How many times have you made a promise to yourself to get your health in order, only to liberate yourself from those self-imposed rules and regulations shortly thereafter?
Hey, we tried. We gave it our all. We spent money on gym memberships, we cleaned out the fridge, we even averted the drive-thru during long commutes from work. But it didn't take long before we surrendered. "I don't need a resolution to be healthy," we declared, plunging those fast food fries into a pool of ketchup.
What did we really want when we made that resolution, and, more broadly, why do we even set health goals? It's a beautiful sign of the human condition, to want and yearn for the possibility of newness, a promise of a recreation and transformation. As human beings, we desperately want to know that we can change if given the opportunity. Our wellness goals are an expression of this as we're wired from birth to want more from ourselves and from life.
That said, there's a problem with the way many of us approach our health goals: They're action steps, but we typically express and pursue them as if they're end points. When it comes to wellness, we often fail to make the distinction between the path and the destination.
For example, many people decide to lose 20 pounds at some point in their lives. It's the magic number and we often equate losing that weight with newness of mind, body and soul. However, these aren't always synonymous. In my coaching practice, I often suggest to clients that losing 20 pounds isn't a goal, but an action step. This always comes as a surprise, and they stare at me blankly. To help them understand this critical distinction, I gently ask, "Why do you want to lose the 20 pounds?"
This is when the heart of the matter bubbles up and spills over. This is where my clients identify what they hold dear:
I want to feel beautiful for my husband again. I want to be more available to my children. I want to finally, finally detangle my emotions from my eating.
These statements are the true goals, the deepest desires of the clients in front of me underneath the narrow, arbitrary outcomes they impose upon themselves. How often do we tether weight loss to events like birthdays, reunions and weddings without much self-tenderness?
We can even go a step further and recognize that weight loss is just one of several action steps toward meeting an underlying goal, a real goal, a more rewarding goal. Once we understand this critical distinction, we can begin a series of action steps: smaller, positive behaviors that bring us much closer to our deeper human desires.
Below are three popular health and fitness goals. (Maybe one of them is yours.) Before you abandon wellness goal, instead consider a "goal upgrade." Make the distinction between your action steps and your desired outcome. Here are some ideas:
Goal: I'm giving up sugar.
Goal upgrade: I'm going to understand why I have sugar cravings and take steps toward freedom from them.
Action steps: Keep a food-mood log for two-three weeks. Nourish your body with a nutrient-rich breakfast each day. Add 6-10 servings of vegetables per day. Experiment with healthy fats like avocados, nuts and wild salmon to satisfy your body. Consult a health coach or nutritionist and decide if you need more personal support.
Goal: I'm going to hit the gym four days a week.
Goal upgrade: I'm going to find sustainable ways to break a sweat throughout my week.
Action steps: Identify what you really love to do for movement. Is it going to the gym? Is it dance, a team sport or an outdoor activity? Search ways to include these activities in your week, via local classes or clubs. Schedule and block out time during your week to avoid double-booking and missing your workouts.
Goal: I'm going to lose 20 pounds.
Goal upgrade: I'm going to choose two ways each day to treat my body more gently than I did the day before.
Action steps: Savor each meal by eating away from screens and at a table, preferably. Increase your hydration to half your body weight, in ounces, daily. Identify your favorite fruits and vegetables, and add a new one for variety every week. Hang out with physically and emotionally healthy people, and notice how they eat and live. Explore health coaching or nutrition counseling for support.
By considering goal upgrades, we can happily move away from will-power and rules. We can save ourselves unnecessary failure and resignation, and begin a fruitful succession of small, permanently rewarding steps toward what we truly hold dear.
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