Not everybody chooses to create resolutions. Many actively despise them. Why should a calendar tell me when to attempt a lifestyle change? But, if you do wish to change something in your life, consider taking an approach that can lead to sustainable changes that impact your overall health and wellbeing, which can include embracing self-care in creative ways or diving into something you’ve always wished to learn but did not know where to start.
I am a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach and a Registered Dietitian. Pre-pandemic, my clients focused on physical health, including weight and nutrition related goals. During the pandemic I noticed a trend – not only a shift in my thinking, but in priorities for clients. Our lives changed and the trauma involved with such a radical redesign of society required acknowledgment that we are tired and barely coping.
Concrete visions for optimum health were abandoned in favor of things like, “I just want to survive, day-to-day…” or, “I just want to be happy and I cannot figure out who that person is in this new world,” or, “I want to be healthy and I have no idea what that means anymore.”
Wellness is more than the physical aspects of our bodies, and my focus pivoted away from my training as a registered dietitian because my client’s goals shifted into developing holistic lifestyle habits which promoted mental wellbeing.
This shift in my clients reflected a shift in my thinking. My mental health and wellness have taken hits during the pandemic. I’ve had to adjust and learn how to set myself up for success in this new world. But I am in a position where I have training in coaching people to reach a version of themselves where they are thriving and have a toolkit I want to share.
Wellness is a broad concept which encompasses multiple dimensions. The National Wellness Institute developed a six-dimension model in the 70s which includes occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional wellness. Choosing which part of your life to start working on is not easy, but changes in any wellness dimension can lead to improvements in mental wellbeing because self-efficacy increases our confidence to tackle other challenges.
If you are considering switching things up in your life to find relief from the constant stressors that come with living in 2022, consider changes that will support your mental wellness.
Before You Begin
There are a few things to consider when delving into setting goals for the future. You need to open your mind to the idea of self-compassion. Banish negative self-talk. The idea of, “should” needs to fly out the window. As one of my mentor’s once said, “don’t ‘should’ all over yourself.” Thinking you “should” do something is an easy way to enter a shame spiral for not doing something. Shame and guilt have no place when moving forward. Leave that word to die in a dumpster fire, along with any other toxic phrasing that puts you down.
Commit to carving out time for self-reflection. I ask my clients to look at our sessions as safe spaces to be honest, without judgment from me or themselves. I strongly advise that those who wish to create a list of goals on their own and take meaningful steps in a direction that supports their vision for well-being recognize that their journey is valid and invite you to feel your emotions and honor yourself through the process. Agreed on that part? Great. Now, grab a notebook, an audio recorder, or a trusted friend and I will talk you through the general process.
Your journey starts with figuring out your vision for wellness.
1. Ask yourself: if you were living your best life, what would that look like?
Think of this question in terms of, “what could I achieve if I was thriving, not just coping with the day-to-day chaos that is life?”
Consider your values when answering this question. The answer needs to be driven by something that defines you and will motivate you to keep going. For example, I value creativity, achievement, and independence, and I want those things to be part of my vision for the future.
Spend time on this exercise.
I’ll share a shorter version of my vision that I did with a friend as an example:
My vision includes successfully managing a chronic illness and disability, being able to work out consistently as a way to manage stress, both allowing me to explore and follow through on creative opportunities, specifically writing and managing my own business.
2. Document your vision somewhere.
Documenting your vision can be done in many ways. Write down your vision. Make a mood board on your wall or curate a list on a social account. Develop a playlist to reinforce your vision. You will need an occasional reminder of where you want to be. And, if comfortable, share your vision with somebody you trust.
3. Ask yourself: what’s stopping me?
List the obstacles stopping you from reaching your vision. Seriously, go off and let yourself be honest, because the next step in the process – brainstorming solutions – can course correct the negative thoughts. Examine those obstacles. Note what you can and cannot control.
This is the moment where we all get to hop on the pessimism/excuse train and take a look at our blockages and maybe the outlook seems dire. “How do I accomplish anything when there are so many barriers?” I try to lean on the side of optimism. For some folks, there won’t be many barriers. Others, the blockage is simply not taking an action and choosing another activity – call yourself out while being compassionate, because you are not alone.
This is a summary of how things went with my fellow coach when discussing my vision:
Me: My chronic illness can stop me in my tracks. I feel like I have no control over it some days because I am stressed, which drives being sick, which makes me stressed…then I don’t feel like doing anything. It is hard to get on the right track again.
Coach: Well, what are some of the things you can do, that are in your control, when it comes to managing stress which could trigger other problems?
Me: Managing sleep and rest and honoring my body when experiencing a flare, but also watch how I manage sleep even when feeling good.
One of my obstacles is sleep, which was an obstacle many of my clients identified last year. Sleep is one of those pesky stressors that interferes with multiple dimensions of wellness. It is a physical requirement and not getting enough impacts physical and non-physical domains of wellness. If I do not get at least eight hours of sleep, my ability to manage stress is negatively impacted. I develop brain fog which impacts intellectual and social domains of my life, bleeds into occupational requirements, and turns me into a pessimist who doesn’t care about fulfilling myself in any sort of spiritual way. My body needs rest and my mental well-being suffers.
Sleep contributes to my chronic illness and can stop me from achieving my vision. But did my vision include “sleep more?” Nope! And that’s the point of the obstacle exercise. I pinpointed something that is impacting my ability to cope in multiple dimensions of my life and now I get to brainstorm what is interfering with my sleep situation.
If, at this point, you are not motivated to change a few things in your life to reach this vision, or feel overwhelmed, take time to examine the reasons why. Your obstacles may be related to things which require a medical professional, such as a doctor or psychiatrist, to address. If you’re taking a medication that interferes with activities that you wish to change or work on, consult your doctor. If you are depressed or recovering from trauma, consult a mental health professional.
The result of this first step should be a vision and a list of potential obstacles which are within your control. Hold onto your vision, because part two of this series will address brainstorming solutions to overcome the obstacles, problem solving, and then creating concrete, actionable goals to move you forward on your journey.
*Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, a therapist, or licensed mental health professional. This is not a replacement for advice from your doctor.