Strategize your Wellness in 2021
Embrace your inner Scientist, awaken your inner Warrior
With 2020 finally coming to a close, the thought of a new start is a sigh of relief after a trying year. This year tested our collective limits for uncertainty, change, and our ability to be flexible. We’ve been met by adversity after adversity, navigating through social nuances, medical considerations, employment changes, financial issues and political chaos, not to mention the personal concerns that we all go up to bat for every day. This year has taken its toll, and we’ll feel it’s impact for years to come. But as the world returns to normalcy, we can regroup and begin healing after a year that asked us of so much. With the right mindset and a couple of helpful thoughts, this next year can look a lot brighter. Here’s to 2021 being the year of Recovery, Self-Care and Reconnecting to ourselves.
New Years brings with it New Year’s Resolutions, and if you’ve ever been to a gym in February, you know how those work. Resolutions are usually firm commitments: “I will spend less money in 2020!”, “I will eat healthy this year!”, “I’ll learn how to play guitar by 2022.” But after that initial period of deciding what it is you want, you can sometimes feel like you are fighting against yourself. You’re not alone. 74% of the US population plan to make a positive change in 2021, yet studies show that by the second week of February, 80% of people quit their goals.
Why are those resolutions so hard to meet? Part of it has to do with strategic goal-making. You want the goals you set to be SMART goals, which is just a catchy way of reminding you how to structure the goals you’re most likely to stick to. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant to your long-term vision, and time-bound. For an in-depth guide to SMART goals, click here.
Progress towards goals isn’t always linear. There will be moments or days where your best effort may falter. It’s important to remember that this is normal! When things don’t work out, the best thing you can do for your goal’s progress is to not beat yourself up over it. Forgive yourself and have a growth mindset when things don’t go as planned, and aim for a process to gain self-awareness to keep pushing towards your goals.
Setting goals in different areas of your life is healthy and admirable, but the longer your list gets, the more you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin and diluting your efforts. Choose to commit to the one thing will have the biggest impact on actualizing your vision. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls these Keystone Habits. The rationale is that some goals, especially health or productivity goals, have positive side effects that splinter off and affect your ability to achieve other goals. Let’s say you have several goals on your list, including reading a book a month, resolving your insomnia, and being a better spouse. Committing to a healthy sleep schedule may be your keystone habit in this instance, radiating the benefits of a full, stable night of sleep onto the rest of your life. With more energy, you may find yourself feeling focused enough to read, and less irritable at the dinner table.
Once you’ve committed to diving in, staying afloat can present challenges too. Undoubtedly, there will be turbulence, you’ll have good days and off days, and emergencies happen that can interfere with your goals. The thoughts you have in those moments are critical.
Take note to identify cognitive distortions, or put very simply, distorted thinking that causes and reinforces unhelpful thoughts. If you miss a workout or otherwise make a misstep, supervise your thoughts — what thought patterns come up? It’s healthy to feel a certain disappointment at a goal falling through, but if you begin to feel strong negative emotion, investigate to see if any distorted thoughts lurk about. Common distortions include All-or-nothing thinking (“I’m a total failure”), Mind Reading (“They think I’m incompetent.”), or Fortune Telling (“He will think I’m being petty and yell at me if I bring it up”). For a more comprehensive list of cognitive distortions, learn more here.
When we think of motivation, our minds jump to what pushes a marathoner to run that last painful mile, or what compels people to climb Everest. However, motivation plays a part in scenarios broader than those. Any action we take is instructed by our motivation to do so, whether it’s getting a glass of orange juice on a hot day or putting on our running shoes on a winter morning.
Your motivation to remain steadfast to your goal can be influenced in large ways and in small ways throughout the course of your efforts. You may not feel like doing those goblet squats you said you’d do today, or maybe, feel unattached to the broad vision you set for yourself weeks ago. Remind yourself of the value of your goal, what it means to you and why it’s important to achieve it. James Clear, author of atomic habits breaks down motivation and strategies to combat waning motivation in his guide linked here.
Be a Scientist and Warrior
Be a scient-arrior (a what?) Just hear me out.
Remaining dedicated to achieving a goal takes planning and grit. You’ve got to reason your way into using strategies to regulate motivation and apply critical thinking to gently massage out cognitive distortions, like a researcher or scientist. At the same time, you’ve got to attack your goals with wild abandon, hone into those moments where you’re laser-focused, and give it all you’ve got. It’s the balance between a calculated, reasoned approach, and a brutal, unwavering dedication. The spotlights on you, you’re center-stage and you’re playing both parts.
Play the role of scientist. Become an expert in yourself by conducting experiments to see what works and does not work for you. Use that information to develop a plan for success. For example, you plan on going to the gym after work but for the past week, you are too tired to go after work. Change the time: do you need to wake up earlier? Understand what works better for you and apply it.
Tap into your inner warrior: Stay on the path and pursue your goals relentlessly. Yes, there will be failures along the way, there will be drawbacks, but with each instance- there’s an opportunity to learn something new. You’re not starting from the beginning, take what you’ve learned, recommit to yourself and put it to the test. You are brave and strong. Brave and strong isn’t winning in the first round, it’s taking that deep breath when things don’t work out and asking what else can be done to get to your goal. It may be a sacrifice like waking up early or stepping out of your comfort zone, but that’s nothing you can’t handle.
Combining these roles are essential for success. Take what you learn about yourself, put it into action and test. Fight for what you want–prioritize it. The process is not perfect but you learn more each time you cycle through it. It requires accountability (built through self-awareness), a firm commitment (resolution), a plan (SMART goals and a change in mindset), and consistency–getting refocused and back in action when you slip.