This is the nuts and bolts of using the Health Commitment Matrix. Within each element think about what strengths you have in that area. These can be built upon, strengthened and expanded to make each element of the Matrix most supportive of your health commitment and quality of life. Enhancing and adding additional strengths is as important as addressing barriers as we set specific goals a little later on. The common theme we like to use here is ‘Will this decision move me closer to, or farther away from health.’ Use a similar approach when identifying and eliminating barriers.
This simplified approach to goal setting allows you to have a main plan (Plan A) and plan for tough times and setbacks (Plan B) all in one model. The idea is to take a ‘business planning’ approach to your life and health goals. Once you have identified a particular strength in your Matrix, you need to set goals to keep that strength moving forward; growing and building on it in a way that will last. For the barriers you will take a problem solving approach that reduces or eliminates the barrier and also starts moving towards creating strength in that area. For every goal, you will set a primary goal and a backup goal that will allow you to be prepared in advance for when life gets in the way and you need to be a little more efficient. For example, let’s say you find yourself skipping your workouts because your workload is keeping you late at the office. One answer for the long-term may be to examine ways to improve the workload situation so you can meet your Plan A goals. However a more immediate temporary solution (Plan B) might be to grab a short brisk walk at lunch or on breaks so that if your exercise session after work is interfered with, at least you got something in that day. On a good day you might even end up doing both!
You will hear all kinds of experts telling you not to set New Year’s Resolutions because they won’t last. You may also hear you shouldn’t use other special occasions (weddings, anniversaries, swimsuit season or other appearance-related goals) as motivators. The way I see it, changing habits is hard enough without throwing out perfectly good motivators! In fact we need to grab all the motivators we can and use them to our best advantage! The problem is that when we set goals like these our plan often doesn’t extend past the special event and often we go right back to old habits and lose all our progress. Well, that doesn’t mean the motivator was bad, it simply means the plan was incomplete. So long as you put a realistic plan in place to achieve your goals in time for the special event and do so in a way that is reasonable, healthy and sustainable over the short term, then follow the event with a well thought out ‘next step’ plan that will keep you moving in the right direction you will be fine. It’s a lot like competitive athletes. They develop plans to prepare for specific goals (competitions) that are a little more intensive in the short term. Then the plan automatically transitions over into a realistic ‘off-season’ effort that keeps them moving in the right direction until their next contest. This ongoing self-improvement cycle can easily be applied to the goals you are trying to achieve.
We are so busy and so distracted by the way we choose to live our lives these days that being present in the moment appears to have gone the way of “8 tracks and cassettes and stereos.“ We multi-task to the point of absurdity by times. I see three friends walking down the street, one is texting, and the other 2 are talking to other people on their phones while all three are window shopping. It seems like they are missing the actual moment together. This style of living may be what we want. I am certainly not here to judge. However, the path to health and well-being requires us to pause occasionally and become aware of ourselves without distraction. We need the opportunity to self-examine and to understand what we truly need emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. How we go about this varies as does the depth of the self-awareness sought. So for example, the next time you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed; take a moment to pause and ask yourself “what do I really need right now” before grabbing the cigarette, the donut, skipping your exercise session or even reaching out to social media. A moment of self-reflection to understand why in that moment you are so deeply in need of a distraction or about to make a decision that moves you away from health can do wonders if practiced regularly. Perhaps what you really need is to pay attention to an emotion, to sit with a negative thought, to process some problem you are struggling with rather than reach for the quick fix. In addition to moment-by-moment self-reflection, there are deeper levels of self-awareness that some find helpful. Through the regular practice of mindfulness techniques; regular mediation or spiritual practices or psychotherapy people build a deeper stronger sense of self that helps them to become aware of how to meet their needs in healthful ways.
This is the fun one! This is where you list all the things you do. How do you spend your time? Hobbies, entertainment, sports etc. This section, unlike social and recreational life does not focus on “who” but rather it focuses on WHAT. What do you do? What ruts are you in? How can we shake things up and make your life more exciting, more interesting. How can you explore new things and think outside the proverbial box. Some go as far as reinventing themselves here while others simply add one or two new and fun things to their world. There are so many things to do in our free time yet so many of us have not tried anything new for many years. Maybe it’s as simple as exploring your Parks and Recreation Department website and picking one new thing per month to try whether it’s an exercise class, Shakespeare in the park, new walking trails or paddle boats. Just commit to doing it once, that’s all. Then, if you like it go back; if you don’t then simply try something different next week. Perhaps it could involve going to local historic sites. I find this frequently amazes me and makes me feel like an explorer! Sometimes I find an intriguing and enriching historic village or museum, and other times it turns out to be a fancy sign in a cornfield but either way it got me out and about. I am told that Geocaching which is a GPS based pastime that has you seeking small items in remote places can be a great hobby that helps you to explore new things. The whole point is anything that expands your world (and gets you away from the TV and computer) creates wonderful possibilities and can really add to the quality of your daily life.
Now is where you step back a moment and reflect on all the things you have identified through your use of the exercises outlined above. Reflect on what you have learned about yourself, your life, your strengths and barriers. Here is where you bring it all together and decide; ‘Who do I hope to be.’ You will notice that in many instances there is overlap in the elements of the Matrix such that progress in one influences the rest. You will see how your goals may be fine-tuned and interwoven to create a smooth plan for living your life comfortably, productively and happily. You will notice how by combining all that you have discovered as you did the exercise you may have arrived at a new philosophy of living that you will start to explore. Often people like to start a daily journal at this point in the process. Or at least write about what they have learned about themselves one time so they can look back on it at various points along the way when they revisit the Matrix, accomplish goals, and set new goals. The roadmap we provided here is not a one-time deal. It can be reworked as often as you like, perhaps a monthly or quarterly review suits your needs. Find the way the Matrix fits best into your world and get moving toward health!