At this time of year there is a tendency to want to improve our health, tied in with a wealth of information circulating about health goals that we should be aspiring to achieve. However, having too many health goals can leave us feeling emotionally exhausted. Today’s Everyday Wellbeing explores this further.
So why does health, something that is supposed to make us feel and look better, drain us emotionally? Dr James Newman, senior lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University explains: ‘When we set goals according to what we see others do on social media, for example, we might not possess the skills to maintain the behaviour needed to achieve them. If you think about it, we are flooded with information – which is exhausting in itself – and when you start pushing yourself to do things that aren’t fuelled by your internal motivation, it unconsciously sets standards impossible to keep up with.’
‘Not everyone has the same opportunity or environment to achieve health goals,’ adds Newman. ‘Do you have the time, skills or money for healthy meal prep? The finance for a gym membership? Children to take care of? It is essential to have some perspective, choosing goals according to what is realistic for your lifestyle instead of letting trends set them for you.’
It’s Monday and you’re feeling really motivated. But by the time Wednesday comes around, life gets in the way; come 4pm, you’ve given up. This all-or-nothing approach is another way to drain your emotional battery.
‘We always start with the best intentions, but because we are so extreme with our health goals, we quickly get overwhelmed. When we can’t stick to a goal straight away, we internalise it as a failure and become demotivated,’ says Katie Sarah Forbes – a life and mindset coach.
‘Whether it is committing to a daily gym workout when you start from zero, or making a dramatic dietary intervention, it’s inevitable that you’re going to fall short because this mindset is very black-and-white – an all-or-nothing approach. But the truth is, there’s a grey territory in the middle that is a lot more realistic.’
Forbes continues: ‘We need to realise that instant, overnight gratification isn’t realistic. Any type of health goal will require time, patience, and consistency.’
Perhaps what is emotionally draining is trying to adapt our lifestyle to fit with our health goals, when really we should be making them work around our daily stress fluctuation.
Define your why – sit with yourself, be honest, and ask yourself ‘why’ five times. This will help you dig deep into the value and motivation attached to a goal. Remember that your definition of success can still be success, even if it looks different from what others might view as success.
Make it smart
This popular productivity method can also be applied to your health goals. Smart stands for:
Ditch the pressure and be flexible
Pressure often equals emotional exhaustion. Health goals can be challenging, but if you want to succeed in real, sustainable change, they also have to be manageable. If you know that your schedule is packed this week, don’t be afraid to adjust your goals accordingly. And if you slip up, don’t allow it to ruin the rest of the week.
The Who Organisation, promote 10 simple lifestyle goals for healthy living:
Get adequate rest daily
Get regular physical activity
Eat more plant-based foods
Eat more wholegrain breads and cereals
Choose healthy fats
Achieve/maintain a healthy weight
Be free of dependence on tobacco, illicit drugs or alcohol
Maintain a cheerful, hopeful outlook on life
Spend quality time wth family or friends daily
Take time daily for spiritual renewal
So whatever your health and wellbeing goals are this January, make sure you take fully into account your current lifestyle and energy levels. Work out what are the small things you could do to make the most difference. Don’t overload yourself with unrealistic goals, nor have aspirations to change too many things at once. When it comes to changing our health and wellbeing habits, the tortoise will often win over the hare.
Written by Emma Browning, our pastoral and wellbeing lead at Livability Millie College. Emma has supported people to improve their wellbeing for over 20 years. Emma says: “Wellbeing is something woven through Livability’s work and I’ll be sharing some wellbeing themes and approaches in these blogs. My hope is that you enjoy reading them and they build a strong foundation for your wellbeing”