Bringing in the New Year is often a chance for us to reevaluate how we are living in accordance to our values and goals. In other words, how authentic are we acting compared to what we are saying or planning? Improved physical health consistently makes the top of the resolutions list, through the decision to eat and drink more healthfully and exercise more regularly (or period). Dr. Abraham Maslow, the famed Humanistic Psychologist, developed the pyramid-shaped theoretical model of the five hierarchy of human needs, with physiological needs located at the bottom. The inference we are to make from Maslow’s model is that our health – our need for food, water, sleep, exercise, and medical care – trumps all other needs. This makes common sense, but what Maslow’s model failed to take into account, is the human desire for “higher” meanings (love and belongingness, education, spirituality or faith, etc.) that have a strong pull on our actions or lack thereof.
There are complex reasons why and how many of us fail to prioritize and follow the seemingly sensible prioritizing of our own physical health. Firstly, we may opt for higher needs (e.g. education and relationships) without considering or taking care of our base needs. Consider the mom, who may place her needs second to her infant and child, to the detriment of her sleep, healthy eating, exercise, and following up regularly with her doctor. This is not a unique example, and is similar to the caregiver who needs to be constantly reminded to prioritize his/her self-care in order to take care of his sick and dying family member.
Secondly, we may purposely or subconsciously avoid and sabotage our physical health needs for several reasons. For some, facing our physical health head on causes too much emotional and physical distress, as there may be a sense of dread and pain about all the work it will take to get our health back on track. Some of us may be depressed and/or anxious, which manifests itself physically by eating more or eating less, exercising more or too much, sleeping more or sleeping less, or drinking and drugging more, but the underlying unmet need (e.g. love, safety, belongingness) remains. And some of us may be full of self-hate, which usually stems from emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, abandonment, severe punitive parental discipline, negative religious coping (e.g. I'm being punished by God), parental and relationship neglect, unresolved grief and guilt, and acute and chronic traumatic experiences. Self-hate or shame tends to lead towards self-sabotaging binge-purge type extreme behaviors (e.g. binge-eating, binge-drinking, bulimics who compensate with over-exercising). Ultimately, many of us consider that it is easier to avoid taking care of ourselves.
Thirdly, we may become overly focused on our physical needs to the exclusion of higher-order needs (e.g. need for love and belongingness or spirituality). I am thinking here of someone who is overly anxious and obsessive about fitness, eating, and physical health which may lead to over exercise, strict and austere dieting habits, and so forth. There is a lack of self-acceptance and accommodation in such extremes. This extreme of focusing solely on physical health to the exclusion or avoidance of other needs seems to stem mostly from anxiety and as a coping strategy to provide a sense of control. Several disorders are most often associated with this type of over-focus on one’s physical health, to include Somatic Symptom Disorder, Illness Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Eating Disorders.
In considering your fitness and eating resolutions for the New Year it becomes important to consider a variety of mental health and other factors including your motivating factors, barriers, past successes, and the priority of your values. This worksheet, in addition to the standard behavioral modification plan, will help you to further identify and remind you of your motivation to commit to change. Below I have prepared a list of questions to ask yourself as you prepare and commit to your behavior change plan.
Behavior Modification Plan
Target behavior to change/abstain from:
Questions for Behavioral Modification
Motivation and Commitment to Change
What motivates me to change or abstain from my target behavior?
How will this behavior change will benefit me/family/work/others?
What are my past successes in overcoming negative behaviors?
What have I learned from difficult change experiences?
How can I take more responsibility for healthy changes?
Rank order and list the top three most important values: intimate relationships; parenting; education and learning; friends and social life; physical self-care and health; family of origin; religion and spirituality; community and citizenship; recreation and leisure time; or work and career?
Consider how you are currently living in line with your top key values?
How do your key values influence your commitment to change?
Barriers to Change
What excuses and blaming do I use?
How do excuses keep me from making healthy choices?
How do excuses keep me from taking responsibility?
How has past negative life experiences been a barrier to my change or commitment to change? How may I overcome this barrier?
How will ongoing depression and/or anxiety pose a barrier to change? How will I overcome this?
What negative messages from family, childhood, significant others, workplace have I received in my life that I tended to internalize? How may I reverse these messages that are counterproductive to my emotional health?
What may I be avoiding by not taking care of myself?
What fears come up in committing to my goal? Achieving my goal?
What secondary gains may I have by not taking committing to my goal?
Long-term goal and target date for this behavior change:
In order to make my goal attainable, I have devised these three short-term goals:
1.___________________________ Target Date:______ Reward: _____________
2.___________________________ Target Date:______ Reward: _____________
3.___________________________ Target Date:________Reward: _____________
Current baseline for the behavior/s (behavior/s & time spent/day):
The strategies I will use to overcome the above identified obstacles are:
Resources I will use to help me change this behavior include:
A Peer-Support Group:
A Book or Reputable Website:
When I make each short-term goal, I will reward myself with:
When I reach the long-term goal, I will reward myself with:
If I do not reach my short-term goals, I will have to: ______________________________.
I intend to make the behavior change as described above. I will use strategies and rewards to achieve my goals which will lead to a healthy behavior change.
Your Signature Date