If you notice parents dancing in the streets this month (except for the parents of kindergarteners, of course, who are crying at the school gates), it is because the first day of a new school year has finally arrived. Hooray!
It’s been a fun summer for my family. We’ve taken road trips together, played with cousins and grandparents, explored cities, climbed mountains, and swam in rivers. We’ve also eaten out a lot more, slept in more often, and well, you know what happens after that. So, when I drop my children off at school tomorrow and return to my car alone, there will be a moment of silence to savor the silence, and the fact that I can finally take some time to focus on myself again, a little more intentionally.
Whether you have kids in school or not, the beginning of a new school year feels like a fresh start. So open up a brand-new notebook and sharpen your pencils: it’s time to brush up on the basics and get back to work!
Do you have a goal in mind for your health? You’ve probably heard advice to set goals that are “S.M.A.R.T.” - specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound. You may have also heard that it’s important to know your “why”. This is good advice, because it requires us to take the time to think through what we intend to do and increase our chances for success. But sometimes in our rush to set goals and get to work, we jump over an important step: understanding how ready we are for change in the first place.
One of the most difficult parts of my job as a health coach is being patient when I can see the potential for someone to make radical changes in their lifestyle, but they are not ready to do it yet. Sometimes it seems like it takes forever for the pieces to come together, but I know from experience that we can’t rush these things, and I know how to listen for these clues that things are about to happen:
You See Your Goal Everywhere. Kind of like when you’re pregnant and you see other pregnant women, or you buy a new car and suddenly see other people driving the same car around town, your goal will show up all over the place. You may notice people walking for exercise in your neighborhood or find yourself drawn to the produce section of the grocery store. I don’t have scientific evidence for why this happens, but it does. Pay attention and go along with it! When your goal lays down in front of you, stop and pick it up.
The Thrill is Gone. When I travel, I like to sample local beer and look for restaurants that serve beer that we don’t usually get in our town. The splurge of having a delicious, thick stout with my meals feels decadent and special. But, after a few days of that much beer, it loses some of the magic. Then when I get home and beer finds its way to me, I find that I’m kind of tired of it. That’s another clue! When what used to be a fun diversion has become par for the course, it’s time for a change. Stop pressing repeat on a habit that’s run its course. Take the hint and change directions!
The First Step Feels Like a No-Brainer. Now, this is where it gets personal: the first step. Some folks would have us believe that the first step is doing something dramatic like eliminating a food group or signing up for a big challenge at the gym. For some, those steps feel right. For others, they are overwhelming and discouraging. Pay attention to how you feel and go towards what feels like the first step in the right direction, even if that step seems small. When you’re choosing between a cheeseburger or a salad for lunch, choose the salad. When you’re choosing between a salad with cheese or one without cheese, choose the one without. When you’re choosing between a dessert of brownies and ice cream and one of sorbet with fresh fruit, choose the fruit. Notice here that I didn’t say the step would be easy. It might not be! But it will feel obvious. It’s obvious for a reason.
This month, a new chapter begins for everyone. Look around in your life today and pay attention to what is calling you towards the first step of change. Are you ready? Change is ready for you at whichever level feels right!