For many Americans, the onset of summer brings to mind those long-forsaken goals to improve their health and wellness they set at the beginning of the year. Whether or not the changes we desire can still be set in motion at this time of year depends on how ready we are to change. Take a moment to ponder what happened to that initial drive you had to make a wellness lifestyle change. Often, the primary reason why fitness center memberships lapse, diets crash or stress levels rise is the lack of a plan we can act on. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, found that only 46 percent of us keep our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, exercise or stop smoking beyond six months.
The following six steps are an effective approach to achieving your health and wellness goals year-round:
1. Define your personal image of wellness. In order to meet your goals, it helps to know exactly what you are setting out to achieve. Envision yourself being transformed into your best self. Clarify what you want to look or feel like that will signify your success. This should constitute a written statement that embodies the long-term health and wellness change you want for your life. An example of an ideal picture of wellness may be stated as “My wellness vision in the next three to six months is to exercise regularly and eat a nutritious and balanced diet so I can lower my risk for heart disease.” Put your personal vision statement in a strategic place where you are likely to be reminded of your wellness image. Defining your personal wellness image helps you to take responsibility for your health and creates a focal point as you prepare and engage in wellness activities that align you with your goals.
2. What are your desired outcomes? Identify exactly what you want to change, based on your vision of wellness. Perhaps you want to exercise three times a week, eat three to four servings of fruits and vegetables each day or lower your blood pressure to a healthy range. The detailed results you seek for your health help to concretize your vision. Your desired outcomes shape the results of your vision, as well as the day-to-day and week-to-week modifications that become lasting lifestyle changes.
3. Clarify your motivation for wellness. Knowing what is driving you helps you maintain focus as you move toward your goals. A vision to lower your risk for heart disease may be motivated by a physician’s diagnosis of high blood pressure and you are concerned because high blood pressure runs in your family. Perhaps you recognized the importance of being a healthy role model for your children, or you just may have reached the point where you’ve made up your mind to improve your overall appearance. Whatever your motivations for wellness may be, they will serve as your driving force during moments of weakness. Your motivations are quite powerful, and with them you are very likely to achieve your vision of wellness.
4. List your potential obstacles. It is essential to face the fact that there are certain things that will get in the way of achieving your vision. If you find yourself refraining from exercise because you’re tired, eating when you are under stress or not following a prescribed medication regimen, take note of these shortcomings. Your recognition of stumbling blocks early in the process helps you acknowledge what could get in the way of your vision.
5. Create realistic strategies to overcome obstacles. Implemen-ting realistic strategies helps you to increase your confidence in achieving success. Recognize what you are willing and able to do to overcome obstacles. Design creative yet practical ideas to circumvent barriers. Perhaps adjusting the time of day you exercise to when you are at your peak energy level, practicing deep breathing exercises while repeating a meditative phrase when stressed or asking a member of your support system to remind you to take your medication might be realistic methods for overcoming obstacles. If you stumble along the way, it is okay. The key is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on track.
6. Plan your first steps toward your vision. As with other life goals, your wellness vision should incorporate S.M.A.R.T. goals:
Specific—Saying that you want to be healthy is great, but that does not specify how or why. Do you want to cut out junk food, exercise regularly or manage your stress better? The more specific your goals are, the more likely you will be able to see results.
Measurable—Perhaps you want to improve your diet by increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. Such an improvement can be measured by making a personal decision to challenge yourself to begin eating three servings of each daily. Perhaps it would be helpful to keep a log of your daily meals and review your patterns on a weekly basis. This will give you a gauge of where you are in reaching your goals.
Achievable—If you believe that you can do something and set a goal toward it, you will achieve it. The plan you put in place should reflect how you will make this goal attainable. It will boost your confidence when you document the steps involved.
Realistic—Many people fail to reach their goals because they set their standards too high and hope to achieve them in too short a time. Yes, challenge yourself past your comfort zone, but not in a way that sets you up for failure. Setting a goal to lose 10 pounds in one week is clearly unhealthy, and even if you achieve that goal, the weight loss is not likely to be permanent. The quick-weight-loss diets that are on the market may promise remarkable results, but they cannot guarantee permanent change.
Timely—Pace yourself. Allow yourself time to achieve your vision. Set small weekly goals as benchmarks toward your overall vision. Reevaluate your goals on a weekly basis to assess what has worked or what interventions you need to help yourself along. Remember, it takes three to six months for new habits to become permanent and to begin to see noticeable changes.
Christine W. Thorpe, Ed.M., M.A., is a certified health education specialist, wellness coach and a doctoral candidate in the health education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.