We are coming up to that time of year when most people like to make New Year’s resolutions, but 95% of people will have given up on those resolutions before the end of January. Its to the point where gyms count on you buying that full-year membership on January 1 and then not using it for the majority of the year!
What is perhaps most sad about this state of affairs is that the most common things people resolve to do in the coming year revolve around their health- giving up smoking, losing weight and exercising more are the most common. So as a HEALTHcare provider, I feel that this an important part of my job to help people keep their positive, health-related resolutions.
To this end, for the month of December, I am going to do a series of posts about how to go about successfully implementing long-term changes that will help you achieve your health goals.
Let’s start here: Your mind.
Did you know that when you have an emotion, receptors on the cell surface get ‘locked’ into a specific shape that fits that neurotransmitter? It’s true and if you want to know more, I encourage to explore neurobiologist Candice Pert’s seminole work on the subject, “Molecules of Emotion.” The point is, there is a biochemical mechanism for how our thoughts create our reality and can either create or destroy our health.
So how can we use this knowledge in the achievement of our health goals?
- Know where you want to go. When your goal is simply “to lose weight” or “eat better” its too vague. How much weight? What kind of time frame? What does ‘eating better’ mean to you? We’ve all had the experience of having a project to do. When there is a deadline for when that project needs to be done, its much more motivating then when there is no deadline. Set a deadline for your goal. Define specifics- i.e., ‘I’m going to eat at least 5 servings a veggies a day.’ If your goal is a big one, break it down into smaller, more realistic ones. ‘I’m going to lose 10 pounds in two months’ or ‘I’m going to start by eating 3 servings of veggies and day and drinking 2 glasses of water for the next three weeks. Then I will add two more servings of veggies a day, drink 3 glasses of water a day and cut sweets down to 3 treats a week.’ The other advantage of this is that it gives you clear measures of success along the way. When you succeed at the smaller goals, it creates a ‘motivation snowball’ that helps you keep the momentum and motivation up to continue moving forward.
- Know your why. What is your core motivation? Why do you want to achieve this goal? Do you want to be a better example to your kids? To your family? Are there activities you enjoy that you are not able to do because of your current health? Identifying your ‘why’ is what often separates people who succeed at their goals from those who don’t. The catch is this: your ‘why’ needs to be powerful and intrinsic. Saying ‘I want to lose weight so I look better in a bathing suit’ generally isn’t’ powerful enough for most people. Why? Because it is a temporary and external goal. Very few of us, when tempted with pizza or ice cream, can say,’ but that bathing suit….’ Most of us will think, ‘screw it, give me the pizza, I don’t really care that much about what other people think.’ So your why needs to be something that is more powerful then what you may want at the time. Suppose your goal is to exercise more. Your motivation needs to be stronger then the comfort you get from sitting on the couch. It also helps if this goal is for you. Losing weight because you want to feel better about yourself is generally more powerful then doing it to please someone else.
- “Fail to plan and you plan to fail.” This relates to knowing where you want to go. Once you know where you want to go and your why, break it down and make a plan for how you will arrive at that end destination. If your goal is to eat better, are you going to go Paleo, vegan, or follow some other diet? Do you know how to eat that way? Do you have cookbooks to give you recipe ideas when you’re not sure what to make for dinner? Have you cleaned out your cupboards so there are no unhealthy foods to tempt you in a moment of weakness? This is a really powerful and important step. For most people, making a resolution stick in not about having enough willpower, but having a detailed plan. We all have moments of weakness, moments where it is very tempting to give up and go back to the comfort of our old habits. Having a plan in place to deal with such moments is the key.
- Visualize your success. I mean really visualize. Before bed and first thing in the morning, close your eyes and visualize what achieving your goal will be like. Be as detailed as possible. How does it feel? How is your life improved? Feel the happiness of having achieved this goal. Be grateful for it in that moment, treat it like its already true in your life. This is a powerful exercise that begins to align all the cells of your body with your new reality and sets the stage for lasting change.
So spend some time really thinking what your health goals are this year and why. Write them down. Write down why you want to achieve and then write down a detailed plan for how you will go about achieving them. In the post of this series, I will talk more about the specific ACTIONS to take to be successful at your goals.