Wellness is a vague term that lumps together many different areas of our selves. This includes our physical and emotional well-being. Many self-improvement programs attempt to tackle many areas of well-being at once. I have found that to be self-defeating. Others may be able to scrap their entire lifestyle and start over at once, but I’m not one of them. I don’t think most people can do that.
Anytime that I’ve made big changes in the past, it has always begun with one small area. Once I master that area, I add another and another until there is a cascading effect that makes a big change possible. This has worked for me in some areas with more success than others.
I’ve written before about my difficulties in taking care of my physical well-being:
How the Damage from an Abusive Childhood Keeps Me from Seeking Healthcare
Why the way I was treated keeps me from treating myself well.
Because I have so much resistance to taking care of my physical well-being and I’m tired of pushing against a currently immovable object, I’ve decided to try and do an end-run around the blockage. I’m going to address my emotional well-being, in the hope that once I conquer enough of those problems, it will cascade over into my physical well-being.
My plan has four steps.
The first step in any self-improvement plan is to take stock. Honestly look at your life and what you want to improve. Make a list of everything. You will not be tackling them all at once but get them all out there on paper (or screen) in front of you.
Look at the list and try to rewrite anything that you listed in a reductive format. Be productive instead. For example, instead of saying you want to lose 25 pounds, say that you want to make your body healthy and strong.
Choose What to Improve
Next, choose one improvement to tackle first. It should not be the biggest or most difficult area. Implementing changes and establishing new habits is difficult. Don’t stack the deck against yourself. Choose one of your smaller goals that will be easier to attain. Being able to mark a new habit into your win column will give you more confidence to tackle the bigger things later.
Whatever you choose, make sure that it something that can be measured. Do not use a vague goal like “feel better.” Have a concrete goal like “decrease the number of weekly panic attacks.”
Take that concrete goal and establish the baseline measurement. For the panic attack example above, that means figuring out what your average number of panic attacks per week is. If you don’t have a baseline, how will you know if you improve?
List Small Easy to Do Steps
Next is to make your plan of attack. Break down your goal into tiny steps. For example, if you are trying to establish an exercise habit to help your depression symptoms, choose a tiny goal. Walk for 3 minutes. Do 2 push-ups.
Such a tiny amount may seem silly at first, but the important thing is to establish the habit. For at least 2 weeks do just that tiny amount. Longer would be even better. Take the baby step daily until it is a habit. You will know it is a habit when you feel like something is missing if you don’t do it. Test it out. If you get up first thing in the morning and do your 2 push-ups, choose a day and don’t do them. If it bothers you later in the day and you feel like you’ve forgotten something or are missing something, the habit is established, and you can move onto adding more exercise in. If not, keep doing the tiny amount and test again in another week or two.
You want it to be such a normal part of your life that you miss if it you do not do it. Like brushing your teeth. Once it is automatic and ingrained, then you can start building on that habit to improve the area that you are focused on.
Don’t Let Setbacks Become Catastrophes
Accept ahead of time that you will screw up. Have a plan for dealing with this. You don’t want to be two weeks into establishing your new wellness habit and then throw it all away because you forgot to practice one day.
Life happens and sometimes you miss a day either because you were busy, or you got lazy, or your anxiety or depression is kicking your ass. Don’t let one day become forever. This is my personal area of weakness. Part of my emotional wellness strategy is writing daily and I’ve struggled to maintain the habit because I will miss a day and let that turn into missing multiple weeks while I wrestle the harsh inner voice that labels me a failure. Again.
Know that you will mess up and prepare to be compassionate with yourself. Dust yourself off. Give yourself a little pep talk. Argue with your vicious inner critic that tells you what a screw up you always are. Whatever you gotta do, do it and get back on track again. Start the next day with a clean slate and another baby step on your path to emotional wellness.