COACH yourself to success

It’s a new year, and you’ve got a resolution in mind. Whether it’s aiming for a healthier diet, improving your stress management, or finally committing to that daily workout, achieving your goal probably won’t be easy. Resolutions made on New Year’s Day are often in the trash bin by Valentine’s Day. But this year can be different if you learn how to COACH yourself to success.

Dr. Beth Frates, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, designed a strategy she calls COACH to move you toward your goals. It’s a process that can help sidestep pitfalls that may have derailed you in the past.

“Sustaining healthy habits is a lot about mindset as well as self-talk,” says Dr. Frates, president-elect for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. “Self-talk is something we do silently in our own head. But self-talk is actually not silent; it speaks volumes.” The trick is training the voice in your head to urge you forward instead of holding you back.

Getting started with the COACH approach

Dr. Frates’s COACH approach relies on five basic components.

Curiosity. Ask yourself questions about what you enjoy as you choose your path to your goal. “Curiosity encourages us to embrace and explore what we really like to do,” says Dr. Frates. If your plan is to exercise more, it might specifically mean exploring new types of movement to get yourself going. “For some it might be a Zumba class, for others yoga or strength training,” she says. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. “There are so many options for exercise, choose the one that really gets you excited,” she says. And whenever possible, include some variety in your plan. “The brain loves novelty,” she says.

Openness. “Many of us, when we reach the new year, experience self-talk that goes something like this: ‘It never works anyway. I’m not going to stick with it, I never have, but I might as well give it a try,'” says Dr. Frates. “That’s being judgmental, and it’s also forecasting negative results.” Instead, try thinking about your challenge differently. Move past some of the negative self-talk and bad habits that impeded your progress in the past, she says. When a problem arises, change your internal script.

Say instead: “‘Everyone makes mistakes. I have tried this in the past, but I’m going to try something new and a little different this year,’ or ‘I’m going to use new strategies and techniques this year,'” says Dr. Frates. “I’m not judging myself. If something doesn’t work, I’m going to try to learn and grow from it. I’m going to look at what happened and make improvements.”

If you look for growth and learn to see setbacks as stepping-stones, not as end points, you’ll be less afraid of failing and more likely to persevere until you succeed.

Appreciation. Look for and commend yourself for positive changes — no matter how small. “If I pull out sneakers, that’s a step in the right direction,” says Dr. Frates. “If I get out my calendar on my smartphone and schedule a 10-minute walk, that’s a step forward.” Also, think back on past successes. You can use those same strategies to help with your current goal.

Compassion. Practice self-compassion. This step is about realizing that there are some things that you just don’t enjoy doing. If you pick those activities without establishing a plan that can overcome your dislike for them, it will become a barrier to your success. For example, it’s counterproductive to opt for outdoor runs in the winter if you dislike the cold, or commit to walking on a treadmill when you find it monotonous. “Maybe those things aren’t my best options.” says Dr. Frates. In addition to avoiding disincentives to change, make the path to your goal more enticing by adding incentives. Stuck with the treadmill? You can make it more appealing by watching your favorite show during your workout. Or you might recognize that it is worthwhile to invest a little money on your favorite activity — say, cross country-skiing. “I’m going to be compassionate with myself and know that money is well spent,” she says. “I’m not going to go on the outdoor run if it makes me miserable and isn’t bringing me joy.”

Honesty. The last item to focus on is honesty. If you are setting a goal, it needs to be an achievable one. Don’t decide to sign up for a marathon if you haven’t run for three years, or decide you’re going to lose 20 pounds in four weeks. “It’s really about being realistic and honest with yourself,” says Dr. Frates. Also, be frank with yourself about what you’ll need to be successful. For example, if you know you do better when you have a friend or partner urging you on, incorporate that into your plan. And be open with that person when you miss a workout or slip on your goal to hold yourself accountable. “For example, say ‘I told you I was going to do x, y, or z, but I didn’t. Here’s what happened. Can you help me strategize going forward?'” says Dr. Frates.

Most of all, be transparent with yourself about what isn’t working. Many people say things like “I didn’t exercise because I was so busy with work. It will be different this week,” says Dr. Frates. But it won’t be different this week, not unless you recognize there may be more to your lapse than simply being too busy. “Perhaps you didn’t have a system in place to support your exercise goal,” says Dr. Frates.

Making a difference

Ultimately, achieving goals is about having a clear plan and cheering yourself on along the way. Being critical of yourself is counterproductive. Using a tough approach might motivate you for a day or two, but it typically won’t stick, says Dr. Frates. “What really works is when we feel internal rewards,” she says. Exercise that makes you feel good is motivating. Achieving a goal that makes you feel more creative and less stressed is motivating.

“Those are the things that really propel us forward for the long haul,” says Dr. Frates. “The things that are sustainable are usually joyful and rewarding in and of themselves.”

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …

Luke 11:28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

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