Friday, January 8, 2010

A new year - time for reflection and goal setting

A new year has begun - this time of year is often one in which we take stock of where we are at, review our past year and make goals for the upcoming year. They can take the form of resolutions or goals that we want to accomplish. Some of the most common themes relate to health and wellness, exercise and weight-loss.

As humans, we are really good at thinking and imagining, coming up with ideas, and talking about our plans or ideas. However, putting those plans into actions or keeping our actions going is more difficult. This requires determination, focus, commitment and internal motivation. It also requires a realistic plan, with checks and balances. As the saying goes: "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

This might seem a bit harsh, but it's the truth; without coming up with actions to put your ideas into motion, they remain simply ideas. We cannot (as of yet) make ourselves miraculously lose weight, get fit or gain muscle simply by thinking about it.

The first step in achieving your health and wellness (or any goal) is to (i) set a realistic goal, (ii) that is achievable, (iii) is timebound and has targets associated with timelines, (iv) is measurable and (v) is specific: SMART (specific, measurable, achieveable, realistic, timebound).

Next, you need to figure out how you are going to achieve your goal. Decide what exact actions are you going to put into place that will enable you to succeed. Sign up for a fitness class, join a friend and make plans to meet up 1-2 times a week to go for a run, or go biking, or roller-blading. Plan into your schedule the days and times you are going to go to the gym. Meet with a personal trainer to learn tips on how to use the equipment and determine what you need to do to meet your fitness goal. Or decide to stop drinking frappuncinos or mochas every day and switch to a lower caloric and lower fat drink (eg: americano, regular coffee, tea). Reduce the number of times per week that you eat out. Reduce the number of times per week you buy pastries or sweets. Add in more whole grains, beans and vegetables into your meals. Plan your meals for the week and only purchase the items you need for your weekly meals. Buy a whole-grain cookbook and try out some new recipes.

There are many actions you can take to meet your goals. Planning them, listing them, sharing them with others and posting them in a spot where you will see them will keep you honest about how you are progressing.

It's also important not to bite off more than you can chew. It is easy to get demoralized and feel like your goal is unachievable if you try to do too much too soon, or go too far too fast. Start off with small achievable goals that you can meet, and build upon them. Treat each piece as a mini-success, and then move on, gaining confidence as you slowly move towards meeting your ultimate goal.

So, if you want to start running, don't just go out and expect to be able to run 10 kilometres, if you haven't run further than a few hundred meters in 10 years. Start small: join a learn to run clinic, start with run walks (run 1 minute, walk 1 minute), and then progressively start to run more and walk less. Start with one kilometer at a time and slowly add on. This will enable you to enjoy your progress, rather than feel bad because you can't run as fast or as far as your friend who has been running the past 5 years.

It's important to believe that you can achieve your goal, but realize that you won't achieve it right away. You will need to take steps to get there. You may encounter difficulties or make mistakes, but try not to let yourself get discouraged. Realize that even the fastest runners, have bad days and had to build up to their current regime, and that those who seem the healthiest have their weaknesses and don't eat perfectly all of the time.

The final point to making your health or fitness goal a success is to build it into your lifestyle. To be truly successful, it cannot be something that you just do for a few weeks, or few months, it requires a change to how you live. This change will occur slowly, but ultimately you have to make the commitment to change how you are currently living your life, and don't think of it as a diet or a phase, but of a lifestyle change.

In a future post I will provide tips on how to change your diet to become more vegetarian oriented, or completely vegetarian, while ensuring you are getting all the nutrients you need. I will also include some more recipes.