Author: Nathalie Mercier, MA, Registered Psychologist
- 8 min read -
Focus on your process instead of a goal as part of this year’s wellness plan.
Having new or revisited goals for ourselves is important for us to feel that we are progressing, growing, moving, and heading in a direction in our lives that feels good and leads us to success. The January New Year is a time for many which often ritualizes the process of establishing or revisiting goals for the 12 months ahead, with the hope of change leading to better health and happiness.
Unfortunately, over time, "New Year's resolutions" have taken on aspects which don't contribute to our wellness and can set it back or even harm it. There's the challenge of:
“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” – James Clear
WHAT DO "RESOLUTION" AND "GOAL" MEAN FOR YOU?
First, let's look at definitions. The term "resolution" means "a firm decision to do or not to do something" or "the quality of being determined or resolute." Being "resolute" means being "admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering." Although being resolute can be a characteristic of strength, in terms of focusing on the process of how to reach a goal, this language can be limiting and doesn’t allow for the natural ebb and flow of progress and development which are key for growth and movement. As for the definition of “goals,” James Clear has an interesting way of reframing them saying “goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.” Changing your thinking about a goal, can lead to things working for you and feeling better about yourself instead of being something to dread if a goal is not met.
Second, language which is too rigid or even inaccurate can leave people feeling down and deflated if they experience "setbacks" or don’t reach their goal. Having markers for growth is important, yet growth presents itself when there is a mindset of flexibility, compassion, caring and allowing for distractions. Language which shifts perspective is a very important part of mental health and can support it or cause us stress and trouble emotionally if the language isn't supportive and empowering.
WHAT IS "WELLNESS" FOR YOU?
Interestingly, wellness is defined as "the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” Within this definition, there are potentially conflicting meanings which may not be accurate. Positively, “pursue" means "continue or proceed along (a path or route)” and “actively” means there is movement. These support the natural aspect of change. "Health" is often associated with physical health, whereas "wellness" incorporates wholistic and multiple components of health. Both health and wellness are not necessarily the same, nor are they states. They are evolving and ever-moving processes and part of a system to meet our needs and with no end per se. What does it mean to "take good care of myself" or “to have good self-care”? These are phrases used often without being clear on what the pieces and their associated actions are.
This questioning and defining process presents the challenge to yourself to be specific in a wholistic way, looking at each aspect of your life in order to facilitate positive health and wellness. See wellness as alive and in constant movement which aligns with accepting the nature of change instead of trying to attain a state to stay in and keep.
One way to avoid falling into language traps is to first notice them. We know we’re in a language trap when we notice problematic behaviours and difficult emotional states, such as negative, non-working thinking and feeling depressed or anxious. These behaviours and states can sometimes come with a painful, unhelpful and self-harming momentum. It is possible, however, to stop the momentum by simply identifying or naming what’s happening for you and acknowledging it: “Feeling annoyed. Ah, gotcha.” Then you can select the appropriate course of action in the present moment which is supportive of your well-being, such as taking a few breaths, outlining a boundary, or letting go of something you know you have no control over (these are actually some good strategic steps in most difficult cases).
Physical health and psychological health are only parts of wellness, and they go hand-in-hand where one influences the other. When wellness is a process, we actively engage in nourishing thoughts, emotions and behaviours with activities that light us up, energize or soothe and calm body, mind, heart and soul. An activity with a clear intention can be just closing your eyes and breathing frequently throughout the day, in order to reduce muscle tension. As you set your intentions, try expanding wellness to go beyond physical health, and include emotional (identifying and acknowledging feelings), mental (practicing identifying negative thoughts and positive affirmations) and spiritual (meaning and purpose) health. Is it a lot of work? Yes, but with practice, activity and intention engagement become healthy habits.
SHIFTING FROM GOALS TO INTENTIONS
Switch from “resolutions” to intentions and experimentation, which are a different way to look at goals. An intention helps focus on the process instead of the goal and means it’s something you plan to do, whether or not you pull it off. An intention is also more flexible, realistic, supportive and respects where you are on your path. Unexpected things will always happen along the way and the intention can shift based on what you need while still heading for your goal. When you set intentions, ask yourself how they take account of each aspect of your health and wellness. Why am I setting this intention? What’s its purpose? How does it help my whole self?
There are many helpful tips on creating a healthy intention. Find those which work and fit best for you.
Sometimes we need a little extra help, and we don’t have to go at it alone. Counselling support can be highly beneficial, as it offers an objective view, helps us learn skills to identify and explore what feeds our difficulties, and develops new perspectives, practical strategies and healthier habits that work daily and over the long term.
Avoid defining health and wellness as a special state to be achieved. See health and wellness as natural, dynamic states involving methods that you engage in and practice as part of your everyday life. Sometimes we’ll engage and sometimes we withdraw. These are natural ways of being and are part of what makes us human. Wellness involves staying ever curious about yourself and it smiles upon you as you revisit it again and again, including what "healthy" means for you.
We wish you well on your journey with its interesting and natural valleys and steep climbs, embracing them as opportunities every step of the way.
Check out our other articles: