Setting Goals For 2018

Untitled design (13)New year resolutions are a common practice. The turn of the calendar from 31st December to the 1st of January usually witnesses a flurry of declarations for a better life, better body, more money, greater happiness and so on. Setting a goal does not necessarily translate to achievement. Most New Year resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of a couple of months, if not earlier.

Here are some tips to ensure that your goals suit your lifestyle and are realised.

We’ve all heard the acronym set SMART goals.

Goals need to be –

  • Specific (simple, focused on something definite).
  • Measurable (something that can be evaluated).
  • Achievable (attainable).
  • Realistic (reasonable).
  • Time bound (time-based, time-sensitive).

While all the above holds true, I add that goals need to be Action based and not Result based. What does that mean?

A goal such as, ‘I intend to lose 10 pounds this year’ is result based. (Even though it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time sensitive). The loss of ten pounds is the result of your effort.  The result is not always within your control. You may lose 10 pounds or, you may not reach your goal. On the other hand you may end up losing more.

A better approach is to focus on your effort or the action leading to that result. So for instance, your goal should not just be to ‘lose 10 pounds’ but perhaps one or more of the following:

  • I will walk for thirty minutes every day at a moderately intense pace.
  • I will stop eating sugar and desserts
  • I will consume at least five cups of vegetables a day
  • I will include two days a week of weight training
  • I will lower my intake of refined carbs and processed foods
  • I will remove alcohol from my diet.
  • I will be more mindful of what I eat

And so on……

The above actions are pretty much under your direct control. If they are adhered to, the result, the weight loss will emerge. The success of the result of course depends largely on the effort you put in. Your focus therefore needs to be on that effort that is under your control.

Many times however despite your best effort you may not achieve exactly what you were going for. While this may be the case, it is quite pointless lamenting this ‘lack of success’ as I said the result is not always under your control. Instead recall the positive spin offs from your effort (which may not have been on your agenda to begin with). Following the above goals will make significant ‘lifestyle’ changes for long term success. These changes are far more important that the mere loss of weight. You learn to incorporate regular exercise, you understand and apply the basic principles of healthy eating as a ‘lifestyle’ rather than a short-term solution with an end goal like ‘weight loss’.

Whatever your goals, focus on the action and give it your very best. The results may or may not be exactly what you expected but no matter. The effort invested is all that really matters.  

 

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Wabi Sabi & Dichotomy of Control

Wabi Sabi is a fascinating Japanese ideology. It implies a very simple philosophy:

Nothing is perfect, Nothing is permanent and, Nothing is finished (But….. you make your peace with it.)

I think this is quite relevant to health, weight, fitness and wellness. One could of course interpret those words to imply that you simply accept the inevitable deterioration of your body or consider obesity, ill health and lifestyle disease a natural part of ageing and make peace with it. Since nothing is perfect, why bother trying to make it so? Since nothing is finished, why bother starting? And since nothing is permanent what is the point of attempting to stay fit or improve health?

I think however, it embodies something slightly different. It signifies the very essence of taking care of oneself for the right reasons and by using the right methods.

Nothing is perfect

Life situations are never perfect. You make the best of them. You may believe you don’t have the time to exercise, you may have a hectic travel schedule or sick kids to contend with. You may work long hours, be highly stressed and living under the duress of deadlines.

You don’t always have the time. You make the time. That’s just what you do when something is an important priority in your life. Even a twenty-minute workout at home (like a HIIT routine), is better than nothing at all if you can’t get to the gym. A quick run on the treadmill or a swim in the hotel pool is better than sulking in your room about your endless travel and how it impedes your fitness.

You may be obliged to (or want to) attend social lunches and dinners. This certainly influences your diet resolutions, but instead of sampling everything on the menu and living with the guilt, strategize how to eat out sensibly. Weigh your food options and make reasonable choices at every meal. Compensate for an indulgence by having a few light meals and making sure you workout. These are coping strategies that the clever people use to stay on track.

The myth of perfection – We are also confronted with another kind of perfection that often gets in the way of regular humans exercising for themselves and to improve their own health, mood and quality of life. We have been programmed into believing in perfection. More importantly, the kind of physical perfection portrayed by the media. Not everyone can look like the model on the cover of a magazine, not even the model on the cover of the magazine!! And neither should we try. Trying to look like somebody else is simply a wasteful exercise. Trying to adhere to the dictates of society to be certain size or appear a certain way will not necessarily get you a healthier body. Likely it will get you on the roller coaster ride of binge eating, starving, yo-yo-dieting, over exercising coupled with a lot of angst and frustration. Instead of watching your weight, counting calories, exercising maniacally, talking endlessly about it and worrying about not losing weight…..spend that time establishing healthy, sustainable LIFE HABITS.

Nothing is finished

The human body is a work in progress. We usually start exercising with simple goals like

  •  Lose ten kilos
  •  Get into that dress/those jeans
  • Run a marathon
  • Trek to the Himalayas
  • Control my diabetes

Once we achieve those goals, then what? Ideally,  we need to continue to include fitness into our day. Change our routine to make us better. Try new forms of exercise. Mostly, we are in a hurry to perfect and finish a process. We forget that the process itself is part of the journey and is more relevant than the end-point. The journey is the ‘now’ the destination is the ‘future’. We are in a hurry to lose weight, to reach the destination faster. We find ways to do it quickly, shabbily and with no regard for the true physiology or functioning of the human body or how to truly support its wellbeing. We fail to understand that we as humans can never be a finished product, perfect or permanent.

Fitness is a journey, not a destination – In our quest for weight loss or a better physique we tend to lose perspective. Understanding the larger picture, that losing weight is not the one and only objective of fitness, is what keeps us from falling off the wagon. If we spent half as much time focusing on our overall health, emotional wellbeing and level of fitness as much as on our physique, we would be much better off and more successful at it. Feeling defeated by a few setbacks and giving up at the first signs of difficulty is a sure way to take two steps forward and three steps back. Pick yourself up and move on!

Nothing is permanent.

Life changes. We change. Nothing is permanent.

We age. This is the normal physiological process. Yet, youth is revered. Even when we know it is never permanent, we strive to hang on to it with our teeth and the tips of our fingernails. The tremendous surge in clientele for botox, laser, face lifts, tummy tucks and so on are testimony to our infinite yearning to stay young and beautiful. This is a personal choice of course. There is no moral judgement against it. Ageing gracefully however is a science and an art. Keeping your body strong all the while growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually is not the same as trying to hold on desperately to ones youth. Work with the flow, rather than against it. Build strength, maintain stamina improve flexibility. Understanding that nothing is permanent is what should keep us moving forward. Even good health, a great body, astounding intellect or a superior athletic capability is not permanent.  Elite athletes understand that their athletic prowess declines with age. Our bodies change in a myriad ways and we need to design new and more effective strategies of working towards bettering ourselves. We may not be able to run a marathon in our latter years (although I know many who do), but we will be able to continue to exercise, strengthen our bodies and keep ourselves free from disease (or at least manage disease better). We don’t have to succumb to obesity or ill-health resulting form poor lifestyle habits.

~ When you come to value our body for its uniqueness and for what it can do rather than simply what it looks like.

~ When we start to actually listen to it, give it what it needs not just what we thank we want.

~ When we stop punishing it for not looking the way we think it should.

~ When we use exercise as a way to celebrate and enjoy our body’s capabilities.

~ When we thrill in the aftermath of a long strenuous weight training session or a feel the joy of quivering legs after a run……….

Then Fitness has become a ‘way of life’ and not just a means to an end……… and this in itself is a gift.

On another note, Stoicism, (from ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy) talks about the ‘Dichotomy of Control’ and how one cannot completely control ones body or its deterioration as that is outside of our control. One should therefore be cognisant of this fact. This is certainly true and we’ve all heard of this ‘health freak” who dropped dead (and am sure, told ourselves ‘so what was the point?!). But we do have much under our control. How we lead our existing lives is certainly under our control and will determine the quality of life of day-to-day living  (and not just our demise). The attitude that allows a semblance of peace within us is, I think, one of coming-to-terms with a given situation. Accepting the true nature of everything and all the while staying motivated to continue to improve ones body, ones mind and ones life and the discipline and mindfulness despite this reality is one way we can make our way through this imperfect, impermanent and unfinished business of life.

 

 

 

 

Serendipity

Serendipity is the aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. Do you often sense the hint of serendipity with happenstance, especially when you look back at it from a distance? Like the time you randomly meet someone on an aircraft and then run into her at an opportune business meeting later making a tenable connection. Or, you rescue a lost dog only to find his owner is cute and single (ok, so that sounds like a line out of a racy romance novel, but you know what I mean!).

Serendipity has played such a large role in my life I often wonder if it’s all in my mind. Do fortuitous coincidences happen like this for everyone? Or is it because I am always watchful for them and am hyper sensitive to them? I find a reason for just about everything. Mostly in retrospect (hind sight as they say is 20/20), nevertheless there it is. Perhaps you could call it ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’; whatever it is I feel as if a gossamer web of coincidences has always encircled my life.

Like this dear friend of mine who stopped on a busy highway in Madras to play Good Samaritan to an elderly gentleman whose car had broken down. The gentleman’s daughter exchanged visiting cards with my friend and he mentioned this to me. It turns out, she is closely related to another dear friend and we ended up with a deep connection and many shared values.

On a larger scale, I live in this small town where I was born and brought up. I never intended to live her ‘when I grew up’! Circumstances made it necessary. Having lived here however has created the perfect opportunity for me to have an alternate career in Fitness as an extension of my medical practice, write three books, have a Fitness studio and follow my passion for Psychology by doing Positive Psychology to incorporate into my Lifestyle Training. All of this would certainly have not been possible had I lived in a city with a frenzied lifestyle. As it stands my semi-isolation here allows me the time to invest in the things I love like Fitness and Lifestyle, Psychology etc. besides my Obgyn practice.

Coincidences? Perhaps! Serendipitous no doubt! Perhaps I have a habit of tying things up to make sense of my life. To create meaning and purpose and to understand where I want to go with it. That’s how I function.

Look for serendipity in your own life. It’s there!

More Lifestyle Medicine & less Medication!

People visit doctors when they are unwell. This means they are likely to be ‘treated’, usually with medication. This also means they are followed up, given strict instructions such as how to take the medicines, when and with what, what to do during the course of the illness (rest, drink fluids) and so on. And then…. they hope to be ‘cured’.

End of story!

So what happens when they are not “ill”?

Mostly they go about their merry way, eating and drinking as they please, or worse, eating some latest ‘fad diet’ that promises incredible weight loss in ridiculously short periods of time. Or, they choose a really easy way out by buying into fat loss aids and unnecessary supplements. They refrain from regular exercise, rarely meditate and live on a prayer that their bodies will somehow continue to support their decadent lifestyles. Unfortunately, that’s just what it is, a Prayer.

Today we see more and more diseases that are related directly to how we lead our day-to-day lives. What we eat, how much we eat or drink, how physically and mentally active we are and if we exercise, practice relaxation and safe sex. If we take time out to nurture ourselves. If we are mindful and avoid substance abuse. All the above have a close, inextricable relationship with our Quality of life.

 I am not even referring to being just ‘thin’ or of a certain weight. In fact, I am not referring to weight on the scale at all. I am talking about being healthy and well enough to be able to do what we would really love to in life. To travel, work, play, to be creative, be special and see our kids grow.

All that is required to change a person’s course of health, be it improvement in a disease status, weight loss or simply her Quality of life is a change in ‘lifestyle’. Not medication, surgery or any other invasive intervention, but a genuine change in habits.

For instance, a woman with back pain, weight gain, difficulty in conceiving and low mood will benefit greatly from a ‘prescription’ of regular exercise and appropriate nutrition to strengthen the back as well as to lose weight. Instead, she is often put on painkillers, told to rest, with antidepressants added for good measure. She may be advised surgery. Or, she may be prescribed physiotherapy and passive assisted exercises, heat therapy, ultrasound, hot packs and other methods that provide temporary relief but are certainly not long-lasting remedies.

The patient is usually quite thrilled with this mode of management. This essentially means she is ‘ill’ and the whole wretched situation is quite out of her control. She can therefore safely assign responsibility to another, such as a person of medicine, to take care of her health. In fact, if she were told to come in for a review after six weeks of just a change in lifestyle with the incorporation of a simple strength training routine and a balanced, more sensible diet, she will probably never return. What sort of doctor doesn’t prescribe pills?

The truth however is that several of the diseases we see today benefit far more from lifestyle interventional change and rehabilitation than from drugs. The change has to be well orchestrated. If you are not guided properly, especially in the initial stages of a ‘change in lifestyle’, much could go terribly wrong such as injury and or nutritional deficiencies. If you don’t have a supportive environment to make that change, it is going to be a steep uphill climb for an already difficult task.

 

Change has to be Slight, Significant and Sustainable.

Slight so your body does not protest violently and doesn’t see it as a threat to its very existence. For example – A 20-30 minute walk every day to begin with for an inactive person or, cutting down portion size gradually for someone used to consuming large quantities.

Significant enough for the human body to be forced to make the necessary internal adaptations to the change. An overweight individual who has never exercised will benefit even from a slow a5 minute walk. A fairly fit, young person will need to be pushed harder to for her body to register change.

Sustainable in clever ways so results are long lasting. If for instance you are told to eat a diet that leaves you hungry and irritable half the time, the likelihood of you being unable to follow through is very high. If you are made to exercise so hard on your first attempt that your body goes into minor shock, it’s likely you will begin to detest exercise.

The problem with most attempts at exercise or healthy eating is that they are seen as closed ended methods of management. They are viewed like a prescription for, lets say, Antibiotics – to be taken for an X number of days at a stipulated time and dosage and then stopped. This may work for an acute illness. Lifestyle diseases unfortunately, cannot be managed this way. The ‘prescription’ for lifestyle management is on-going, for life! The actual methods used to stay fit may be altered with age and time, but they still need to be in place to keep us agile, strong and fit along with being disease free.

Medication, surgery, intervention are absolutely necessary. But not all the time! Being an Obstetrician, I intervene everyday to ensure the safety of the mother and child at childbirth. At times one has to step in with the necessary armamentarium available to us in modern medicine. I do believe however that a healthy dose of “lifestyle Medicine” will go a long way in not just enabling one to be disease free for as long as possible, but in improving Quality of life. DSC02573 

Taking Responsibility, Staying Accountable

I have seen too many women fall prey to clever marketing and advertising that promise the perfect body. That’s what sells. Of course, we contribute to this walk down fantasy lane too. We choose to take the easy way out and not question these miracle claims. We make excuses for ourselves and play the victim, thereby relinquishing control of our bodies and health.

I believe we need to be more proactive about choices that concern our bodies. We need to be more discerning about long-term health, not just short-term cosmetic results. We should protect ourselves from falling prey to societal pressure to ‘look’ a certain way. It is not always possible to get to a ‘certain size’. Much depends on genetics and environment, especially lifestyle, stress, work and so on. Comparing oneself with another who is perceived to be ‘beautiful’ or ‘slim’ is a futile exercise.

Every woman is beautiful in her own way. She can also be the best possible version of herself physically and mentally by applying some basic principles of diet, exercise and healthy living. By challenging herself intellectually and creatively, she can live a fuller and more fruitful life.

We are more likely than men to allow emotional challenges to affect our eating, weight and health. Crisis in relationships or work can lead to abuse of food and ultimately, the body. Binge eating, anorexia, bulimia are all psychological disorders with a foundation in lack of self-esteem and a troubled consciousness. We are also more concerned about how society views our physical appearance. This always translates into trying to ‘look’ a certain way.

We need to understand that we are truly more than our ‘weight on the scale’. We cannot evaluate our entire lives by a mere number. Being fit is not just about being a certain size, but an improved level of performance of the body and a superior quality life. It is the understanding of this journey that keeps us experimenting, progressing and enjoying the process enough to persist with it for as long as we can. Regular exercise and healthy eating becomes a way of life, so much a part of our day that it is no more an ordeal. It is our way of saluting our bodies. Of respecting it. Rewarding it for being there for us!

We should also love our bodies more (whatever the size or shape). We can love it and still want to get fitter and better. We need to stop abusing it with food or lack of exercise. To accept, deep within that we are already beautiful but can always become even better versions of ourselves.

From “Gain To Lose”

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