When I look back on my younger years, I shudder to think of my old habits. I used to have a 20-ounce bottle of soda and a bagel for breakfast almost every morning. I smoked. Exercise was almost non-existent. Like most people, I was not dreadfully unhealthy, I was just plodding along in my bad habits, not really realizing that I could change. But, nothing is further from the truth. While far from a health guru, I have to say that I would consider myself a very healthy person. Here are some of the ways I did it, and hopefully, this advice will inspire you to make the changes you want to make, but are having difficulty with.

1- Prioritize Stress Management

Stress is one of those things in life that we really cannot eliminate 100 percent. But, we do not have to be a prisoner to it. Many of us brag about our high levels of stress like it is something to be proud of, but it really isn’t. It messes with our mental and physical health in myriad ways and puts up a huge barrier to making positive lifestyle changes. High levels of stress make it hard to transition to a healthier lifestyle and will keep you stuck where you are. You feel less optimistic about your capability to truly change and you care less about being healthy. When I started making an effort to curb my stress, I was in a better place mentally, a place where it was easier to make the right decisions about my diet, physical activity and other aspects of my lifestyle.

2- Identify Core Motivators

If you are reading this article, it means that there is at least a small part of you that yearns to be a healthier person. There is some benefit you will believe you will achieve, that you want to experience. Maybe it is greater self-esteem or wanting to be a better example for your children. The clearer you are on why you want the things that you do, the less effort it takes to make the decisions that will get you the desired results. List out all the ‘’whys’’ behind the desire to change your habits and list out why you want those things—keep going until you get at the deepest motivations. This clarity is a powerful ally in positive change.

3- Do Not Expect Perfection

Sometimes you will not have time to get to the gym; sometimes you will want to eat something simply because it tastes good—there is no RDA for cheesy, delicious pizza or scrumptious chocolate cake. You do not need these items to survive but, rather, you eat them for pleasure. By letting go of the idea that I needed to have a perfect diet, forever free of sugar or refined carbohydrates, I developed a healthier relationship with food. I learned it was about making good choices most of the time, rather than swearing off certain items forever, caving and eating them and then being riddled with guilt.

Start off small with the desired changes and know that you may have your slip ups—you will commit to walking five miles ever day, but may fall off the wagon for a week or two. It is okay. Get back on the horse; every day is a new day to start fresh. You are thinking long-term here, and these hiccups will not mean a whole lot in the long run. Be kind to yourself—you are an imperfect being and that is perfectly okay. Once I let up on myself a bit, it was much easier to change.