Thriving during tough times
As a health and wellness coach, the past year has made for an interesting, non-clinical study of who seems to thrive when the rules of life change. In spite of the pandemic, some of my clients have found ways to lose weight, become more physically active, reduce stress, become more resilient and much more. What is it about these people which has enabled them to become stronger in the face of challenging circumstances?
What follows are my observations of the common factors among those clients who have risen above the fray and managed to make progress on their important health goals.
It may be obvious but still important to note that every one of my clients who is doing well in the midst of the pandemic is on solid footing financially. At a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet, it helps to feel a certain security about work and housing and food before one can focus on self-improvement. Not all of our neighbors have the same luxury.
With that said, here are the common characteristics of the thrivers:
- They have a powerful reason for losing weight, getting stronger, reducing stress, etc. In coaching we call it ‘the big why’. When someone tells me they want to lower their A1C so their doctor won’t put them on medication, right away I know they are highly motivated to make some changes. It means they’ve got the spark needed to eat healthier and become more physically active, two of the many things we know can help lower risks for many chronic diseases. When our motivation remains high, consistent action tends to follow. My role as coach, of course, is to provide the right kind of support so my clients are able to keep the flames of motivation burning, knowing it is the key to sustaining change.
- They find creative ways to make sure their vision of the person they aspire to be stays in the forefront of their consciousness. How do they do this? Some of them create an ‘ad campaign’ in which they come up with unique ways to advertise to themselves throughout their living space. Using vision boards and artwork and sticky notes placed in strategic locations, they control the messaging which keeps them focused on their game plan. In doing so, they never lose sight of ‘the big why’.
- They figure out ways to take themselves off ‘auto pilot’ more often. Mindfulness beats mindlessness every time. Many of my clients have taken up some form of meditation, often using an app. Through a practice of pausing the action and bringing deliberate attention to whatever it is we are doing, we tend to get better at noticing more of what we are noticing. Think of it as meta-awareness. As we gain insight into the thoughts and feelings which underlie our behavior, so too does our ability to change the script and consciously choose to make smarter choices regarding our health.
- They track their progress. As much as we may resist having to record our actions, the reality is that metrics matter. Most people respond favorably to numbers and charts and visual ways to represent their journey. Some of my most successful clients are the ones who consistently log their foods, note their habits and track their activities. The practice of making a check mark on a chart or recording measurements can be effective ways to help us stay focused on the actions needed to reach our goals.
- They keep moving. No secret that being physically active is good for both physical and mental health. To continue to be active when gyms are closed or restricted has not been easy. The resourceful ones have adapted by doing on-line workouts, many of them free, or by taking their activities outdoors. Walking has become the most reliable way for people to get their daily steps these days and every one of my successful clients has found a way to increase their walking, at times and in places they had never considered previously. One of my clients, a long-haul truck driver, says he can walk a mile at a rest stop by doing 51 laps around his eighteen-wheeler. Now that’s commitment.
- They have learned the value of detaching for periods of time from their devices and the media in its various forms. It’s so easy to get yanked around by everything going on in this world, but nobody says we have to always be connected to the grid. One of the common strategies I hear from my successful clients is that they are limiting how much time they spend on an electronic device or watching TV. Many of them report how good it feels to get part of their life back when they take a break from their phones. Much like occasionally fasting from food may be a good way to reset our metabolism, so too may regular fasting from our devices be good for our soul.
The beauty of the strategies described above is that they are both simple and accessible. No special tools or equipment are needed. Nor does one need to wait until the pandemic has passed and life returns to normal (whatever that means) before giving them a try. These are practices which can be adopted today and help move us beyond survival mode into thriving mode.