by Teresa Corbett
Ah January. That time of year when we grieve over gluttony and exasperate over excess. However, it’s also a time of change and opportunity. The depths of winter are behind us, the days are getting longer and there’s a whole new year ready for the making.
At this time of year, people often reflect on their habits and decide to make a change in relation to their health and well-being. Making such health-related changes can be challenging. It can be difficult to distill information about what works and what doesn’t. Good intentions can quickly rust.
So how do you make a health-related goal and stick to it? I’ve compiled this list based on both experience and research. I hope it helps you to achieve whatever goal you have in 2016.
- Respect your body. Bodies can do so much, often without us even realising. Most of the time, our body is only thrown into our awareness when we get sick or injured (for example think about how much a simple little papercut can impact you!). Bodies deserve respect. They are our way of being in the world and they allow us to do the things we want to do. Your body is more than just a clotheshorse. It is the most high-tech, useful thing you’ll ever have. And you are the only person in charge of how well it works. So own it, insure it, valet it, service it, respect it.
- Figure out what motivates you and use that as your motivator. When you make a New Year’s resolution it is unlikely that there isn’t a reason why. Sometimes it can be useful to write down why you want to change and what you want to achieve. What do you value?
- Make the decision to change. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” The wise words of Henry Ford. So often you hear people say things like “Oh I would, but that’s just so not me” or “I’m not really into that kind of thing”. If you are trying to make a change in your life, you have to be open to new ideas. Read the books you never would have read. Buy the food you never would have eaten.
- If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. If you want to make a change, it might be a good idea to spend the first week or so of January thinking about how you are going to achieve the change. Set a quit date for smoking. Decide when you will schedule your exercise. Plan healthy meals for the coming weeks. Making changes requires planning ahead.
- Find what works for you. If you don’t like running, don’t run. Try spinning. If you don’t like spinning, try dancing. Figure out how to change by doing things that you enjoy. Its far more likely that you’ll stick to a beahviour if it is rewarding and enjoyable. My bodypump teacher always reminds us that “There’s always options”. In every class he reminds us that we don’t have to do the most difficult exercise, just what works best for us.
- Set realistic, achievable goals that match your motivation. Monitor your goals and see how well you are doing. There are many apps that you can download, or use diaries and calendars to mark milestones.You will often notice that the things that motivated you initially will change over time.
- Congratulate yourself on doing well. Use your success as an indication that you can achieve more success. Even small changes should be acknowledged.
- Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. This Dr Seuss quote is one of my favourites. Do your peers have your best interest at heart or are they a barrier to a change you want to make? Could your relationship function if you didn’t drink/smoke/eat unhealthily? Maybe you could just explain to them why you’re trying to change. Most people will usually be pretty encouraging. Some will probably say “Oh Id love to do that but I never could…” (That’s where you say “Do it with me!”)
- Have a buddy. Having someone to do all these things with is a great motivator. You’re probably going to be less likely to skip training or fall off the wagon if you know someone else is trying too. You can talk to your buddy on days you feel like giving in. You can plan adventure races to do together. You can go on a trip together on money saved from giving up coffee/cigarettes/ drinking etc.
- Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is central to making changes. We often do things because we “don’t want to let other people down” or “because I told them I would.” What would your life be like if you treated yourself like you treat your friends? Sometimes you need to take a day off or have a break because your muscles are sore or you need to unwind. If it’s only a once off it wont make a huge difference. Running one day doesn’t make you a marathoner. It’s the same with unhealthy behaviours.
- Take responsibility. Commit to making the change. Respect your decision to want to change and recognise that you are ultimately doing it for you. It wont work otherwise. “Just do it”-Not as inspiring as Dr Seuss, but Nike have made millions from this simple slogan. Sometimes procrastination and excuses can stop us from doing the things we want to do. It’s raining? Go for a run anyway.. you’ll get wet but you can have a warm shower after. In his book, “Eat and Run”, ultramarthoner Scott Durek says that his motivation was a line from his father. “Sometimes son, you just do things.” If you have a why and you can… why not?
Over the years, I’ve found that it is most useful to consider health as a way of life. Making healthy choices can become a habit that we practice each day. It can be useful to set goals along the way, but ultimately what you are doing now is an investment in your longterm health. Changes don’t happen over night. Neither does health. We might want to try and get healthy, but taking on too much at one time might seem daunting. So maybe for now… just make one small change. Healthy changes can spread into other areas of our life.