It's the first week of January and all over our country people are making hopeful resolutions about the new year. Business is booming at health clubs, no doubt. Sales of fitness gear, weight loss products, and self-help books should be doing well. The start of a new year is a prime opportunity for many of us to start in a new, healthier direction.
As I've discussed here before, though, our resolutions don't always produce the desired results. In fact, more often than not, we don't achieve our resolutions. In the face of this discouraging news, some folks give up on resolutions all together. They doubt their ability to alter their lives in a meaningful way.
As a coach, I've seen lots of folks make changes — some that are outwardly visible and others that are subtle, but perhaps just as meaningful. Each person's journey is different. The problem isn't that resolutions don't work — the problem is that having a dream and realizing a dream are two very different things that require different skills and a different level of commitment.
If you're committed to making a healthy change in your life, here are seven important steps that you can take to help yourself succeed.
1) Envision your healthier self — As William Arthur Ward said, "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it." Once you can imagine how it would be to be healthier, your brain is primed to begin problem-solving and figuring out how to get you where you want to go. Being able to get in touch with what you want and why you want it is a powerful motivator that pulls you forward. Focusing on the positives of what this new possibility will provide will generate much more power than if you get bogged down in imagining things you might want to be rid of. For more information about tools to use to create a vision, check out this earlier post.
2) Choose a goal that is aligned with your vision — Use the SMART acronym to help you create a specific goal statement. A strong goal will be clear; provide a level of challenge that is motivating, but not overwhelming; elicit a sense of commitment; provide opportunities for feedback; and be achievable in the timeframe that you specify. When you have your goal statement, pay attention to how you feel about it. If you feel excited and a little bit nervous, then it probably provides enough of a stretch for it to be motivating. If you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, it may be too ambitious. Consider reworking it and aiming for something that feels more achievable. If you get stuck, a coach can help you clarify your focus and "right-size" your goal.
3) Determine what action steps will help you reach your goal — Creating a plan is very useful in helping make your goal feel more achievable. I find that when clients feel overwhelmed, breaking the plan into smaller steps helps them get "unstuck". It is better to start small and build on your success, than to feel paralyzed. Remember the adage, "little by little wins the race." Small changes over time can make a big difference!
4) Take action and pay attention — Use principles of mindfulness to notice what works and doesn't work. It is often helpful to view your actions as experiments and opportunities for learning. Whether or not your actions produce the results that you intend, they will provide rich information if you pay attention. Noticing and using this information is what will help you work smarter — customizing your approach as you learn what works best for you.
5) Identify systems and processes that will help you take consistent action — In the end, we want to develop sustainable habits that will produce the results that we want. If we have to work too hard, we're more likely to get derailed at some point. Think about what keeps you on track or pulls you off track. What will support you? Consider how you can leverage your normal daily routines and social support structures to create longterm habits.
6) Track your progress — Decide what indicators you will use to give yourself feedback and make sure that they are motivating to you. Don't feel constrained by the "usual" measures. For example, you may want to achieve a healthier weight. You could choose to track your body weight, or you could use a different measure like lean body mass, waist circumference, clothing size, comfort, energy level, or flexibility. You could also choose to track behaviors in addition to or instead of results. You could track how much water you drink, number of steps taken, or servings of vegetables eaten per day. Whatever you choose, use the feedback to tweak your plan if needed. Feel free to change your tracking strategy too, if needed. If you keep it simple, you're more likely to keep it up.
7) Celebrate your accomplishments — As you move in a healthier direction, notice and celebrate all the things that are moving you forward. Accomplishments can include actions taken, results achieved, or insights gained. You're the one who gets to say what counts as an accomplishment, so be generous with yourself! A sense of accomplishment will provide you with additional motivation, so this is not the time to be stingy!
If you're committing to building greater wellness, I'd love to know about what you learn. What parts of the process seem easy or challenging? What resources are you finding helpful? I'm always grateful for the inspiration and insight that other health-seekers provide.
If you find yourself getting stuck or would like additional support in the change process, please contact me to discuss whether or not health coaching could be helpful. I'm always available for a complimentary call to answer your questions and help you identify resources to support your well-being!