Life is full of difficult circumstances that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and adrift from our healthy goals. But take heart: While most of us can’t avoid hardship altogether, experts say it’s possible for you to support your well-being even in trying times. One trick is to focus on choices you do have in the moment—and leverage their power to shape your future for the better.
When it comes to health-promoting behaviors that don't have an immediate payoff (e.g., being active to improve heart health), people who can connect to their future selves are more likely to engage in the activity than people who can't quite see beyond the present moment, research has found.
So, how do you achieve the forward-thinking mindset that can help you make tomorrow better than today? Reflecting on the habits and lifestyle parameters that help you feel your best is a great way to begin figuring that out, says Allison Grupski, PhD, WW’s director of behavior change. Then, you can start to chart a path. Read on for five little ways to set up “future you” for success in sleep, exercise, meal intake, and more.
“Today” tricks for a healthier tomorrow
Set a reminder to move.
Although physical activity is integral to feeling good for many folks, stress has a sneaky way of undermining workout habits. If that catch-22 feels familiar, consider combating inertia by setting a “get moving” reminder on your phone now—for tomorrow. Maybe your reminder is to try a streaming video workout. Maybe it’s for a lunchtime walk around your neighborhood, or a nighttime dance party in your living room. The choice of activity is less important than the nudge itself: You’re setting the intention in advance, before the following day’s stress takes hold. This helps lay the foundation for a repeatable goal. “When it comes to developing habits, the more frequently you repeat a behavior in the same environment, the more likely it will become habitual,” Grupski says. “Starting small and building from there is key.”
Pick out a power outfit.
This is for the work-from-home crowd: If you’ve been clocking in from your couch for a few weeks, chances are good that your wardrobe has become all PJs, all the time. Comfy? Sure. Ideal for feeling mentally sharp? Maybe not. A 2015 study in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that workers who dress in professional clothing—whatever that means for them—may enjoy an edge over super-casual dressers when it comes to cognitive tasks such as conceptual processing. The effect may stem from the perception of personal power, researchers say. So take some time today to choose a look for tomorrow that makes you feel unstoppable—and then be sure to change into it between waking up and working.
Map out meals.
Planning out meals and snacks can deliver plenty of nutritional benefits over time, according to a 2017 observational study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, including helping people eat a variety of nutritious foods and manage weight.
But there’s another perk that kicks in even sooner, Grupski says. By meal planning today, you can make tomorrow’s food choices feel easier by reducing demand on your willpower in the face of factors such as stress and over-scheduling. In other words, it’s easier to skip the bowl of ice cream when you’ve already determined you’ll be snacking on creamy Greek yogurt with fresh berries and toasted almonds that day. It’s decided!
So tonight, take a few moments to figure out the following day’s food approach based on your preferences, the ingredients you have on hand, and so on. Then, pre-track the day in the WW app or whatever tool makes sense for you. If your day goes sideways—and when hunger kicks in—you won’t have to think about what to eat. You can simply follow the map you made for yourself.
Turn down your bedroom temp.
After a night of tossing and turning, most of us would groggily agree: Sleep is critical for brain health and overall wellbeing, and even in the best of times, many adults fall short of seven or so hours a night that many health experts recommend. If stress has been been sapping your zzzs even more lately, the American Psychological Association recommends setting the stage for sound slumber by making your sleeping environment as cool, dark, and quiet as possible; tabling stressful conversations after dark; powering down your phone and TV before bedtime; and moving any clocks out of view so you can’t stare at the wee hours slipping by. A few small adjustments tonight can help ensure you wake up better rested in the morning—and better equipped for the day ahead.
Jot down a joyous event.
Tough times can feel endless—like they’ll never pass. In that case, it may help to pinpoint a few positive events on your horizon, suggests a small 2017 study of 40 adults in Frontiers in Psychology. Take a moment to think about the coming weeks and months, then write down three things you’re looking forward to in that time, big or small. Maybe it’s a major milestone like your 15th wedding anniversary this autumn, or a more modest source of joy, like your favorite author releasing a new book next week. Stick the note where you can see it as a tactile reminder that stress isn’t set in stone, and that the future continues to hold possibilities for happiness and celebration.
Jessica DiGiacinto is an associate editor at WW. A health and wellness writer and editor based in New York, she’s contributed to Popsugar, Bulletproof 360, and Galvanized Media, among other outlets.
This article was reviewed for accuracy in July 2021 by Megan Schreier, MPH, Senior Manager, Behavior Change Science Translation at WW. The WW Science Team is a dedicated group of experts who ensure all our solutions are rooted in the best possible research.