Hitting Reset on Health Goals Throughout the Year

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Building helpful thinking styles to fuel the journey.

KEY POINTS

  • Setbacks for reaching health and wellness goals happen to all of us.
  • Your mindset, or how you think about yourself and the journey you are on, can have a great impact on your success.
  • Pausing to identify and modify unrealistic thoughts is a powerful mindset shift that no longer derails your journey; it helps fuel it.

People often associate a change in season—whether it’s the start of spring, back-to-school, or the ever-popular January 1—as a time to reset and create health and wellness goals. Things are seemingly going well, but then you feel like you got “off track” after a fun vacation. Or one month you didn’t make it to the gym as much or do as many home workouts as you typically do. Or perhaps you haven’t even started focusing on the health goals you wish to achieve this year yet. This may leave you waiting for that perfect time to hit restart.

The truth is that setbacks happen to 100 percent of us at some point along the way—in fact, usually at many points.

The journey is full of ups and downs, and you don’t need to completely abandon your health and wellness goals in the face of setbacks. What you do next matters more. And you don’t have to wait until a specific point in time (for example, next month, next Monday, or after your birthday) to reset—or start focusing on—your goals.

There is an opportunity to refocus on setting realistic and sustainable goals at any point in time.

Implementing Helpful Thinking Techniques to Propel Your Journey

It may surprise you to know that your mindset, or how you think about yourself and the journey you are on, can have a powerful impact on your success.

It’s important to remember that what you think determines what you do. We know from cognitive-behavioral psychology that what you think drives how you feel and what you do. Therefore, to do differently, you need to think differently.

Unhelpful thoughts—all those that lead you to take actions that derail you—are nothing but “mind trash.” The good news is that research shows that you can “rewire” your brain to adopt new, more helpful thoughts that give you power to act in ways that are productive for your journey.

It’s helpful to pause in the moment and do a reality check on how accurate your thoughts are. For example, ask yourself, Have I really blown it? Am I really right back where I started? What’s the evidence? Would others view it this way? Would I view it this way if it were someone else? If you find your thoughts are unrealistic, counter them with something realistic (such as, It was a setback, but I can learn from it and move on or Progress, not perfection, is the goal or What is my next best move to get back on track?). Pausing to identify and modify unrealistic thoughts is a powerful mindset shift that no longer derails your journey; it helps fuel it.

Seeing Setbacks as Opportunities to Refocus

Setbacks can serve as opportunities for your growth and future development. When you face a setback or challenge on your journey, you may experience “don’t worry; be happy” thoughts like I’ll deal with it tomorrow or It’ll all work out in the long run without also having a plan. This unhelpful thinking style is based on the idea that many people believe that changing unhelpful thoughts is, at its heart, about having more positive thoughts. But that’s not exactly true—it’s about swapping out unrealistic thinking for realistic thinking.

Next time you hit a setback, try the following technique to keep treating yourself with compassion and understanding while outlining small, specific steps to move forward toward your goals:

  • Tune In: Pay attention to the thoughts you have after a setback so you can begin to notice “don’t worry; be happy” thoughts when they arise. Perhaps, for example, you were planning to start going to bed early but something got in the way of your doing so, and you thought, Oops—guess I’ll start tomorrow.
  • Get Specific: Now ask yourself, What specific steps do I need to take? In the case above, you might set a bedtime alarm or plan to stop checking your social feeds or emails 30 minutes earlier to minimize distractions at bedtime.
  • Create a Plan: Choose a doable solution, one you have confidence you can achieve, then enumerate the specific steps: Ask yourself what you’ll do, when, and how you’ll make it happen. For example, Monday through Thursday at 9:30 p.m., I will shut off my computer, silence my phone, and open a book so I can wind down before it’s time to go to sleep. (“Monday through Thursday” is better than “a few nights a week.” The more specific, the better.)

Shifting your mindset and using realistic thinking can make it easier to build toward any goal using small, specific steps. By focusing on small steps and expecting setbacks, you set yourself up for success along the journey—no matter what obstacles you may face.

 

Psychology Today

By: Gary D Foster, Ph. D.

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