Now that we have made it out of January, let’s really talk about health. One of the biggest draws of the New Year is the idea that it is fresh, and new, and unmarred by the past. There is this inherent belief that this year will be better than the last. There is a hope that the barriers you experienced in the past will now no longer be a hindrance to your progress. The ideology that you can reset your life with the forward tick of a clock. Yet, the reality of the New Year is that you are still you, life is still happening and there is not magic stroke of midnight that evaporate all of your cares and worries.
However, there are skills, tactics and approaches that we can learn to better manage the reality that life is still the same. There has been a push to be “10% better” or to improve a little each day and by the end of the year you are ahead of where you were. In the health industry, most professionals discuss lifelong health behaviors or small, simple, sustainable changes. All of these approaches are helpful, but it comes back to the idea that health is not one decision, it is millions of little ones.
Oh, how we wish we could just say, “I don’t want to eat out anymore” and viola, you don’t eat out anymore. Or to start running and now you are a fanatic, watching marathon races on TV and frequenting your local shop to hang out with your runner friends. But, it is never that easy.
We may be running late and still feel overwhelmed with the day, and the thought of having to go home and decide what’s for dinner, make dinner, eat dinner, and clean it up afterward is just too much. And low and behold, eating out is now more appealing. We may start running and then the weather changes and its colder so you sleep in and skip your run a few times, falling out of the habit you had created.
If you want to succeed, you will need to understand that one decision will not make or break you. The slice of key lime pie for desert (or dinner), the pasta for breakfast, and the double bacon cheeseburger are not the end all, be all.
Now that we have moved passed the New Year’s craze, I challenge you to accept that you can make a different decision next time. Not to procrastinate your healthy choices, but to recognize that one “bad” choice doesn’t dictate the rest of your life. The issue with this or that thinking is that it is never as clear cut as “this” or “that”. Family may be in town, money may be tight, time might be limited, but these things can change and when they do, so can you.
First, take the time to recognize that information is just that, information.
The scale is not bad, and neither is the number on it. The amount of calories that you are recommended to consume are not made up information out to guilt you. Taking that step back from information and using it as a tool that informs your future decision rather than a tool to inflict guilt and shame on yourself will allow you to change.
Next, be willing to check in with yourself regularly.
This is best done once a week. If you are only checking in on yourself when you feel bad about yourself then you won’t want to review your behaviors and habits. However, checking in on yourself more frequently allows you to balance the “good moods” and “bad moods”. Checking in allows you to keep yourself accountable. Ask yourself:
Are you being understanding of yourself?
Are you being too soft on yourself?
What are your expectations?
How have you succeeded?
What do you still want to change?
Finally, this month, start with the small things. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, focusing on the snowball effect. This means that when you start small and get the ball rolling, you see success quickly, your confidence goes up and you have the desire to continue. Let’s use those same principles in regards to your health.
In the goal-setting world KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. This can come in handy, because when looking at health goals, often we try to complicate it. We have graphs, charts, plans, and overwhelming expectations that we might end up using against us when we have an off day.
Instead, drill down to what it is you want to accomplish.
- What do you want? Health? Okay, how would you define health? A physical fitness regimen, better management of a diagnosis, a mental state?
- How would you know when you have obtained health? When you complete a 5k? When your diet is mainly plant foods? When you go a hike with family and have fun rather than suffer the whole time?
Then make a small goal to start the snowball of health. The first thing could be setting up an appointment with your primary care physician this month to check your health status. Another could be having a meatless meal this week, or going on a walk today. These are simple tasks that you can do that will be considered easy wins. From there you could say, I want to try a new, healthy recipe this week. It is a small enough goal and it doesn’t need to be fancy.
By keeping it simple to start, you can recognize that you don’t need to get lost in the intricacies of the best way to improve your health. Instead, you are just taking steps to get better. And with these small goals, when you don’t do as well as you’d like it is easy to simply say, “I can try again next time”. We were just trying new things, it is not the end of the world if you don’t do it.
When you are setting goals, make sure that your goals are things that you can control. For example, setting the goal to eat a new vegetable this week is small, simple, and attainable.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they make goals based on the outcomes rather than the behavior. So, first things first, make sure that your goals are action, or process, based. These are the things you can control. You might not be able to control your work schedule to allow you to bring your lunch from home, and you can’t always trust that the number on the scale will change when you adopt healthy practices. That being the case, look at what you can control. For example, you could say, “I will eat a healthy breakfast 3 times this week.” This means that you don’t have to be “perfect”, and it allows you to have days where life might get in the way. Likewise, you could say, “I am going to walk for 4 hours this month by walking 1 hour a week”. This shows a long-term goal that is set up for success by using short-term goals.
As an ending note, enjoy your health. Find a healthy food structure or fitness routine that you enjoy. Because, if the results you are hoping for aren’t coming as quickly as you like, at least you are still having fun. Enjoy your food, enjoy your health.