New Year, New You!
Out with the old, in with the new… it happens about this time every year. As the new year approaches it presents an opportunity for a clean start.
Many reflect back and wonder, What needs adjusting? Others look forward and say, This year will be different!. If you are one of the millions of people who resolve each December 31st to change some aspect of their health over the next twelve months, congratulations, you’re in good company!
Taking a close look at your personal healthstyle is a wonderful annual practice and provides the ideal catalyst for moving forward toward growth and improvement.
Long-term health goals are meant to carry you across time and challenges. In light of all the temptations, distractions, and excuses available to steer you off course, it is important to keep in mind that the more detailed and intentional your plan is for getting from A to B, the more likely you are to reach your goal successfully. Once you’ve reached your goal, it’s also good to have a plan in place for sustaining that new behavior, lifestyle, or change over the long-term.
Creating sustainable health goals will benefit your life in many ways – not the least of which is improving how you care for your body! While your physical health may be your primary focus, there are other areas of your life that are also impacting your general health and wellness.
Taking Care of Your Whole Self
Although millions of people around the world have similar physical characteristics and health challenges; in reality, each person is truly unique in regard to disease and illness susceptibility, body composition, and the impact of exposure. Your experiences, perspective, environment, and relationships have worked together to create the one-of-a-kind individual you have become.
Your health status is primarily the result of personal choices, access to care and other life-sustaining elements, social influences, genetics, and environmental conditions. When setting long-term health objectives, it is important to keep in mind that all of these variables matter. For example, poor emotional health will directly affect bodily functions, cognitive processing, relationship building, the capacity to use resources, and one’s sense of purpose.
The interrelationships among the variables affecting individual health are complex and unavoidable, but understanding them is paramount to successful goal setting. Taking a approach to guide your planning will ensure you are considering every aspect of the life influences that are impacting any hoped-for outcome from your resolutions.
It is helpful to keep in mind that it does not matter if your long-term health goal is directed at your mind or your body; the stuff around you, or the relationships you have. Any goal you set will require the consideration and impact of as many elements as you can identify that are influencing your healthstyle and the role they play in your life.
Planning to Succeed
Set yourself up for success by avoiding the creation of a long list of general goals. Instead, make each long-term health goal specific and measurable. Give yourself a timeline for reaching the goal and be sure to reward yourself along the way. Be realistic about what you can build into, or remove from; your daily lifestyle. Prepare yourself for the discipline change requires. Behaviors or habits can take anywhere from 18 to 250 days to change. Since you are going to be playing the long game, mindset is critical for success!
Another suggestion is to limit your resolutions to one or two long-term goals that you can concentrate on daily. A long list of goals usually adds up to a long list of excuses for having not accomplished them. An extended list of resolutions also serves as the perfect diversion from goals that are difficult to sustain and will need your focused commitment on a consistent basis.
By limiting your resolutions to two long-term goals that are personally meaningful and important, you are taking a step in the right direction toward sustaining real and meaningful change!
Building the Plan
Let’s consider some examples for resolutions. A general goal may be: I want to conquer fear. Terrific. Now let’s make that objective more specific: I want to conquer the fear I have about Alzheimer’s disease. As stated earlier, goals need to be specific in order to build a plan around achieving them.
There are many reasons for setting a goal like conquering a personal fear… and… it is a great resolution to make! Remember, fear is fed by ignorance! For one thing, improving your personal health literacy about a subject that concerns you will help to reduce any fear of the unknown you may be harboring. Additionally, the knowledge you gain will, in turn, impact your own life in a variety of ways. As you begin to uncover the elements over which you can gain some personal control, fear is transformed into empowerment.
How will you build your plan to reach this goal? Begin by articulating the reasoning behind a few “who-what-where-why-when” questions… Who am I learning this for? What is motivating me toward achieving this goal? Where will I look for information that I can trust? Why is this topic important to me? When is enough going to be enough?
The next step is to begin by contemplating and systematically addressing questions that will help to guide your information gathering process. Note the elements over which you have no control as well as those elements over which you can gain some control and thereby alter or eliminate the fear factor altogether:
- How do I feel about the potential of being diagnosed with this disease? What is the basis for my fear? What effect does Alzhiemer’s have on emotional regulation, reaction, and responses?
- What does Alzheimer’s do to the body? Which bodily functions will it affect and how will it alter them? Am I genetically predisposed to getting this disease?
- What is the impact of Alzheimer’s on relationships? Do I have a person I can turn to for help or support? Am I willing to support others with this disease?
- What are the resources available with regard to treatment options, tools, research, and other elements that are used to manage Alzheimer’s? Do I, or, will I, have access to those resources when, and if, they are needed?
After you have considered the questions across a broad scope of health influencers, you will have several areas through which you can begin to direct your learning efforts and reach your goal. More importantly, in the pursuit of your goal, you will find that you will have actually addressed many of the issues that may be affecting your own current health status.
Keep in mind the fact that fear takes a toll on your health. Fear will prevent you from asking questions, seeking answers, and moving forward in your life with confidence. Allow me to reiterate, conquering fear is a solid and valuable resolution to consider!
Having already noted that each individual is a unique somebody who has taken a variety of paths toward becoming the person they are today; remember, you didn’t become you overnight and change is going to take some time. Throughout the process of change, your job is to know your body, acknowledge your life patterns, and track your personal behaviors. The more detail you learn about you, the more effective you will be at using that knowledge to set realistic and attainable long-term health goals.
One last thought… completing goals takes time. Sustaining behavior change takes a lifetime. Be patient with yourself. If you have set daily goals and you miss a day, forgive yourself. Start the next day with renewed intention to tackle the goal for that day. Long-term health goals are lofty pursuits. Are you ready to take this challenge on for 2023? I believe you are. You can do this!
Mary Ellen Rose, PhD
Director, Gloucester Health Department