2016 rings in a renewed commitment to health and fitness for many people. If you have the right tools and support, a solid plan, and are really committed to accomplishing your goals, YOU CAN DO IT. Here is a checklist of steps to get you started. Although you have probably heard these before, you might have missed a step here or there which got you off track. Print this list and use it to help you approach that New Year’s resolution with the power of a defensive tackle playing for the Super Bowl win.
- Decide to take control. Do something about the aspects of your health and life that you can change. While genetics is an important factor in determining our risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer, our lifestyle plays a very important role as well. Together, these two factors account for 90-95% of most chronic illnesses¹. This is actually good news, as it means we have lots of control over our health. Lifestyle factors that we can control include the foods we consume, how much we consume, the amount of physical activity we get, how we manage stress, and whether we maintain a healthy body weight. Environmental factors that affect our health include overexposure to pollutants and the sun.
- Make a list of the things you need and want to change in the New Year. Next, rate how confident you are that you can change that behavior on a scale of 1 – 10. One represents no confidence in your ability to change and a 10 means you are very confident that you can make the change. Now start with the item you rated highest. You are more likely to be successful in achieving goals when you rate your confidence level a 7 or higher. Remember that success builds confidence. So as you find success in achieving one goal, it is good to go back later and re-rate your confidence level for the items on your list as it may improve.
- Take one step at a time. Choose one item from your list and start there. Once that behavior becomes a habit then select another behavior from your list. Trying to change too many behaviors too quickly becomes overwhelming and creates anxiety which can shake your confidence.
- Be realistic. If you have not exercised in 10 years, set a goal of exercising 2-3 days per week at first. Although the current public health guidelines for physical activity recommend a minimum of 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity exercise to obtain health benefits, it is not realistic for most people to start there.
- Set very specific goals. If your goal is to “start exercising” and three months later, your only activity is walking the dog for 10 minutes, 3 days per week, have you met your goal? Some would say yes and others no. The goal is not specific enough. To learn to set SMART goals, check out this “how to blog”. Setting specific, measurable goals will keep you on track.
- Schedule it and use reminders (cues). Place reminders on your calendar to keep you on track. That might include an appointment with yourself for exercise, a shopping list, or a reminder to locate a healthy recipe to try. Any cue you can create for healthy behavior will help you change. For a list of ways to create healthy cues like stashing apples in your desk when you have a “snack attack” and removing negative cues like hiding those high calorie treats in the back of your pantry, check out this blog on controlling your environment.
- Make a list of those who can support you. Think BIG; consider co-workers, friends and neighbors in addition to family members. Nix those who won’t hold you accountable. If someone lets you off the hook if you fail to follow through, then that person should not be on your support list. Next to each name, make a note about ways each person will support you and how you can support them in return. That could be anything from watching each other’s kids in a pinch so you can work out, meeting for a workout, sending an e-mail, or calling each other with words of encouragement.
- Get informed. It is easy to find information on nearly any topic you want on the internet. The problem is that much of this information comes from sites trying to sell their products. That’s not all bad, but sometimes these sites don’t provide you with all the facts that you need to make a well-informed decision. Make the extra effort to get off to a solid start. Skip the urge to buy the latest fad diet book or piece of exercise equipment you saw on TV. Do your homework first. It may be wasted money. Find unbiased, scientifically based sources of information to help you decide what will work for you! Whether that’s a weight loss class or a hands-on seminar to energize your walking program, it will be well worth your time and money.
- Make a commitment. If you are fully committed and ready to change, then you will share your goals with others. Don’t worry about failing and what they might think. Focus on the fact that they provide accountability and guidance to increase your chances of success. We all need accountability and support to keep us on track.
- Get others involved in your healthy lifestyle. If you have a friend or coworker with a similar goal, invite them to share in a healthy lunch or workout. Sharing mutual goals and struggles builds stronger relationships. Bring your children and pets with you on those walks in the park. Create a family night where the entire family gets involved in healthy cooking. Together, select a healthy recipe to try and let everyone participate in the planning and preparation. Add some family games that involve activity for the body and brain to keep everyone healthy and stimulated.
- Plan ahead for relapse. Make a list of the things that get you off track like working late, a party, bad weather, or a sick child. Get creative and brainstorm solutions that will allow you to stay on track. For you, that may be purchasing a workout DVD you can pop in if you can’t make it to the gym. It could also mean stashing a healthy TV dinner or leftovers away in the freezer when you don’t have time to cook instead of stopping at the drive-thru. It’s hard to come up with creative solutions on the spur of the moment when you are hit with multiple stressors at one time. Keep a list of solutions, prepare for distractions, and stay positive.
- Get over it and move on! We all make mistakes and fail at achieving our goals from time to time. It is only failure if we “fail” to learn from our mistakes. The most successful people will tell you they failed many times before achieving success. Their key to success was they never gave up. Take a few minutes to review what contributed to your relapse and make a plan to overcome the challenge next time you face it. In the words of the late Zig Ziglar, “Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker.” Let go of the things you can’t control and plan for those you can.
- Focus on your successes. Focusing on your mistakes traps you in the past. Focusing on your successes allows you to enjoy the “here and now” and sets you up for future success. This includes rewarding yourself appropriately for achieving both large and small goals. Then pay it forward helping others achieve their goals. This is your opportunity to help others succeed as you mentor them.
- Anand, P., Kunnumakara, A., Chitra Sundaram et al. (2008). Cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes. Pharmaceutical Research, 25(9): 2097–2116.
Sue Beckham, PhD