Celebrate Your Success

Before you rush into setting health and fitness goals for the year ahead, stop and appreciate what you’ve already accomplished. A quick look back may be the best tool in evaluating what steps to take next.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or so all the cheery holiday songs and celebrations imply. But it’s also the time when many of us look back at the months and seasons now behind us and wonder: Where did the time go? Like it or not, another 12 months have zoomed by. And if they went by a little faster than you had planned, you may not have checked off every last thing on your resolution list – including your health and fitness goals. Don’t fret. Even if your plans from January didn’t quite pan out, chances are you still accomplished a great deal, probably much more than you’re currently giving yourself credit for. Really, we’re not just being nice.

Look at it this way: While the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, it’s also true that the roads to success and satisfaction are often characterized by an infuriating number of train crossings, tollbooths and multi-goal pile-ups. They are also frequently devoid of road signs indicating pesky areas of construction, detours and merging traffic. So you don’t always know what obstacles are coming or even recognize them when you hit them. But hit them you do, and as a result, it sometimes takes you a little longer than you’d like to get where you’re going. Fact of life.

Rather than kvetching and beating yourself up about how long it’s taking you to get to your destination, take a peek in the rearview mirror and consider for a moment just how much territory you’ve already covered. OK, so maybe those accursed love handles haven’t yet melted away. But perhaps you’ve started eating a little healthier, and you’re feeling a little more energetic and confident as a result. Maybe you’ve also managed to put a few miles on the bike you bought three years ago but never rode until last spring. This is the kind of stuff you need to acknowledge as forward progress, not evidence of a job undone.

The point is, if you’re doing anything at all, even if it’s just shifting your attitude, making some smarter choices or developing your health-and-fitness knowledge base, you’re building momentum, opening up pathways to bigger accomplishments. And if you fail to credit yourself for that, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary hurdles in the future. You’re also cheating yourself out of a lot of well-deserved satisfaction.

Pride in the Process

“If you really want to succeed, you need to start viewing your fitness accomplishments from a positive perspective,” asserts Jennifer Davis, a health psychology counselor for the Duke Center for Living. Viewing last year’s successes in sharper relief can also help prime you for even more success in 2005, Davis notes, because it helps you assemble evidence that you are, in fact, making health and fitness a greater priority in your life. This helps upgrade your goal-oriented pursuits from the dreaded “should” or “have to” status (or worse, “total failure” status) to a progressive and positive part of your current identity. “Taking stock this way helps you clearly communicate to yourself that being active and living a healthy lifestyle are truly important to you,” says Davis.

But this isn’t just about a fluffy, feel-good review. It’s also about plotting out how you can build your current momentum into new accomplishments for the coming year. Once you can confidently say to yourself, “Hey, I did accomplish a lot after all,” and accept that every long journey unfolds incrementally, you’ll be primed to start drafting a health plan for 2005, perhaps with some ideas you gather here.

Fitness

While it’s important to set ambitious long-term fitness goals, it’s also important to have plenty of supportive, short-term strategies that put your bigger ambitions into daily practice and perspective. The fact is, every fitness goal – from losing 10 pounds, to bench-pressing your body weight, to competing in a triathlon – ultimately comes down to a whole lot of moment-by-moment decisions, a lot of little things you do (or don’t do) while no one is looking. So let’s consider for a moment what a few of those things might be:

Planning/ Contemplation:
During the past year, did you …

  • Recognize the need or desire for more activity in your life? Take stock of your current fitness status?
  • Get a medical checkup or seek advice from your doctor about an appropriate fitness program?
  • Realize that being in good shape is one of the fundamental underpinnings to success in other areas of your life?
  • Set any fitness goals? Document any of them? Identify one or more realistic fitness role models? Visualize your body at its most healthy, beautiful and vital, and imagine how it would feel?
  • Explore and identify your specific fitness motivations, likely obstacles, rewards for success, consequences of failure?
  • Manage to formally schedule (write in your calendar) specific times to work out or be active? Show up for planned workouts, even some of the time? Even once?
  • Get off track but then start up again?
  • Investigate or take notice of any outdoor activity areas (nature trails, climbing walls, bike paths, etc.), classes or outings in your area?
  • End the year with a better idea of what type of fitness plan might work for you, or a better sense of how to work around your biggest obstacles, than you had when the year began?

Education/Support:
During the past year, did you …

  • Become more interested in health and fitness information (for example, did you take more interest in fitness-related media, conversation or activities)?
  • Realize that you don’t know as much as you’d like about how to get in shape, or that you aren’t really applying what you know?
  • Share your goals or intentions with other people? Ask for their support, or ask them to help hold you accountable?
  • Seek out any information, guidance or support related to getting in shape or taking your fitness program to a new level (books, magazines, Web sites, conversations with trainers, health pros and fit friends)?
  • Become more discerning about “get-fit-quick” schemes and celebrity-endorsed “miracle” equipment?
  • Keep a journal or log of your fitness activities at any time? Did you discover anything in the process?
  • Have any insights about your own patterns of activity and inactivity, motivation and lack of interest (for example, did you notice that you do better being active at certain times of the day/week/year, or that you enjoy exercise under some circumstances but not others)?
  • Experiment with different kinds of fitness routines or activities? Did you find that you liked some things better than others?
  • Ever notice that some activity (whether a yoga class, a morning walk or an after-dinner ball game with your kids) really made you feel better and was definitely worth the time?
  • Become aware of the importance (and potential synergy) of pursuing a balanced fitness regimen, including strength, cardio, flexibility and balance training?
  • Learn to accept and be grateful for the body you have right now, including its inherent ability to change?
  • End the year knowing more about fitness, and your own fitness patterns, than you did at the year’s outset?

Execution/Momentum:
During the past year, did you …

  • Direct some of your daily choices and actions toward achieving better fitness (for example, did you start taking the stairs, walking after dinner, watching less TV, making it to the gym more often)?
  • Manage to stick, even marginally, with a scheduled workout or activity plan? Achieve a more balanced fitness program than you had last year? Build in more variety?
  • Take real pleasure or enjoyment in any of your fitness activities? Experience any sort of fitness-related “rush” or exercise high? End a workout or activity session feeling proud and happy?
  • Ever push yourself even a little past what you thought you could do? Ever use activity as a way to de-stress, relax or wind down?
  • Attempt to spend more time being active with friends and family?
  • Participate in any athletic events or competitions? Work out in a class or with a group?
  • Do anything you might not have thought possible before?
  • End the year feeling more hopeful and excited about your fitness than when you started?

Nutrition

You may have discovered that when it comes to habits, few are more deeply ingrained – and more maddeningly unconscious – than the ones having to do with what we put in our mouth.

Fortunately, our eating habits don’t have to be perfect for us to be healthy. Even small improvements in our diet can make a big difference in how well our bodies function. The level of nutrition we’re taking in can have an especially big impact on how energetic we feel and, by extension, how willing or able we are to exercise. So in evaluating your nutritional progress this year, it’s important to consider awareness as well as outcomes, and to perceive even your most disappointing “failures” with a view to what they might have taught you.

Planning/Contemplation:
During the past year, did you …

  • Realize that your body needs and deserves better nutrition than you’ve been giving it?
  • Contemplate or investigate how your eating habits might be improved?
  • Inquire with your doctor, nutritional specialist or trainer about what type of eating plan or dietary changes would be advisable for you?
  • Come to a better understanding about how nutrition supports your general health, immunity, energy, athletic potential, mood and ability to handle stress?
  • Set any healthy-eating goals? Document any of them? Create a plan toward achieving them?
  • Abandon your healthy-eating plan or lose momentum, but then get back on track?
  • Shop at a food co-op, health-food store, natural grocery or healthy-food area of your market?
  • Remove any unhealthy items from your home? Quit buying (or cut back on buying) any unhealthy, overprocessed or “problem” foods?
  • Start carrying healthy foods and drinks with you? Start patronizing healthier restaurants?
  • End the year with a better idea of what changes you’d need to make, and what resources you’d need to seek, in order to improve your eating habits?

Education/Support:
During the past year, did you …

  • Become more interested in nutrition (for example, did you take more interest in reading and interpreting nutrition labels, reading nutrition-related articles, understanding nutrition concepts)?
  • Share your healthy-eating goals or intentions with other people, especially those with whom you live? Did you ask for their support, or ask them to help hold you accountable?
  • Seek out any information, guidance or support related to healthy eating (books, magazines, Web sites, conversations with trainers, health professionals or health-savvy friends)?
  • Begin to see the difference between “being on a diet” and eating for good nutrition and health management?
  • Keep a journal or log of your eating? Have any insights about your own patterns of eating (for example, did you notice that you tend to eat poorly when under stress or overtired, that you feel better when you include protein at breakfast, avoid processed carbs, etc.)?
  • Experiment with different kinds of eating schedules or different ratios of macronutrients (proteins, fat, carbs)? Find that your body responded to some regimens better than others?
  • Notice that certain foods don’t agree with you, or that they set you up for wanting more and more?
  • Become aware of the importance of eating well in order to support your training?
  • End the year knowing more about nutrition, and your own eating habits, than you did at the year’s outset?

Execution/Momentum:
During the past year, did you …

  • Direct some of your daily choices and actions toward achieving better nutrition (for example, did you start eating a better breakfast, cutting back on caffeine and soda, taking your lunch to work, learning to cook new healthy dishes, or ordering takeout less often)?
  • Manage to stick, even marginally, with a healthy-eating plan for any length of time? Take notice of what threw you off, and when you tended to cave in to temptation?
  • Achieve a healthier, more balanced diet than you had last year? Eat a wider variety of foods? Start incorporating more organics and high-quality foods?
  • Take some real pleasure or enjoyment in eating healthy? Experience any sort of nutrition-related energy boost?
  • Get up from a healthy meal feeling satisfied and pleased with what you’d consumed?
  • Break or weaken a stress-related eating or drinking habit? Enlist the support of a healthy-eating buddy or coach?
  • Attempt to serve healthier foods to your family? Eat at the table together more often? Seek out healthier food choices while traveling or on vacation?
  • End the year feeling more confident, in control and motivated toward healthy eating than when you started?

Quality of Life

Our daily quality of life plays a huge role in how motivated and capable we are of making specific changes in our health and fitness habits. When we are tired, distracted and depleted, we have a hard time gathering the energy and the will required to make conscious, constructive change.

Sometimes, the best way to initiate improvements in areas like health and fitness is to start right at the very foundations of our lives. Although it can be more challenging to track changes at this bedrock level, even small shifts can create seismic results, so take a moment now to reflect on the root-level work you may have been doing in the months gone by. This is the stuff that will be paying off for many years to come.

Planning/Contemplation:
During the past year, did you …

  • Spend some time visualizing and documenting how you would like your life to look, feel, be? Consider what values you want represented in your daily life?
  • Become aware that you’d like to feel more connected to a sense of higher purpose and meaning? Identify some ways that stress, fear or anger might be detracting from your health, mood or the quality of your relationships?
  • Contemplate or investigate how your current frustrations or limitations might be related to some core beliefs or ingrained habits?
  • Inquire with your health professional, coach or wise friend about some changes, explorations or personal-development tools that might be useful for you?
  • Set any personal development or life-balance goals? Rearrange any priorities? Create a plan toward achieving them?
  • Lose sight of your new priorities, but then get back on track?
  • Evaluate or consciously reduce the amount of time you spent being passively entertained or “zoning out” to electronic media?
  • Make any attempts to improve the quality of the atmosphere in your home or office, or the state of your financial affairs?
  • Reconsider any friendships or acquaintances on the basis of whether they were energizing or de-energizing to you?
  • End the year with a better idea of what changes you’ll need to make, and what resources you’ll need to seek, in order to improve your quality of life?

Education/Support:

During the past year, did you …

  • Seek out any guidance related to expanding your conscious awareness, moving beyond old limitations or living a more satisfying life (books, magazines, Web sites, conversations)?
  • Share your insights and intentions with other people, especially intimate friends or your partner? Did you ask for their support and input?
  • End the year knowing more about your values and priorities, and where your current life stands in relationship to them, than you did at the year’s outset?

Execution/Momentum:
During the past year, did you …

  • Follow through with even part of your resolution plans? Recognize when you were wandering off course or forgetting about them? Do any course corrections or adjustments to your plan in response?
  • Make positive changes to any relationships or relational patterns?
  • Carve out a little more time for play, spiritual exploration, rest and other “nonproductive” tasks? Create time and space to become a better steward of your physical health?
  • Forgive anyone, or drop a grudge you’ve been holding? Become more generous in your appreciation, love and respect of others?
  • Reduce your financial debt or curb unnecessary spending in any way? Become more conscious about your financial habits? Make any attempt to consume less, or live more simply?
  • Make some regular, or even occasional, entries in a personal journal?
  • Make any good, but tough, decisions in the name of personal integrity? Tell the truth about something you could have lied about, denied or covered up?
  • Overcome any fears, or do something that demanded bravery at the time? Resist the temptation to beat yourself up for not succeeding at something?
  • Call on your faith or ask for help in a difficult time?
  • Give any thought to what you’d like people to remember about you when you’re gone?
  • End the year with better self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-compassion than you had when the year started?

Taking Stock, Taking Credit 

If you’ve been able to say “yes” to any of these things, or if reading through these examples has shaken loose any insights about other accomplishments or areas of progress, congratulations. Give yourself some gold stars! You’ve made headway, and with luck you’ve also made some sense of what it takes for you to make positive change in any area of your life.

Take note of what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve learned and what you want to do more (or less) of in the coming year. Then take pride in the fact that this year, your good intentions actually took you somewhere you wanted to go – in the direction of your hopes, your values and your most promising future.

Your Review in Review 

Using the ideas from this article and your own instinct as fodder, reflect back on your year with a view to what you feel were your biggest successes, achievements or areas of progress. Take a moment to document them here, along with your areas of continuing challenge, then use the lessons you’ve learned from your breakthroughs to generate new momentum in the areas where you feel most sluggish.

List your top three accomplishments this year:
1)
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Name three lessons you learned from these successes (about what works best, how you’re wired, what conditions, support or timing best predispose you to success):
1)
2)
3)

List your top three areas of challenge over the past year:
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Name three lessons you learned from these challenges (about what clearly doesn’t work for you, what types of obstacles you’re most vulnerable to, any tendencies toward self-sabotage, etc.):
1)
2)
3)

Consider how you can apply the lessons from both these exercises to the goals you intend to set for 2005. Write yourself a brief note summarizing what you’ve learned, and tuck it into your journal for reference down the road. When you find yourself at an impasse or detour, take the paper out and read it. You may be surprised at how wise your own advice sounds just a few weeks from now!

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