Think back for a minute and remember January. Can you remember where you were on New Year’s Day, thinking about the year ahead and what you envisioned for yourself? Whether you call it a resolution, a goal, or a fool’s errand, many of us can’t help but greet the new year without some kind of project for ourselves. Did you have one?
I did. I began 2019 with a commitment for better self-care and slowing down the pace of my life, because I was tired of hearing myself complain about how busy I was. Now that we’re here at the beginning of September, I can look back and see the ways that I have incorporated that into my life and look ahead to ensure I can continue my new habits.
If you want to do the same, in the spirit of football season kicking off this weekend, here’s how you can make a game plan.
Prepare Your Offense
Nine months have passed since you first had this idea, so do a gut-check on how important the goal is to you. It’s okay to let go of a plan if something that felt urgent in January isn’t a priority anymore. Think about what does feel urgent, and whether you want to pursue it. You have the ball.
Then, plan the offense by determining what needs to happen on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis to have achieved the outcome by the end of the year. For an extra point, do the first thing today.
Be Strong on Defense
Even with a smart and solid offense, a strong defense protects that plan. If your goal was easy to achieve, you would have done it by now. It’s likely that there is some reason you haven’t, and you probably already know what it is because you come face-to-face with it every day. Examine that reason, look for it’s weaknesses, and tackle them.
To do this, be ready with positive reasons why you are making a change and firm responses to that couch potato in your head. Keep victory in your sights, and stay excited about how it will feel to have created your new habit or reached your milestone.
Be Ready for an Interception
Of course, there will be times when none of that works, and you get intercepted. It happens, even to the pros. When you realize you screwed up, do what any champion does: figure out where your weakness was, patch it up, and get back into the game a little more alert and aware. Setbacks happen, but winners don’t make the same mistakes often.
I don’t care what the ref says, when you are able to make positive changes in the stubborn, over-scheduled lives we live, that deserves a victory dance. Celebration is important, because living healthfully should be rewarding and fun, and the more often you are able to connect healthy living with a sense of achievement and reward, the more likely you are to repeat the process. Give yourself every compliment in the book. Don’t hold back! You deserve to feel like an MVP when you do push yourself to the next level.
Have I used enough football analogies to make my point? You have everything it takes to be a winner this year, even if you aren’t coming into the season with a perfect record. It’s a new season now, and all of the polls predict that you have what it takes to be undefeated.
For some people, it’s the unknown that stresses them out. For others, it’s the known - or what they think they know based on past experiences. Some people start feeling stressed out when they see a certain person or arrive at a certain location. Some of us pretend that nothing bothers us, even though everyone else can plainly see that we’re wound tighter than a spring.
Do you know what kind of stress you have? Does it matter?
Well, as with most things, it depends. Knowing the source of your stress can help you choose the best tool to manage it, and over time learn how to reduce it. In-the-moment techniques like deep breathing, a brisk walk, or using a meditation app are always effective for managing stress throughout the day, but if you’re interested in digging a little deeper and being proactive about stress, consider which categories best describes your stress, and check out these tips for responding.
Has anyone ever told you to get out of your own way? It might be because they see you making life more complicated than it needs to be, either through procrastination, poor time management, or inefficient patterns.
I remember being in the drive-through at a fast food restaurant, staring at the menu and frantically trying to choose something healthy, feeling stress mount as my family grew impatient and the line of cars behind us got longer. The stress I was feeling could have been avoided if I had simply made myself a sandwich instead of relying on fast food. I realized that, and now I don’t leave for road trips without some snacks for myself.
Sometimes more creative thinking is needed. Break down the situation you are in and identify precisely what is stressing you out. In my scenario, it was feeling rushed and having limited options. Naming those feelings helped me choose the right solution.
To address avoidable stress, pay attention to the patterns of your day when you are agitated, and instead of just expressing it, make a note about whether you can do anything to change the scenario in the future. The trick here is to focus on what you can do, not what needs to be done by someone else! We’ll talk about that later.
Imagine sitting in your office or your home and someone coming into the room with a big bucket and saying, “I have a bunch of stress in here, do you want some?” and then they just dump it all on the floor.
This is second-hand stress: the stress that has nothing to do with us but comes into our space. This may be the friend who wants to tell you all about her family drama, or a co-worker who bursts into your office with an emergency that they want to vent about.
Resist the temptation to roll around in that stress. Step back and give people room to be grumpy, dramatic, or angry without taking their stress on to yourself. Just recognizing that you are in the midst of second-hand stress will make this easier to do.
It can be hard at times to pinpoint what is causing feelings of stress. When stress becomes the new normal, it may be from an underlying cause that is unrelated to the situation you’re in at the moment. Financial stress, troubled relationships, feeling unheard or unappreciated, or feeling resentful can make it difficult to enjoy the good times of life because they keep stress at a constant hum.
There are times when the guidance of a professional is needed to be able to resolve underlying stress. None of us are expected to get through life alone, especially the tough spots!
Family strain, medical diagnoses, deaths of loved ones, things that are not our fault but we still have to deal with...it happens to all of us. This is when to call in those tried-and-true resilience tools like deep breathing, yoga practice, meditation, and exercise. We all experience stress in our lives that can’t be avoided; thankfully, we also have the tools that help us cope.
When stress bubbles up, put it in its place. Then, choose the best response and enjoy a quicker path to smooth sailing.
On the second day of second grade, my younger son told me from the back seat of the car about his day. He told me about who he played with on the playground, which parts of his lunch he didn’t like, and that he asked a friend if he would be joining cub scouts this year.
But his friend didn’t answer, so he asked again. But this time, he said, he used his level three voice. Now, teachers may already know this trick, but I learned that, for second graders at least, level one voice is being quiet, level two is using your inside voice, level three is an outside voice, and level four is a voice you should only use in an emergency. He also demonstrated level five, which you can probably imagine for yourself.
Sometimes it seems like life has volumes like that, too, doesn’t it? The last week of summer break feels like everything is at level three (or four!) with all of the scurrying around and getting things ready. Then, once everyone is back in their classrooms, life can feel like level one, nice and quiet, at least for a little while.
When I think about these levels, I imagine a volume dial like you might see on a radio or an old television set. Click it clockwise one notch, and it gets louder. Click it again, louder still. Keep clicking, and eventually someone is going to holler from another room to ask you to please turn it down. It got too loud.
In my life, I have a series of dials like this. There is a dial for exercise, a dial for healthy eating, a dial for sleep, a dial for socializing. I find I am constantly adjusting them to keep the level of noise in my life to one that I like.
Imagine being in a classroom of second graders who are all talking at level two. Even with everyone using their inside voices, it’s likely to be difficult to hear things clearly. Some of them need to dial it back a little.
If all of the children were talking at level three, it would be total chaos. Nothing could get done until someone stepped in and asked everyone to work at a lower level. And by “ask” I mean in the way that a second grade teacher would ask, not how it usually happens at my house, which is easily a level four!
The approach we take to caring for ourselves has levels as well. There have been times in my life when I was trying to do everything at level three - 100% effort on every single thing. You can probably guess how that went. Life was way too loud, and while I was really busy, not much got done very well.
There are also times when we are working at level one, and nothing is happening at all. The volume of effort is too low for any progress to be made.
You can probably see by now where I am going with this. As your coach, I wonder if there are areas of your life and well-being that need to have the volume turned up or down, and which combination is the right level for you to feel your best.
It’s tempting to jump into healthy goals at level three, doing all of the things all at once. We sign up for the new transformative diet program, buy all of the special foods, and for a week or two follow it religiously. But then, enthusiasm begins to wane as we find we are spending all of our time learning a new way of eating and cooking that it drowns out everything else.
It can be fun at first to begin an exercise program at level three, gung-ho with new classes and workouts, only to be so exhausted by the end of the first week that we drive through for fast food or pick up something convenient to eat instead of cooking a healthy meal at home. Has this happened to you? It happens to all of us. It’s why most new year resolutions don’t make it to February: we are trying to live life with all of our dials turned up way too high.
At what level are the important areas of your life? What do they need to be tuned to this week? It changes, you know. There are some times when meal planning and nutrition needs a lot of your attention, and that needs to be at a level three. That’s a good time to dial back some other areas to a one or two, so you can continue to do your best work.
Healthy living is about balance - a balance of effort, pace, and progress. Adjust where necessary this week, and enjoy the hum of a balanced life.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!