That whole “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing may be true for… dogs (though I still wouldn’t bet on that), but not for people. Often the toughest part of trying to make adjustments in our life in the pursuit of health and happiness is the short term change – those smaller goals we set to get us to whatever the final destination is. What if we could set ourselves up for success with challenging goals that are also achievable and speak to the core of who we are? What if our smaller goals were rooted in our personal values and focused on adding positive into our lives rather than simply focusing on reducing negative?
We have all heard (and I’m sure many know firsthand) how setting small goals is the best way to continue moving forward toward whatever the larger goal may be. Not all goals are created equal though, and we have the power to increase our odds of creating achievable goals. One of my favorite ways to do this – because I really think it can work for almost anyone – is to create goals that focus on adding things that are positive or “good” in nature rather than subtracting things that are negative or “bad”.
By the time we’ve decided to take action for improvement in any area of the wellness wheel, we should have our “why”. Something has led us to make the decision to change, and we can greatly increase our odds of success by ensuring our “why” is rooted in our values – in what’s most important to us.
I feel as though one of the primary issues with the idea of “getting healthy/active” or “losing weight” is the automatic association with the way the physical body looks, and the truth is, as much as many of us may think striving for a “better body” is the way to motivate ourselves, it probably isn’t if that’s not reflective of your personal values. That’s where a lot of the disconnect comes in. If I don’t care about having a media-approved body, why do I care about being more active or losing weight?
Adjusting the mindset away from the way the body looks to the way our health impacts things we value is a proven way of creating internal motivation. Think about it because it makes sense – if we decide to get more physically active so we can play with our (grand)children rather than getting active to see a number move on the scale, which is going to be more naturally motivating? If we can shift our mindset and apply our values and what’s important to us to those reasons for working on our own health, we have a much greater chance at not just success, but fulfillment from achieving those goals.
The same can be said for things related to stress management or self-care. Unfortunately, the associations with these ideas are not always positive, and sometimes acts of self-care come across as selfish, indulgent, or inherently expensive/inaccessible. However, if our goals related to stress management are tied to the idea of surviving and thriving rather than frivolity, we can begin to think about self-care and stress management in different ways, and how it looks for us regardless of what is advertised as working for others.
Values-based goals work because at the end of the day, you’ll always go back to something that matters to you when it gets tough and you ask yourself why you’re doing this.
Positive Goal Mindset
In addition to rooting goals in the things that matter to us, another tried and true method of setting ourselves up for success in creating achievable goals is focusing on adding positive. Sometimes this means adding things that have positive associations; sometimes this means adding things that add positive benefits for our bodies/minds; it always means keeping the focus on adding “good”, especially rather than taking away “bad”.
I gave some examples and wanted to run through each one with a little more detail:
This particular area tends to have less focus on subtracting the negative, but I do think we often fall victim to adding negative things in this category. Whether we are looking to get more active or maintain our level of activity, it’s imperative that we are choosing movement we enjoy, and incorporating it into our schedules when it is feasible. Even if our “why” is rooted in our values, it’s going to be harder to move forward and accomplish these small goals if we are setting goals we don’t even enjoy.
It kills me to see people pushing themselves to do workouts they don’t really enjoy because they think it’s the “best” or “right” workout. There is no best or right workout – everyone’s body is different and everyone’s body needs different things. People have different goals. All of these things play into it. Resistance training with free weights has become all the rage lately and, look, I’m a huge fan of feeling strong, but there are SO MANY ways to use free weights! You can even add free weights to yoga poses. I mean, possibilities are endless if we aren’t bound by the ideas and generalized programs put in front of us.
Does this mean we will always want to do it? Heck no. But there is a big difference between creating goals that honor who we are and pushing ourselves to complete those versus creating goals that try to put us into boxes of who we or others thing we should be. Really, what’s the satisfaction in accomplishing someone else’s goals?
The fitness part of my journey shifted with my mindset as I got away from the idea that I had to force myself to physically do things that I don’t want to do. It doesn’t make me any tougher to suffer through exercise moves I hate just… because. It makes me tougher to know myself, know my body, and constantly find new ways to challenge it that are also genuinely enjoyable.
Nutrition is an area where I see a lot of focus on subtracting negative rather than adding positive. I hear so much about not eating this or that, things that are “bad”, etc. Food is one of the hardest areas to make changes because, guess what, those cravings are physical! It’s not just in your head. To set ourselves up with goals that completely eliminate these things that our bodies quite literally physically crave is nothing other than a recipe for setbacks and discouragement.
There are so many nutrient-dense foods that provide a multitude of benefits for the body, and they have nothing to do with eliminating anything from our diet. We can literally reduce our blood pressure just by adding more fruits and vegetables. We can help manage diabetes by adding more whole grains. It’s so easy to discount the power of nutrients by focusing on all the things we “shouldn’t” eat, which ultimately perpetuates a negative, contentious relationship with food, as well.
In setting nutrition-related goals, I highly recommend creating goals that are focused on adding nutrient-dense foods rather than strictly focusing on reducing/eliminating foods/calories. Another great example: say the desire is to eat less refined carbs like white breads and pastas. Rather than making that the goal itself, flip it and make the goal to eat more whole grains. The mental shift of swapping something positive and telling yourself to DO IT rather than focusing on NOT to do it, it’s huge.
Stress Management & Sleep Hygiene
Most of us know that stress and sleep play an important role in our overall health and how we feel, but we don’t necessarily view it as foundational even though it’s the reality. Stress and lack of sleep also have this nasty co-dependent relationship with many chronic diseases where one may cause the other or exacerbate what exists. Sometimes there’s the chicken-and-egg question of which preceded which between disease and stress/lack of sleep. Regardless, they are an integral part of what works together to help us feel and function at our best. We need sleep and good nutrition for movement, we need movement for sleep; it’s all woven together
Stress management is one where focusing on adding positive goals may mean getting creative about what works for you to relive stress – and that’s all this is at the end of the day: finding the best ways to get relief that work for you, in your life. If you think meditation or yoga are stupid, they aren’t going to work for you – and that’s okay! Maybe gardening really does it for you, or knitting, or carpentry, or art – there are so many ways to relieve stress if we think outside the box a bit.
It’s also really easy to hone in on our stressors and focus on how we don’t want to react; that’s completely natural because we don’t want to feel the way we feel when those stressors trigger us, but it’s not necessarily the most effective. It sort of feels like the equivalent of telling ourselves to calm down, which, probably not going to go over any better than if those words came out of someone else’s mouth. One of the best pieces of advice I can give when it comes to finding ways to deal with in-the-moment stress is just that: focusing on what it is we can do in the moment to either bring ourselves back down, or to keep ourselves from getting too worked up. It’s great to not want to get stressed about things, but we need ways to actually counter stress when it hits.
So many of us don’t get enough sleep. Or the quality is crap. And the truth is there is so much that can go into hitting a good sleep cycle rhythm that it can feel overwhelming to even want to start. I know we’ve all heard that we shouldn’t be on screens before bed, and often the nightly routine offered to folks is to get into bed and read a book. But what if you don’t enjoy reading? Or what if you enjoy reading too much and tend to get into books and not fall asleep? What if crawling into bed with an old-fashioned coloring book and markers relaxes you better than a book or meditation could? Or cross-stitching? Or cross-words? Maybe you want to hand-write letters to friends. Again, there is no one way to improve various aspects of our health, and finding what works for us can be much easier if we focus on adding things we enjoy.
I have more to add on the art of creating goals and how to increase internal motivation, but I’ll save that for future posts. For now, let’s head into a new week with our minds firmly focused on goals that make us feel good and fit into our lives.