Many of us set new fitness and lifestyle goals based on our fear of disease or disability. Frightening pictures of clogged arteries or stories about fatty liver disease can motivate us to jump on the treadmill and opt for quinoa over white rice. This fear, also known as negative conditioning, also has a way of dissipating. You ask yourself, “What are my chances of actually contracting this malady? Why am I panicking about something that might never happen? What if all this time invested in exercise and Mediterranean-style cooking is not really worth it?”
This year, try a different approach. Instead of anchoring your outlook and activities to a fear of death and disease, anchor it to your purpose in life.
Carey Grieves, a certified health coach with ThedaCare At Work in Shawano, began her career as an occupational therapist. “The soul of my training is helping people do meaningful activity, and that’s now at the heart of my role as a health coach. We need to understand what intrinsically motivates us and then take it from there.”
Grieves encourages her clients to ask, “What do I genuinely aspire to do with my life? How can my health and lifestyle choices lead me along a purposeful path to personal joy and fulfillment?” For example, you might conclude:
- I want to be active with my young family so we can make lots of memories together.
- I want more inspiration and focus to stay productive at the job I love.
- I want my home to be a place where friends and family gather. I want to travel in retirement and be healthy and fit enough to try new things.
- I want to finally learn how to paint/woodwork/run a 5K/play a musical instrument.
Ponder your genuine purpose in life. Some experts even go so far as to recommend that you write your own obituary or epitaph! This is not to scare you, but to help you focus in on your deepest held desires for your time here on the planet. Put another way, how do you want people to remember you?
When you take action to fulfill a meaningful purpose in your life, your dedication tends not to disintegrate. Rather, you will steer your actions in support of your deeply held long-term personal mission.
From a health and fitness perspective, then consider how to best shape your behaviors as they relate to energy level and disease prevention. You will develop techniques to lead your life, not follow a fluctuating cycle of fear and frustration.
Five such key behaviors are:
Sleep—Sleep is a time when our body rests, rejuvenates, and regulates hormone levels that affect many important systems in our bodies. Try establishing a healthy sleep routine, or as Grieves calls it, a “sleep diet,” and follow your schedule for two full weeks before judging its success. This means setting a consistent bedtime, bedtime routine, and waking time. Catching up on sleep on the weekend can actually hurt your efforts, so stick to the schedule every day of the week.
Mindfulness—Learn about how to meditate for five minutes a day, focused only on your breathing. Refrain from judging the thoughts that enter your mind, and return to your breathing. While meditation is a formal mindfulness practice, Grieves also encourages people to practice informal mindfulness. Take a shower and be attentive to the rivulets of water on your skin instead of multitasking and making a mental grocery list. Think about the feel of your toothbrush in your mouth as your brush your teeth. “Living moments mindfully, in the present moment, has been proven to increase overall happiness,” said Grieves.
Physical Activity—Research shows that even a moderate amount of exercise can make a significant difference. “Five minutes counts,” said Grieves. Start small and try to work up to 150 minutes of self-paced activity per week. You’ll start feeling more energized almost immediately, and increasing your speed and endurance over time may become a truly joyful part of your daily life. Grieves suggests that people “make it so easy to exercise that it seems ridiculous. Go to sleep in your exercise clothes, and when you wake up, you’ve already made the decision to work out. Put your shoes on and go do it,” she said.
Creativity— The simple act of baking and decorating a cake, arranging artwork and photos on a wall, or putting a pen to a real paper letter can unleash feelings of contentment and accomplishment. Yes, your entire brain is indeed glorious, but when launching a creative endeavor, it's best to put the analytical left side of your brain on hold so you don’t quash potentially brilliant ideas. Reserve judgment until the right side has had its chance to work its vision. Equally important, learn to recognize creative outlets that feed your soul and those that leave you stressed or anxious. (Does scrapbooking make you crazy?) When you become fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment as you create, you’ve achieved flow. Flow is the ultimate experience of harnessing your emotions in the service of creativity and learning, and it feels amazing.
Nutrition—Take time to plan healthy and energizing meals and snacks, and you will benefit from more consistent energy levels, better moods, and fewer empty calories that can pack on extra pounds. Protein and whole grains will help your body release energy slowly. Sweets and unhealthy snacks (generally, carbohydrates and fats) tend to sharply raise your blood sugar, only to be followed shortly thereafter by a crash that leaves you hungry and irritable. “Be mindful, check in with yourself, and evaluate your actions,” Grieves said. “As you eat from your plate, ask yourself ‘Do I still really want this?’” And stop preplanning your next bite in the middle of your current mouthful. “If you are chewing your food, you should put your fork down until you’ve tasted and swallowed your current bite,” she said.
Find a care provider who can help you develop a health and wellness program tailored to your focus in life, not your fears. Carey Grieves is a health coach with ThedaCare at Work in in Shawano .