6 ways to avoid a common health trap in 2022
Not seeing progress with your health goals? Feel like this happens again and again? You are probably stuck in this very common personal trap.
A new year can be gloriously refreshing when it comes to setting health goals! (Ah January! the ‘fresh-start’, the ‘blank-slate’, the ‘new beginning’). Those excitement filled, hope-driven New Years resolutions can fill up your blank journal page very quickly as you ponder the year ahead while enjoying the summer sunshine.
However, now that summer has well and truly come to an end (and those autumn leaves have well and truly fallen), you (like I) might be starting to think 'where did that time go?’. You might be noticing that your initial January goal setting optimism has started to seriously give way to... REALITY, and somehow suddenly life has GOT BUSY again. Any progress toward your health goals might have slowed down (or maybe dramatically crashed to a stop in a burning, crying heap!).
If this sounds familiar to you, or if history shows that a few months into a year you usually find yourself reflecting on those January goals like a mere distant memory, then beware you might be headed into this (super frustrating) cycle again this year already! The cycle (of goal setting, initial motivation, reality striking and then realising no progression has been made) can rear its ugly head time after time as a direct result of a common health trap I call ‘The Busyness Trap’.
In today’s world, ‘busyness’ is a real thing. We are encouraged to be ‘busy’. We are multitasking and are doing things faster, better, and more efficiently. We are fully scheduled and busy reading about what we ‘should’ be doing (or what we are doing wrong!). We are researching, we are social media posting, we are ticking boxes. Things are urgent and need to be done NOW and we are already thinking about what’s next. The daily ‘noise’ (and utter chaos at times) of this ‘busyness’ can make you feel like you have so much to do that you run out of time to even attempt to progress your health goals. Like sands through an hourglass... days, weeks, and months are just suddenly... over.
The truth is, when it comes to having health goals, the noise of this daily ‘busyness’ can become a real problem. It is not that you are ‘too lazy’, not that you have ‘no willpower’, ‘can’t’ do it, nor that you are a ‘failure’ but instead your lack of progress could literally be due to your own busyness trap.
I invite you to now take a step back and think about what you did yesterday. Think about each hour slowly in your mind, really visualise yourself. Were you busy? Busy rushing from here to there? Busy doing urgent busy things?
How much of yesterday’s time did you intentionally dedicate towards those glorious, hope-inspired (New Years) health goals that you set? Will you try again tomorrow for that gym session you missed? Start again on Monday with that meal planning? Start reading that book next week? Record your food and feelings in that symptom diary next month instead? Make that specialist appointment later? (Or, when you have more time of course...)
On reflection, do you think you could be stuck in a busyness trap that is slowing the progression of your own personal goals? If so, let’s try to nip that in the bud. Here are some ideas that could help you break this super-frustrating cycle once and for all!
1. Start with awareness of your own ‘busyness’
Keeping some daily records may make you even more aware of how you really are spending your time. It’s amazing what you find when you write it all down hour by hour (are you too busy to do this?). Check your screen time usage on your phone (yikes), monitor your exercise and sleep apps if you use them, reflect on who you have spent time with and why.
Everyone is gifted with the same amount of time each day (24hrs last time I checked), how are you really spending yours?
2. Re-evaluate your methods and processes
Sure, no doubt there are things that you do have to do in your day (what are they for you?). You may need to go to the office, cook dinner, pick up the children from school, put the baby to sleep, make sure groceries are done, organise the event, attend that online meeting (or 4!), feed the animals or get to that appointment. I invite you to start to look at exactly how you are doing these things.
What are your processes? Are you doing everything because it is just ‘easier’ if you do it? Are you ‘people pleasing’? Are you doing things simply because you have been told to or doing them a particular way because it’s always been your ‘normal’ or your perception of the only way to do things? Are there better ways to do things?
Start getting curious about how you could do things differently for yourself. Making small manageable changes could reward you back small fragments of time in the day (think online shopping without the driving time, carpooling with the kids’ friends, meal planning and bulk cooking, working condensed hours, looking at the purpose of the meetings and collaboration with others, or even, dare I say, eeeeeek!!! delegation). This could make all the difference for you!
Small amounts of time back are very valuable. If you need additional hope, remember this…even getting 15 mins back per day (by making a small change to a process) is… 105 mins per week, approximately 450 mins per month and a whopping 5475 minutes per year to re-allocate to that glorious goal of yours (wow! that’s possibly 182 x 30 minute walks per year, or reading at a Google ‘average’ pace (of 45 pages per hour), that would equate to approximately 13 x 300 page books per year! (Ok, I’ll stop now!)
3. Get real about your true priorities
In your set list of things that you ‘do’ per day, I invite you now to really get honest with yourself about whether you even need to be spending your time there at all (or as much as you are). It might be time to re-evaluate what you consider as ‘urgent’ (the clean sink? the ironing? that football game? that Netflix episode? that other person who sucks your energy….?) and you might see many places can pull even more precious time back. If you start prioritising your health goals like you would these seemingly ‘urgent’ things, imagine the progress you can make over time.
What if you take that walk first? What if you meditated for 10 minutes first? What if you didn’t change the task until you had done your daily reading first? What if the (health goal) was first, as opposed to have it drop off the agenda at the end of the day because you were too ‘busy’?
Remember, the grass is always greener where you water it.
4. Re-evaluate your perception of ‘relaxation’
After the day’s busyness, most of us (quite understandably) feel the need to ‘relax’ now the day is over. However, one question I challenge you with is:
Do your current relaxation methods match with your health goals or are they two distinctly different domains?
Sometimes the way we relax is simply habit (cue Netflix) or just how things have always been (cue cup of coffee and biscuit). Maybe your perception of ‘relaxing’ isn’t doing you any actual favours though health wise. It could physically be doing the complete opposite to what you really need (think habitual night couch snacking, drinking alcohol for a ‘good sleep’, gossiping to someone, scrolling social media to ‘chill’, or staring at blue TV light just ‘because’. Sometimes I think we get tricked into rewarding ourselves for the busyness of the day with cliche 'relaxing' things that could actually be contributing to the un-doing of the original goals.
I challenge you to log how much time is spent in your perceived ‘relaxing’ domain and then see if you can steer some of this ‘relaxing’ toward mechanisms that can also actually align with your health goals. Enjoyable (non-judgmental/pressurised) exercise, meditation, reading, warm baths, early bedtimes, developing your relationships and other mindful hobbies can all be ‘healthy’ ideas here that (scientifically) really can help the body truly rest and restore (aka relax).
5. Check your ‘that’s it for the day’ perception
One strong perception a lot of people have is a perception that their 'day is over’ at a particular routine time (i.e., when work finishes, when the kids are in bed, after that nightly check-in phone call) and then simply ‘that’s it’ for the day. Do you have a similar perception about your day being 'over' ? Can you see how this might be a trap for your health goal progress? Maybe this can be something to monitor and log too. If the day wasn’t ‘over’ at this time, could you carve out another number of minutes to make a little more goal progress instead?
6. Assess the elephant in the room!
Could you be stuck in a way of thinking that associates making progress on yourself as ‘selfish’? This elephant in the room (if allowed to stay) could absolutely squash any long-term progress for you over time. So long as you may not see yourself ‘worthy’ of such time and attention for yourself, or while you are stuck in possible martyrdom, or a way of thinking that links your persona to being the most prize-worthy candidate for an award linked to human suffering (the most sleep deprived, the most run down, the most under-fed, the person who does everything for everyone type-award), the longer you will also absolutely stay in your own busyness trap.
Remember, being ‘busy’ in your day does not necessarily make you (or someone else) ‘successful’. Instead, being intentional with time and re-prioritising what is ‘important’ versus ‘urgent’ in your day, could be the break of the busyness trap for you this year. Let’s challenge our norms here! Wouldn’t it be great not to be stuck in the same place at this time next year?
‘Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important’ - Stephen R. Covey