What we practice is what we get good at. You likely already know this, but have you really thought about what that means in your life? To your own wellbeing? In your relationships?
Maybe you spend the majority of your time worrying. Or serving others. How much time are you devoting to holding grudges? Is putting your health first (or last) a regular top contender in your daily list of things to do?
You can become habitual and masterful at anything you spend enough time practicing.
Whether an instrument, a sport, or a way of thinking or behaving, everything we practice sets electrical patterns or grooves into our central nervous system. Over time, and with enough practice, any action or reaction to a situation becomes stuck in those grooves, habitual, automatic. And when what you are practicing is anger, hate, fear, prejudice, judgment, or self neglect . . . imagine what happens in your body as you wake up and default to those ways of feeling and being every day.
I’ve recently started a creative writing group at my house. We eat homemade scones, chat about writing topics, and do some creative exercises to get the words flowing onto the page.
The other day, one member of the group seemed distressed that I would be the only one responsible for organizing our gatherings: “Isn’t it a lot of work for you to plan and host us every time?” I looked at her with what can only be described as shock. And then I realized why she might interpret the planning and hosting of such an event as a relative burden. She has a family, her own service business, and a deeply rooted local community to tend to that she’s built over 20 years. Therefore, she has lots of roles and possible demands on her time and energy. Adding one more ounce to that load might, indeed, feel as though it could break the camel’s back, especially if she weren’t careful to engage in self-care first.
As opposed to my new friend, however, I have no family here. I have been on a long-overdue sabbatical from a draining desk job that I took after we moved, so I have not had students or clients to tend to since last spring. I have had no local community and no friends at all, outside of my wonderful husband, since we moved overseas 4 years ago. (FOUR years!)
Did you know that the secret to increasing your health and wellbeing is to use effective SMART goals?
When people set out to achieve health, wellness, or fitness goals, they mistakenly focus on outcomes (i.e., "I want to lose 15 Ibs," or "I want to lower my cholesterol," or “I want to live without back pain.”).
Successful clients instead focus on actions—things that they choose to do, practice, or take part in. Well-chosen actions lead naturally to the ultimate outcomes people seek. They are the centerpiece of what we wellness coaches call SMART goals. These goals are:
S = Specific. "I want to feel better" is a vague outcome. "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday" is a specific goal that will likely help you achieve the outcome of “feeling better.”
M = Measurable. "I will walk today" is too loose. Does walking to the car, which is 20 feet away, count? "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday" is a measurable goal—there is nothing vague about it.
A = Actionable. "I will lose 20 pounds" is not an action. Can I look at you and see that you are losing 20 pounds, right at this moment? No. But if you say, "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday" and it is Monday and I see you on the treadmill, I can see that you are likely on your way to losing that 20 pounds.
R = Realistic. "I will work out for an hour every day this month" is not realistic. If you set your goal too high, and then you don't succeed, you will feel bad about yourself. Set your goal at a reasonable level to make sure you succeed. After all, success breeds success. Achieving even one tiny action goal—perhaps "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday this week"—will set you up for bigger and better future goals. Always start small.
T = Timed. "I will work out" is not a SMART goal because it has no timeframe.
In order to reach a goal, you must have a set time within which you will complete that goal. Set new action goals each week, and make sure your goals can be accomplished by your next goal-setting date.
Now that you know what a SMART goal is, download the SMART goal worksheet I created and craft a SMART goal that will help you reach an outcome you desire.
Be sure to follow the tips in my super-explanatory post about how to make sure you can start and maintain a new practice first.
And remember, stay curious and find something to enjoy about each SMART goal you set!
Looking perfect or feeling good. That struggle has been on my mind a lot lately as I welcome a host of new internal and external conditions that have a direct impact on my identity as a "health and fitness professional":
The items in the above list have undermined the major belief that drove me to exercise obsessively for the first 10 years of my professional fitness career: my body was really messed up from scoliosis and other health issues, and I had to work really hard to make it appear "perfect" or I wouldn't be respected, successful, or loved.
I think perhaps a majority of women are led to believe something very similar, and that is what countless "love your body" campaigns and groups are designed to help defuse.
But as anyone who has made a major shift in her life knows, old beliefs and thought patterns die hard. Really hard. It takes more than a simple ad campaign or a support group to change our core beliefs.
Especially when every bit of advertising and social conditioning in our society says, "Women are their bodies, nothing more, and we demand that those bodies appear PERFECT!" And as a professional in the fitness and wellness industry (and, sadly, also in "Westernized" yoga)? Forget about it: We are ALL supposed to be perfect icons of bodily perfection: no body fat, no cellulite, no structural malformations, no outward appearance of aging, perfect curves in exactly the right places, and energy so abundant we work out hours a day without a care in the world.
Hmph. I don't think anyone can adhere to those expectations without being sick and obsessed.
So here I reveal the strategies that work to ensure that I don't fall into the "trying to appear perfect" trap again. If you recognize yourself struggling with anything I've mentioned so far, maybe one or more of these can help you, too.
When faced with the choice to "look perfect" or "feel good," I'm opting for feeling good from here on out. What about you?
** I had so many wonderful, heartfelt comments to this post on its original Wordpress page. It's too bad I could not preserve them when I moved the site. Perhaps new readers would like to add some helpful comments of their own?
To see a list of all of my blog posts by title, go to this page.