

Your doctor can also help by pointing out red flags, such as high cholesterol.

Another great tool during the assessment process is good ‘ol fashioned dreaming! Think about where you want to be in ten years–and who you want to be! Think about what kind of legacy you want to leave. Think about what has made you happy in the past and consider areas in your life–such as work, community, and so forth–where you’re not happy.

This process shouldn’t happen in an hour or two; instead, it can take up to a month. You can talk it through with friends and family, but try to avoid people who will be negative or critical during this time.

Assessment is all about stepping back and taking a look at where you are and where you want to be, but it’s not about judging yourself or your past choices.

Step Two: Make a Plan

Goals are powerful things; in fact, a Harvard Business Study found that MBA students who wrote their goals down upon graduation (a mere 3% of graduates had done so) were a whopping ten times more successful than the 97% of graduates who hadn’t.

Certainly, the lesson here is to write your goals down, but the even more important lesson is to simply have goals in the first place!

However, unless you’re one of those rare people who’s great at setting (and reaching) goals, we’re willing to bet that you’ve never learned how to set the right kind of goals. That’s about to change, though!

We love the S.M.A.R.T method for goal setting. “Smart” is an acronym that helps you keep five important principles in mind when you’re developing your goals. Here’s what each letter stands for:

S is for Specific

Saying “I want to live a healthy lifestyle” sounds good, but it’s too vague to make a plan around. Instead, identify what healthy lifestyle means to you, and answer the five W’s:

  • Why do I want to do this?
  • Who is involved in me reaching my goal?
  • Where is my goal located or where are my resources?
  • Which resources do I have or which circumstances do I need to keep in mind?
  • What do  I want to make happen?

M is for Meaningful

If your goal isn’t crystal clear, your why won’t be clear either, and psychologists now understand that your why is perhaps the most important part of building a customized healthy living plan.

For example, wanting to lose weight is largely unhelpful, but wanting to decrease your risk of heart disease and strengthen your endurance so that you can play with your kids will help you stick to your plan of action, even when it gets tough.

A is for Attainable

It’s vital that you consider your resources potential obstacles when considering how to attain your goal. For example, if your goal is to have Beyonce’s body, you’re going to have to carve out considerable time into your daily schedule to work out. Do you have that time? If not, what is your plan for making that time?

This can sometimes but a gut-check, but it’s an important part of the process of building a customized healthy living plan that works!

R is for Results-Based

Another word for results-based is “measurable.” Essentially, you’re trying to find out how you can track your progress. How will you know you’re getting closer to your goal? Everyone fails, and it’s important to understand how to deal with that, but it’s also important that you’re able to see some kind of overall progression.

Remember our goal of decreasing your risk of heart disease and increasing endurance so you can play with your children? Progress might look like being able to play with them for longer periods of time, without needing to stop for a break. It’s important to track your time over the course of your goal-reaching period to help you stay motivated!

T is for Timely

Speaking of time, when you do you want to have achieved your goals by? We recommend a long period when it comes to creating a customized healthy living plan. Afterall, you’re trying to make a lifestyle shift, and that, quite simply, takes time.

Don’t give yourself a month or two. Instead, we recommend making a two or three-year plan with quarterly progression goals. You might, for example, use the first half of your first year to use weight loss plans to start losing weight and use the second half of your first year to focus on learning to become a meal planner using healthy eating plans.

Small steps that you take are always better than huge steps you don’t take.

Step Three: Change How You See Failure

There’s a famous scene from the kid’s animated movie called “Meet the Robinsons.” In it, Lewis creates an invention that fails spectacularly. Instead of mocking, berating, or criticising him, the whole family bursts into wild cheers and applause.

This movie character’s family, you see, had learned the value of failure. While many of us are terrified to start something new because we think we’ll be bad at it or think we’ll never meet our goals, the problem with that attitude is that we always stay where we are, ultimately becoming stuck.

A step towards a healthy lifestyle using your newly-created customized healthy living plan might be just one step, but every step you take is still better than not starting at all. Instead of fearing failure or “falling off the wagon,” plan for those times when you’ll be too tired to hit the gym or when you can’t help running through the drive-thru.

Plan alternate workouts at home or teach yourself to choose healthier options at fast food places. Or, simply choose not to beat yourself up. Failing doesn’t make you a failure if you choose to try again the next day! Plus, if you’re smart, you’ll take advantage of the lessons you learned and be better prepared next time.

Step Four: Find Support

Our last step might, in fact, be the most important! Over and over again, we find that people who have a strong support network, who give voice to their goals and are working towards a common goal with other people, are far more likely to achieve them than the people who struggle to find support and accountability.

Whether it’s an exercise support group, a friend who wants to lose weight as well, or just your whole family coming together to rally around a common cause, finding people who can help you reach your goal is clutch.

What Are You Waiting For?

If you’ve been dragging your feet about creating a customized healthy living plan, now’s the time to assess your circumstances, make a plan using the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting technique we taught you, learn to overcome your fear of failure and start finding an incredible, supportive community.

Trust us, you always regret not starting, but you never regret trying. Let’s get moving; the new, healthier you awaits!

Feature images via Eliminate Pain. Stay Health. Perform Better