By Marilynn Preston
Except for the firecrackers, I pretty much like everything associated with the Fourth of July.
Lively summer gatherings with family and friends, a chance to practice deep breathing and anger management.
Patriotic parades honoring brave men and women who fight for our freedom while struggling to fend off sexual assault from fellow soldiers.
And let’s not forget the July food fests: the corn roasts, the watermelon feeds, the sustainable, attainable, mostly organic picnics where all guests leave their cellphones in the car.
This July Fourth I want to celebrate your freedom to create a healthier, happier lifestyle for yourself. In the words of the esteemed LL Cool J, “Stay focused, go after your dreams, and keep moving toward your goals.”
SET ONE GOAL. Remember your first KISS? Keep it simple, stupid. This summer, set one healthy lifestyle goal for yourself, something that’s been bouncing around your brain, something non-sedentary that interests you and might make you sweat.
This requires thinking, which requires stopping all that you are doing, sitting quietly and creating a mental picture of yourself, in the near future, living a calmer life that feels healthier, happier, more satisfying. Where are you? Who’s with you? What are you doing?
Maybe you’re working in a community garden, growing a tomato plant with your son, so he knows they’re not meant to come out of plastic tubes, taste-free.
Or perhaps your mind’s eye pictures you kite surfing, floating through the air in a blissful, weightless way that lifts your spirits and gets your adrenaline flowing, because that’s what adventure sports do so well.
Or maybe you see yourself pedaling your bike around a peaceful little lake, and your goal for the end of September is to ride your bike 30 miles in one day, without it becoming a near-death experience.
Your summer goal needs to come from you. A trainer or coach who sets healthy lifestyle goals for you is of limited value, long term, because you learn much more from what you say than from what you hear.
In fitness, as in relationships, telling another person what to do is not a clever way to change behavior. What works better — according to experts in behavior modification — is to set your own goal, own it, write it down and be very specific.
GIVE YOURSELF THE NEXT THREE MONTHS. Once you decide on a meaningful goal, give yourself July, August and September to make it happen. Some people can change overnight. One day you’re eating burgers five times a week; the next day you fall in love with kale. Others think they can’t change at all, even though they keep trying.
Don’t try, Yoda told us. Just do. Three months is long enough to create a new habit, and short enough to hold your interest. Be sure to keep a journal going, to record your successes and your setbacks (let ’em go!), and keep you focused and positive.
SET WEEKLY GOALS. Once you have your three-month goal, think about what you need to do, beginning this week, to move you in that direction. Start where you are. Let’s say your goal is to ride your bike 30 miles for a charity event in September. Right now, the farthest you can go is 12 miles. Ride the 12, and check in with yourself. Re-energize with water and a snack. Take a short rest. Get back on, and see how it feels to go another 10-20 minutes. Play with your resistance to doing more. Your weekly goals need to be S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timelined.
Here’s an example of a vague, useless goal: “I’m going to eat healthier next week.” The S.M.A.R.T. version, from my own journal of 1988: “I’m going to eat a big green salad for lunch four days this week, and it’ll include organic tomatoes from the farmer’s market, feta, olives, garbanzos and capers, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. ”
Make this July Fourth an explosive one. Set one big goal for three months from now, and create weekly S.M.A.R.T. goals to get you there. And don’t let anything rain on your parade.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! TED TELLS THE TRUTH
“A man has to have goals — for a day, for a lifetime — and that was mine, to have people say, ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'” — Ted Williams
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, well-being coach and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com
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