When we think about good health, we think of things like living a long life, being free of pain and illness, being physically active, having energy, not relying on medication, not being overweight, and more.
That’s pretty important stuff!
But all too often, we allow our health to suffer. We take shortcuts with our diets. We duck out on exercise after a long day at work. When our lives get stressful, we find unhealthy ways to unwind.
And then, one day, it happens. We have an epiphany: Time to get healthy! We decide to go on a diet or sign up for that gym membership. No drinking for the next month. Time to quit smoking for good.
We talk. We even take some action. But before we know it – oops, we’re back to square one! We quietly berate ourselves before finding a zillion reasons why this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Other things are so much more important!
And we put that niggling feeling that our health is going a bit pear-shaped aside… for now.
If this sounds about right, then it’s time for some goals. And then – wait for it! – a plan.
I can hear you screaming: “A plan?!”
Why do we need a plan?
Most of us just don’t like change. Old habits die hard.
That’s because our brains are wired that way. When you do something repeatedly, your brain gets used to it. It becomes almost automatic.
And when there is both a habit and a reward trigger (such as the release of dopamine), we may repeat something so much that we become addicted to it. This can happen with overeating, bingeing on sugar, drinking alcohol, or using other drugs.
That’s why you need clear goals and a realistic, step-by-step plan. Without a plan, how will you know what you need to do to achieve your goals?
What You Should Know About Your Plan
There are a few things you need to know before you get started:
- It’s your plan, based on your goals, so you don’t have to impress anyone – even yourself! Start off as small as your ego will allow.
- Your plan isn’t cast in stone. It’s a starting point. You can adjust it as you go. But you have to start somewhere so you have a starting point and a sense of direction.
- You need a realistic plan. Going after a huge goal in a short period of time is pointless for us mere mortals; there are no quick fixes. As much as you want to travel 3000 miles in one hour, that can’t happen. Seeing it in print can help you to realize that. The less well you are, the longer it’s going to take – so give yourself time and some small steps. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and factor in some slack.
- You’re the only one responsible for implementing your plan. That’s kinda neat, because you can do it the way you want to.
The Benefits of a Making and Implementing a Plan
Making and following a plan may sound boring, even tedious, but just think about what it can do for you:
- It can give you clarity around your values and beliefs when it comes to your own health and well-being.
- When you achieve even a small goal along the way, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Following a structured, realistic plan is the most effective way to feel well, full of energy, and alert.
- Taking action – and finally being in control – can feel pretty good!
How to Start Your Plan
There are three steps to developing your plan:
Step 1: Assess yourself.
What do you want to change? At this stage you may not even be sure you want to change anything, and that’s okay. Give yourself the time and space you need and come back to it when you’re ready. We’re not always ready to make a change and if you’re not ready, all you’re going to do is set yourself up for failure.
On the other hand, giving yourself the easy way out is also something to stew on. Do you really want to do that? It’s okay if you do, but in my experience, the accomplishments I’ve felt the best about are the ones that required some serious effort.
Step 2: Contemplate why you want this change.
What’s motivating you? Did someone tell you to, or is it something you want for yourself? This is important If you try to change for the wrong reasons, you may not be motivated enough to continue when you hit a rough patch.
Again, you don’t have to impress anyone – not even yourself. Just be honest, so you can understand what you want for yourself and why it matters to you.
Step 3: Prepare the plan.
Here’s where you think about your goals, the actions you want to take, and the resources you need.
My advice is to be as realistic as you can and think longer rather than shorter term. For example, trying to lose 10kg in four weeks is not realistic. The sacrifices required are incredibly demanding. Don’t set yourself up for failure!
How to Set Your Goals
The SMART goals structure has proven to be a strong foundation for accomplishing goals. So what does it stand for?
S = Specific
Be as clear and specific as possible with what you want to achieve.
You may want to run a marathon, get up earlier in the morning, or spend more time with your family. But you need to spell out the details.
“I want to wake up earlier each morning,” is nice, but how much earlier? “I want to wake up at 6:00am weekday mornings,” is more useful.
M = Measurable
How will you track your progress? What evidence will prove you’re getting closer to your goal?
For example, you may decide to set your alarm clock half an hour earlier each week until you reach your goal. But to see your progress, you’ll need to track the time you get out of bed.
You can keep track of it in a notebook, on an app, or in a spreadsheet or Word document. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do it consistently.
A = Achievable
Is this goal realistic for you?
If you go to bed around 10 pm, 6 am may be achievable, But if you’re getting into bed after midnight and expecting to sleep less, that’s a problem.
Now you realize that going to bed on time may be the hardest part of achieving your goal. You may want to update your goal to something like this:
“I go to bed between 10 and 10:30 pm on work nights and get up at 6am.” You can then track your bedtime as well as when you get up.
R = Relevant
A relevant goal is aligned with your values as well as your larger, long-term goals.
The goal of getting up earlier can give you time to exercise before work, which supports a long-term of being fit and healthy. It could also support your productivity goals by giving you some time to plan your day before you get busy.
T = Time-based
When do you want to achieve your goal? An end-date can provide motivation and help you prioritize.
For example, “In a month’s time, I want to be consistently waking up during the week at 6 am.”
Once you put a time on it, of course you’ll want to do a reality check. If your goal doesn’t seem achievable, you can give yourself more time and set up some milestones along the way.
Of course, you don’t have stick to this order. After all, there’s not much point in making your goal specific, actionable, and achievable if it isn’t relevant. If you’re overweight and under stress, deal with the stress first so you’ll be in the right frame of mind to lose the weight.
Step 4: Start following the plan.
Take your first steps and see how it goes. Can you keep up, or are some of the steps harder than you expected? You can adjust your plan as you go along.
Step 5: Maintain the plan consistently for at least six months.
While some people still talk about 21 days, it can take up to six months to change old habits and routines.
Keep a calendar, a journal, or a spreadsheet. Or use app. Do whatever works for you, so long as you can measure your progress.
None of us go in a straight upward trajectory towards our goal. We have good days and bad days. If there are bad ones than good, readjust. Look at what’s working and what isn’t. Change your process, your goal, or both.
Here are a few tips to make the process easier:
- Find ways to reward yourself when you achieve a milestone or goal. The rewards can be small or large, depending on what you need to stay motivated. Just make sure the reward doesn’t set you back. If your goal is to cut sugar from your diet for six months, don’t reward yourself with a slice of chocolate cake at the halfway point. Your body could start craving sugar all over again!
- Get yourself some support – someone who gets and supports what you’re trying to do and will help you to stay on track.
- When you’re trying to change an old habit, it helps to identify the triggers, rewards, and actions associated with the habit. You may want to avoid the trigger. If that doesn’t work for you, consider replacing the unhealthy behavior with a healthier one. Then find ways to reward yourself for the new behavior, so you reinforce your new accomplishment.
Becoming healthy takes some commitment – and often a bit of courage. Reading this post can be the first (or next) step in your health journey; we hope it gives you the starting point you’re looking for.
If you’d like some help taking the next step – whether that’s putting your thoughts together, fine-tuning your goal, or exploring how to achieve it – we invite you to sign up for a free 20-minute session with us or email email@example.com with any questions you have. We’ll be happy to help!