You are in charge of your health. Many of the decisions you make every day have an impact on your health, wellness and ultimately your quality of life. There are some aspects of your health that cannot be altered or are outside your control. Such as, family history, genes, and age. But, by-in-large living a healthy lifestyle and choosing wellness are within reach for most of us.
Try this exercise. Stand tall and look boldly in the mirror, do you like what you see? Look at your reflection. Consider whether or not you have a health behavior, a positive or negative health practice or attitude, you would like to modify or change completely. Perhaps you want to lose or gain weight or develop muscle strength or flexibility. Maybe you want to quit smoking or moderate your alcohol intake. Whatever health behavior modifications you want to make, think through some strategies you might incorporate into your lifestyle that may help create the adjustment. For example, develop a list of the pros and cons surrounding the behavior you would like to alter. Ask yourself, “Why do I behave this way? How does it benefit me? How does it harm me?” Challenge yourself to answer these questions honestly and bravely. Intentionally move towards determining why the behavior reigns in your life. Analyze your discipline tactics. Where are you weak in discipline and where are you strong? Take a good look at the busyness surrounding your daily life. Are you using your time efficiently? Talk to someone who can support you in your attempts to enhance behavior modification.
Many, when doing this mirror exercise, are challenged to change their level of physical fitness. It is true that the higher the level of physical fitness, the better the overall physical wellness will be. Physical wellness provides the ability to live life fully, with vitality, free of injury and illness. We all want that! But getting there, becoming physically fit and staying physically strong is demanding. It begins with choice and ends with discipline.
Setting goals and developing a personalized plan will help you get started and keep you on track. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Start a health journal – Keep a record of the way you live. Activities often happen without much thought. It is time to start paying attention! Write down:
a. What activities you participated in
b. Where and when they happened
c. What you were doing
d. How you were feeling at the time
2. Analyze patterns in the data you collect
a. What triggers, prompts, or initiates overeating or poor food choices?
b. What thoughts or behaviors or relationships surround those triggers?
c. When does exercise best fit into your day?
d. What triggers prompt skipping exercise?
e. Note connections between your feelings and external cues such as time of day, locations, situations, relationships, etc.
3. Set SMART goals – Goals that are too challenging can sabotage change. Make them:
a. Specific – Avoid being vague.
b. Measurable – If goals are quantifiable they are easier to track
c. Attainable – Set them within your physical limits
d. Realistic – Be real! - Most goals worth achieving take time
e. Time Bound – Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to reach your goal
4. Develop a strategy – Create a plan of action
a. Identify resources that can help you - Gather what you need
b. Modify your environment – Control the triggers and reach towards the targets
c. Control related influences, habits, or relationships that sabotage
d. Reward yourself – Pat yourself on the back for a job well done each time you step closer to the goal
e. Make a personal contract and sign it with a witness – Accountability works!
Even with the best intentions and the greatest efforts there will be obstacles along the way. Don’t be surprised by them. They are inevitable and they are frequently innocent. They show up as a late night out, making getting up the next morning to exercise next to impossible. Or they materialize as a holiday treat on your desk begging you to taste just a little. They may come in the form of a phone call or a conversation or a craving or a bad day. Even though obstacles are inevitable, they are not an excuse to give up. In fact, it’s a good idea to expect problems, to work time for glitches into your plan, and to occasionally step back and analyze how you’re doing.
Go back to the mirror. Stand tall, look boldly into the eyes of your reflection and analyze your progress with your very own self looking back at you. Reconfirm why you want to change the health behavior that got you here in the first place. And give yourself a break. Give yourself some grace. Don’t quit when the plan takes an unforeseen turn. Regroup. Life happens. Every new day, following a day of disappointments and dissatisfactions, is a good day for a do-over. These setbacks are reasons to overcome not give up. Stay with it.
Here are some ways to do that.
1. Take a good hard look at your social influences – Are the people you’re counting on really supporting you? If they come up short in support, connect with others who will be more encouraging.
2. Commit – You won’t make real progress until your inner passion leads you to make lasting change.
3. If your plan is not working, modify it – if you’re falling behind in your running schedule for instance, maybe it is because you don’t like running. An aerobics class may suit you better.
4. Be alert to games you might be playing with yourself.
a. Don’t procrastinate - Start. Go. Do.
b. Don’t make excuses – Rationalization stops forward progress.
c. Don’t blame others or yourself – Blaming is a way to take the focus off the real problem. Denying responsibility for your actions removes your power to change.
5. Manage your stress – Stress is real. It could be temporary like a cold or a term paper or it could be ongoing. If you have hit the proverbial wall, look at the sources of your stress. You may want to alter your plan before strengthening your efforts.
The first attempts at making behavioral change may not go past the mirror exercise. But, at least you have started the inner dialogue and have begun to take personal responsibility for making important modifications. Remember, you are in charge of your health! You can make change a priority. Once you’ve started, don’t stop. Look forward not back. Choose to live your life fully with vitality, vigor and intention. You can take charge of your health in a dramatic and meaningful way, ultimately forever affecting the quality of your life.