Tuesday, April 12, 2011

At least you've got your health


Exercise
Originally uploaded by andy in nyc
No matter your station in life - rich, poor, young, old, senior executive or front-line contributor - there is a thread that binds you to every other person in the world.  It is your reliance on feeling good and fit enough to accomplish your daily routines and challenges.  Sometimes it's easy to take health for granted.  You might not notice you're knees until you injure them.  (I know, spoken like an aging person.  Trust me, it's not for sissies.) You might not think twice about your weekly indulgence of triple bacon cheeseburgers and super-sized fries until you're super-sized yourself.

This isn't all within your control.  You might eventually succumb to cancer, or to a stroke, or even to the bad driving skills of another person under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  But there is so much that you can do to influence your own outcomes.  Are you taking a conscious and active part in managing the state of your health?

Benefits Selling magazine recently published results of an employee health survey.  ComPsych asked employees "Which health issue are you most trying to stay ahead of this year?"  Here's what they said:
  • 39% - weight loss
  • 23% - stress
  • 22% - exercise
  • 7%   - diet improvement
  • 5%   - quitting smoking
  • 4%   - other
The good news is that all of these areas of concern noted by employees are health issues that they have control or influence over.  Nobody I know is being forced to breathe air through a thin tube of lit tobacco.  Nobody is inadvertently consuming a gallon of ice cream.  The vast majority of health-influencing behaviors are habits, and like other habits, they tend to respond well to goal planning.

If you have a specific health concern right now, what are you doing about it?  If you're still contemplating and not acting, or if you have taken some action but aren't seeing the improved results you want, consider these ideas:
  1. Define the problem.  Excess weight, the most common concern of these survey respondents, can have a number of causes and contributors.  You will have the most success when you have clearly identified your specific issue.
  2. Set reasonable goals.  You will stay on track longer if you establish benchmarks that you can hit with a reasonable amount of additional attention.  Small successes give you the motivational fuel to pursue larger and more ambitious goals.  The goals will be more motivational to you when they are measurable.  "Better health" won't do it like "Eat 5 fruits and veggies per day" will.
  3. Know why you are doing this.  What is the impact on you, your family, your finances, your other goals, if you were to achieve an improvement in your health?
  4. Face your obstacles head-on.  There are reasons why you haven't solved the problem before.  Give yourself a leg up by naming them, then
  5. Develop multiple potential solutions.  Your obstacles aren't STOP signs unless you allow them to be such.  Brainstorm, do research, ask experts, or do whatever you need to do to identify your path over, around, or through your obstacles.  It's helpful to have a Plan B in your pocket in case Plan A doesn't give you the results you want.
  6. Commit to action.  Be specific about the action you are going to take, and by when.  If it helps, enlist a buddy with similar goals to help you stay on track.  Make appointments (yes, actually enter them in your calendar) so you don't step on your own needs for the sake of somebody else's goals.  You can't be of optimal benefit to the somebody else and the world if you're not in the condition to do so.
  7. Evaluate your progress regularly.  Some changes require daily follow-up and tracking.  If you are trying to make a big change make your follow-up frequent enough to keep your goal front-and-center in your awareness.
  8. Engage your perseverance.  Keep your ultimate goal in mind.  It will help your current activity toward your goal feel more important and easier to do.  It took you a while to get where you are.  Expect that it will also take a while to make the improvements you seek.
Even in times of economic stress (perhaps especially then,) you can take steps to improve your health.  Only YOU determine whether you take matters into your own hands - nobody else can do it.  There are a lot of things you can do for free, so finances aren't a show-stopper.  It's a question of whether you are ready to choose to be in charge of that part of your life.

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