1. WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?
Yes what is your big idea? This is the big picture. What is your ultimate goal? For those of us with chronic conditions and/or autoimmune diseases we think in terms of results. We think, I want to be able to bike with my kids again. I want to live pain free, I want to be able to work full-time again, I want to learn dancing, or martial arts, or kayaking. I want to be able to go on long walks. I want to go to a yoga class. I want to go out more and travel more. I want to be out of this wheelchair. I want to be able to walk without a walking cane. I want to beat cancer. I want to prevent cancer from coming back and live again.
When we think of the big idea in health, we think of the end result. But sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that's our next step when in fact it's the end goal. Now we leap backwards to understand what needs to be our first step. But before we do, write down your big goals. What are they? What would you like to achieve in 2017?
2. WHERE'S THE START LINE?
Everyone's start line is in a different place. It's what I like to call establishing one's Baseline. And that Baseline needs to be established in each of these Health Areas: a) Diet, b) Supplementation, c) Exercise, and d) Stress Management. Now this takes honesty and integrity. Meaning if you're in denial, writing out your baseline will fail which means the rest of the steps going forward will also be useless. This is about taking an honest look in the mirror and seeing things for how they are, not how you think they should be or how you would like for them to be. So think about these areas and take an honest look:
a. How is your Diet? Do you know what eating Healthy means? Do you eat a lot of gluten, dairy, sugars, processed foods, unhealthy fats, or bad carbs? How many servings of raw, organic fruits and vegetables do you have daily? Do you drink soda? Or sweet tea? How often do you drink water? NUTRITION is 70% of disease management and prevention. It is the first step of improving one's health. How good is your daily diet? Rate it 1-10 (10 being the best).
b. Do you take quality supplementation? Do you know what that means? (It's ok if you don't. This question is not meant to criticize. So be honest. Just like the question above asking if you know what eating healthy means? If you don't know what makes a quality supplement high quality, write that down. Because then the next step is education before implementation).
c. How often do you exercise? Do you incorporate a stretch routine or a yoga routine to your exercise regimen? What can you do? Are you able to walk for more than one hour? Are you able to run for 1-3 miles? Are you able to hike, kayak, practice martial arts or do sports? What is the minimum you can do right now? How strong does your body feel? Rate it 1-10 (10 being the best/strongest).
d. What does your stress management regimen look like? Do you have one? Do you practice meditation? Or any other stress management technique? How effective has it been? What is your stress level currently 1-10 (10 being the worst)?
3. THE VERY NEXT STEP
We try to see the whole staircase anytime we think of goals and planning goals. In reality, trying to see and determine the whole staircase can actually set you up to fail. The question is: What's the very next step? The most effective next step I've seen no matter where an individual is on their health journey is education. Learning about health is invaluable. It is the most important thing you can do for your health. Either by reading books, attending health seminars, webinars, watching health documentaries or taking online courses - education is key. I've noticed in the past ten years of health coaching and providing yoga therapy that many of my clients did not understand what a "healthy diet" actually meant. Nor did they understand how supplements can be dangerous and toxic but whole food concentrated products backed by lots of medical research is what I like to call Quality Supplements. Also those who have chronic/autoimmune conditions who have difficulty with walking for more than an hour should not start with a yoga class. Dependent on your baseline, starting on the wrong first step can actually take you back even before you start.
4. KEEP IT SIMPLE
The key to success is keeping things simple. One simple change at a time. If you have a bad habit of drinking soda and sweetened beverages, the first step could be as simple as minimize soda to once a month and drink water and infused waters. Start there with your diet changes. You could also say minimize gluten and dairy to 1-2 times a week. And that can be a start. Or instead of subtracting, how about adding? An actionable step could be having vegetables and fruits at every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and making sure the serving size for vegetables is bigger than the grains, dairy and meat portions.
Another actionable step could be stretching every other day for 15-30 minutes. That's a great actionable step to start with!
5. ONE SIMPLE CHANGE AT A TIME OR FULL THROTTLE?
Everyone is different when it comes to implementing changes successfully. For some, taking things one step at a time with one simple changes at a time can ensure success. As an example, improving one's diet over the course of 3-4 months, and then incorporating yoga or any other exercises to stretch and strengthen the body for another 4-6 months and then incorporating stress management techniques. The whole process would take 1-2 years but it would be completely worth it! Other individuals can fail taking things one at a time. Some individuals are the Full Steam Ahead types, meaning changing diet, exercise and practicing stress management techniques all at the same time. It's like quitting cold turkey and jumping in with both feet. For some the Full Steam Ahead plan actually works. For others it doesn't. So the question is, which type are you? Which path will set you up to succeed? Take that path.
6. THE INTEGRATIVE APPROACH IS KEY
I've heard people say, I've tried yoga for my MS and it didn't work, I've tried eating healthy but I still have RA pain, I tried the whole meditation thing to reduce my stress but it didn't work. After speaking with these individuals, what I discover is that just one method was used for less than four months and it failed. With chronic health conditions and autoimmune disorders, trying one method for less than four months is a surefire way to failure. The key is an integrative approach for more than four months. Our bodies are made up of our physical body, mental body, emotional body and energy (chi) bodies. Each of these areas need to be healed. It isn't just one thing. Also for the physical body, it's a combination of nutrition and exercise that needs to work together in synergy for progress to be made. And all of these changes takes time in the body from implementation, progress and seeing the end result. It can take a minimum of 4 months to one year to see major progress. So the health plan needs to include positive improvements in diet, exercise, whole food supplementation, stress management and energy healing. And these improvements need to be practiced at the same time.
This is what makes health changes difficult. It's not a short term fix or a band-aid like medications. What I like to call lifestyle medicine are actual lifestyle changes that can turn chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases on its head. It's incredibly effective but it takes learning, implementing, building new habits and practicing patience to achieve success.
7. HIRE THE EXPERTS
Some of us are born with certain talents, skills and vocations specializing in lifestyle medicine. Some of us are not. As a health coach and yoga therapist/instructor, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (and after going through a very heavy grieving process of 8 months), I knew how to structure a health program for myself to start improving my quality of life and to successfully manage my MS. It's something i used to do working at a medical clinic alongside physicians as a Clinical Yoga Therapist back in 2005. My job was to create a yoga program with actionable steps for patients with chronic diseases. So I created a nutrition/healthy eating program for myself, got on a quality supplementation program (which I got from my Physician Assistant friend after she showed me all the medical research), and started with gentle yoga therapy. After five months I went from shopping for walking canes online to hiring a personal trainer to help me get stronger. My expertise is in health coaching, healthy diet to manage chronic conditions, yoga therapy, yoga strengthening, stress management and energy healing meditation. But my expertise does not include fitness training and martial arts training. So I hired a personal trainer for that next step.
Some people try to save money by doing things on their own. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. Investing money on one's health is so important for success. I've invested thousands of dollars out-of-pocket since being diagnosed on my own health and it's been worth every penny, because I now have quality of life even though I'm living with MS. Last year I also hired a life and business coach who helped me make leaps and bounds forward in my life. He was $185 for 1.5 hrs. Some would say OMG that's expensive. I say no it's not, I'm sorry you think that. Because it was priceless for me and my life. I've noticed individuals who find a way around the not-enough-money reasoning, find success in their life and in their health. It's not easy I understand. It's easier to get stuck in the financial trap of not having enough. And that kind of energy attracts more scarcity into one's life. I've also seen clients who spent $80/mo on coffee or eating out state they didn't have enough money for their health. And then there are those who are on disability and really can't afford a healthy lifestyle.
Whatever you have to do, find a way around the I-don't-have-enough-money trap. Whether its re-budgeting, doing side jobs like a business or trade, getting a loan and/or asking for money from friends and family to help you. There's always a way. And your health and quality of life is worth the investment.
8. TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK
It's a dance. A very annoying dance. But an unfortunate one all of us are coerced into doing when we try to implement changes in our health and our life. It's not a straight line. There are challenges and setbacks along the way. Every one of my clients who have ever succeeded in my coaching programs have all experienced setbacks. It's a part of the journey that cannot be avoided. Nothing is a straight line. The key is to not give up. To always review your progress, make adjustments and try again. (Another reason why it's a good idea to hire the experts who know how and what adjustments to make).
9. ITS A JOURNEY THROUGH THE A,B,C'S
One you've accomplished your first step (A step), the next step is to figure out what the "B" step should be and implement that step. Once you've achieve the "B" step, plan and implement the "C" step, and on and on until you reach the finish line. It's a journey with actionable steps (one step at a time, and one simple change at a time), with the end goal in mind. The journey is filled with setbacks and doubts, curves and gutters. That is the journey. But when you're finally at the end of it, looking back, it can be one of your greatest and proudest accomplishments. That feeling is priceless. I've felt it twice in the past three years of my journey with MS. And I wouldn't change a thing. Because I'm now able to apply not only my knowledge as a health coach and yoga therapist, but also my experiences with MS to help others.
So with that. Here's to planning successful and actionable steps for 2017! I wish for you, my successes in health.
Juanita Street is the founder, coach, and 200-hour certified yoga teacher with Street Coaching Group (SCG Health). Juanita also has an MBA in Health Administration degree from University of Colorado Denver. SCG Health offers online health programs and private health coaching (online) for people with chronic conditions and autoimmune disorders.