“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” ― Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die
Getting healthy is not a linear path.
With a chronic illness, there are good days and bad days. Recovery happens when the good days start to outnumber the bad.
Even as someone who is now in recovery, I still have days where I feel foggy, sluggish, and slow. And as someone who has, since getting well, completed a 30-day hike and run several triathlons, I was sad to see that being in shape is not something that magically stays when you stop working out. I wish I could flip a switch and say 'I’m ready to go back now', but unfortunately time and committing to new routines are the only way I'll get back in shape.
It was the same when I recovered from CFS. For years I wished for a pill or treatment that would cure me. But what it took was a dedication to lifestyle changes, and a new view on illness, to help me into recovery.
Some days, I get frustrated with my lack of progress. Whether it's recovering from CFS or getting in shape, setbacks are annoying. But I remind myself to breathe and take it all in stride.
But this time, as I shake off the winter dust from my running shoes, I know that I’ve been here before. In fact, I’ve been in a much worse place than this before. I know what I’m doing is going to work. And I know about how long it will take.
If you’re ill right now, you don’t have that foresight. You don't have the knowledge of success to keep yourself motivated. So it’s pretty easy to get discouraged and let your efforts fall by the wayside.
Yet doing nothing doesn’t feel good. Or doing the same thing that you’ve always done and you know won’t bring any results. So, when you’re not sure if something is going to work for you, how can you stay motivated to stick with a new activity or health plan?
How long does it take to see change?
Before looking at how to stay motivated, let’s look at how changes in the body work. It’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t feel like you’re making progress. But in today’s world of fast results, we often don’t realize that progress takes time.
We all have different bodies and different dispositions. What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you and visa versa. So it’s important to know when to keep pushing through with a plan and when to call it quits.
For most people, it takes 3-6 months to see results from a lifestyle change. Of course, you can feel some changes immediately. Many people feel good right after a yoga session or going for a walk in nature. But this good feeling doesn’t always last, at least at first. Cutting out fried foods in your diet might make you feel better after a few days, but you won’t notice the benefits to your digestive system or your waistline until a few months in.
This 3-6 month timeline may stretch even more for people with a chronic illness. Your body needs more rest and time to recover than someone who is just trying to shed a few pounds.
If you’re ready to take on a new lifestyle change, whether that’s starting a yoga and meditation practice, changing your diet or, spending more time outside you should give it a minimum of 3 months to see results. However, I’d recommend sticking to something for 6 months if possible. Of course, if you’re feeling adverse effects you should stop sooner or speak with your healthcare provider.
After 6 months, you can see if the change is sustainable, or if it’s just a ‘quick fix’ that made you feel temporarily better.
Of course, there are many people who will tell you otherwise. After just a few weeks you’ll lose x amount of pounds or have 10x more energy or whatever. Like a fad diet for chronic illness. But I’d be pretty skeptical of most of these quick fix promises. I’m sure some people can see a change quickly, but that’s the exception, not the norm.
For me, I started to see the benefits that yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and a customized diet could have on my health after about 1-2 months. But it took 6 months until I started to feel consistently better and more energetic. I had to live in the moment and accept the ups and downs.
How to stick with a new routine
The first step is to make a commitment to stick with your plan for 6 months. This way, you’re not spending energy evaluating if you’d like to continue or not. Pick a timeline, schedule it in your calendar, and commit to keeping an open mind for the duration of your change.
2. Do research before you begin.
6 months is a pretty long time to stick with something when you’re not sure if it’s going to have a long-term benefit on your health. So choose wisely which changes you’d like to make. Do some research to see if it’s likely you’ll get the results you want. Unfortunately, with chronic illness, scientific research can be lacking. But reading personal blogs, books, and new research in alternative fields can provide a lot of insight.
Of course, this is no guarantee it will work for you, but you can get a better idea of how successful the change is for others.
3. Be aware of immediate changes in the moment, even if they don’t last.
Notice how you feel in the moment. How do you feel when you’re doing your yoga practice? If more often than not you feel relaxed after, then why not continue?
Can you practice mindfulness throughout the day and tune into how you feel? Even if it doesn’t help you get better it can help you better learn where your limits are.
4. Keep a diary and compare your entries.
Gradual change can sometimes be hard to notice. Writing down how you feel each day after you do your new habit can help you compare over time if you are consistently feeling better or not.
There will always be bad days, so we’re looking for the general pattern of changes over time.
5. Track your progress with an app or spreadsheet.
Like a diary, you can get an app or spreadsheet where you record your activities each day. This could be one habit (did I practice yoga today?) or a combination of things (yoga practice (x), meditation (x), healthy meal (x), gone for a walk (x)). I use the myfitnesspal app or SparkPeople to track food and fitness when I’m trying to make a change. I've also used a spreadsheet to get a better idea of my progress over time.
Note: after about the 6-month point of a new change I stop tracking because it will (hopefully) have become a habit for me and who wants to always track their activities every day?
6. Commit to doing SOMETHING.
Even if it’s 5-10 minutes a day. Having a ‘what if’ plan can be helpful for sticking with a habit. For example, I plan to practice for 30 minutes every day, but if I’m not feeling up to that, or if I run out of time, I’ll do a 5-minute meditation.
7. Practice outside in the summer.
Getting out in the sunshine and being surrounded by nature can be a great way to boost your motivation. There have been many studies to show that being outside can lift your mood and boost your health, so why not combine this with your new healthy activity?
If it’s yoga, it’s easy to bring your yoga mat and smartphone or tablet outside with you. Even if you’re plan is to eat more fruits and veggies, why not eat outside once a day?
What if something is working well but you still can’t stay motivated?
Another challenge can be that sometimes you see results, but you still go back to your old habits. Example: I know I’m going to feel awful after I eat that pan au chocolat, ‘I shouldn’t eat this’ I say as I’m shoving it in my mouth.
So what if you’ve seen some, or a lot, of positive results from yoga or meditation (or whatever it is you’re doing) but you struggle to keep the habit?
1. Seeing your progress is a great way to stay motivated.
Whether you want to track it with a diary or spreadsheet, knowing that you’re achieving a goal and improving day by day can help boost motivation. What you measure is up to you. You can create a scale to measure fatigue, pain, brain fog, physical energy, mental energy, etc. You can measure your fitness level (did you start out walking for 5 minutes a day and now you’re at 15 or 20?), do you feel less sore after doing the same yoga video that use to strain your muscles before?
Seeing progress we’ve made is a great motivator to keep going!
2. Find a support network.
If you have friends working towards the same goals, you can keep each other motivated. There may be a support group for chronic illness patients in your city, but thanks to the internet there are also a lot you can find online. You can join a Facebook group or forum and ask for any friends who’d like to join on a lifestyle change commitment group!
3. Visualize or write down your goals.
Why is it that you really want to get better? Do you want to be able to play with your children or grandchildren? Work full time again? Travel the world? Hike in nature? Getting to the heart of your motivations for getting well can help keep you on track.
Motivation is something that everyone struggles with, whether it’s with our health or a new habit at work or at school. So know that you are not alone on this one.
There are strategies we can use to help us stay on track and keep that motivation! Of course, you’ll never be motivated 100% of the time. It’s okay to take some time off if you need it or skip a day of your practice. Just commit to getting back on track the next day!
Do you have any advice to stay motivated? Share it in the comments!