As we continue to move through pandemic times and attempt to do more than just survive 2022, it is important to remember that not all resolutions and goals need to be related to physical health. There are many options in creating a vision of wellness that include pursuits that bring us joy. In the last article, we started the process of creating a wellness vision for ourselves that is driven by things we value for ourselves.
Part of the process for creating sustainable behavior change, or even picking up a new hobby, involves recognizing the things we can and cannot control in our lives and operating in a way that sets ourselves up for success. An issue I’ve noticed, in myself and clients, is the tendency to see obstacles and turn them into excuses for not doing something. This applies to health behaviors, but also includes hobbies I wish to try or other endeavors.
To recap, during step one, we created a vision for ourselves. In step two, we documented our vision to keep us motivated. The reminder is important! The third step had us examining obstacles. We analyzed those obstacles to understand barriers to success that are inside or outside of our control. Now that we have our list, we will use it in a brainstorming exercise which promotes creative problem solving.
4. Brainstorm opportunities and options.
Ask yourself: what can I do to solve this? Document everything!
This task may be more effective if you are talking through barriers and solutions with a coach, friend, or mentor, but do not rely on them to prescribe ideas or tell you what to do next. They are a co-pilot, meant to facilitate the idea generation process and provide accountability. If you have a friend, it is easy to bounce ideas around. If you are doing this on your own, write out any and all options that come to your head on how to work through the obstacles you documented in the previous step.
Usually, I’ll ask if I can make a recommendation if I am a subject matter expert, but I’ve found that the best ideas come from the client. You! Yes, you are the expert in your own life. Sometimes the answer is to search online, ask friends, and get suggestions from others for potential ideas. Then, settle on the things that seem doable, that fit into your life. Set yourself up for success.
A frequent client vision includes physical activity, with a common obstacle of not knowing where to start, and/or a fear of getting bored.
Personally, this is an issue I’ve encountered, and it continues to be something I struggle with. After a surgery with an intense recovery process, I could not figure out how to start up a physical activity routine. I knew I needed it, but I created so many obstacles in my head. I asked myself what my body could handle. Walking. But I made the excuse of “it is winter, too cold to walk. We are in a pandemic, I do not want to go to the gym. Plus, I’ll get bored.”
My coach asked me probing questions: “If you cannot walk outside, can you walk in your house?” Yes. Even though it was repetitive. It was more than I did before. I then came up with the classic time excuse. Finding the time. She asked me to elaborate on my schedule and after back-and-forth, settled on right in the morning. I started my morning coffee and shuffled around the house. To help me with the boring aspect, she asked if there was something I could do that would make it more enjoyable. Music was the answer. So, I solved the obstacles I created for getting myself started.
For my sleep and stress situation, I came back to two things to work on: creating a comfortable sleeping environment and capping the amount of time on my phone leading up to bedtime. There are many things I have done since then to regulate sleep, but when first starting working towards a new goal, I try not to attempt to do everything at once.
5. Make a behavioral goal or goals and document them.
After all of that self-reflection and idea making, it is time to make a short-term goal to get you started on this fantabulous journey. The temptation to change all the things at once can be real, but incremental steps are more likely to lead to long-term changes. This is not an overnight process. These behavior changes can help you cope with the chaos of the world and find your personal version of thriving.
Your goal should follow S.M.A.R.T. guidelines:
- Specific: Is it simple and clear? Would somebody else understand the goal?
- Measurable: How will you know when it is accomplished?
- Achievable: How realistic is this goal based on current constraints, including time and financial factors?
- Relevant: Does this goal help you with your overall vision?
- Timely: By which date will you have completed this goal?
In the coaching world, I like to set weekly behavioral goals and check in with the clients regularly to reevaluate, but these goals can be bound by any time frame that is appropriate for you. No matter the time frame, these goals are the foundation for creating a plan.
I also ask people to consider their confidence in their ability to achieve this goal. Reflect. Be honest with yourself. Can you make this happen? If the answer is no, make adjustments and don’t beat yourself up.
For my sleep scenario, my primary goal was: Put my phone away one hour before bedtime every night for the next week and document what it was like to go to sleep – did it take longer and did my mind fight sleep, how rested I felt in the morning, and if I woke up with my alarm.
This goal addressed one of the obstacles (too much screen time) and supported an activity (sleep) which contributed to the stress management aspect of my wellness vision.
6. Make a plan.
You have your goal. Great. Imagine how that looks in your head. Visualize it and think about what could help or hinder achievement. (Notice a pattern – figure out potential obstacles and solve the problem before it happens!) I typically ask the client to tell me how they are going to achieve the goal and ask them what their backup plan is if they cannot make it happen. Sometimes, during this process, we find out that maybe the goal is too big and needs to be refined.
My sleep goal of putting my phone away had some issues. My coach asked me, “How exactly is that going to work? Are you going to stare at the ceiling instead of doomscrolling twitter?” I informed her that I did my doomscrolling during my morning coffee and usually spent time before going to bed reading on my phone or watching something on YouTube. It was part of my routine, and committing to routine change is difficult. She brought up that I needed to ease myself into this, so I committed to an activity swap. I brought either a boring physical book to bed or a short story collection and limited myself to one.
So, we made a plan. Now what?
7. Create accountability.
Share your goal and plan with a friend and/or put a reminder in a place that will keep you motivated. Maybe add them to your vision board.
Sharing our vision, goals, and plan keeps us on track by providing accountability, encouragement and motivation.
8. Action! Do the thing! Make it happen!
Simple enough. Do what you said you committed to doing and document how it is going. Schedule the activity, write it down, and cross it off when completed. Add notes on how it felt to get the task done, and if for some reason you did not achieve that goal, it is not a complete derailment. You are not a failure. Do not berate yourself.
We sometimes take steps backwards on our journey and when we suffer setbacks, it is very easy to give up. Change is not a linear process and everything in our lives is an opportunity to learn and grow, even if it takes a bit longer than we planned.
For the final article, I will address reflection, evaluation and celebration aspects that come with making changes.
*Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, a therapist, or licensed mental health professional. This is not a replacement for advice from your doctor.