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… I sneak out of the house before the children and my husband wake. The dog pulls on the leash urging me forward – today I’m part way to succeeding on my four times to get moving this week. Yesterday, I didn’t track my food, but the previous two days I did. I’m feeling successful. I haven’t given up. This isn’t futile. I have a plan. I have a goal….

We often highlight women within our community who have taken charge of their health and the message is clear, make time, find support within your friends and family, get moving, and get moving early in the morning. Yet, some of us (me) still struggle to take care of ourselves despite all the reasons to move our bodies, to eat right and to prioritize our health. Sometimes, despite knowing what we should be doing, we seem to sabotage ourselves at every turn. I sat down with Karen Ring, one of TMC’s fabulous Senior Services health coaches to seek some insights. While I might not be a senior, Karen’s advice is not bound to a particular age.

What is a health coach?

Karen and her fellow coaches provide one-on-one support to peer seniors within the community to help them attain their health goals. A free program offered by TMC Senior Services, the Health Coach program emphasizes discussing positive ways to manage health, and motivates and supports participants to move beyond a prescription for healthy living to making daily healthy choices. You can find out more information here.

Karen’s Advice

Many self-improvement plans involve some sort of action plan or goal settings. There is something about the verbalization of our intentions, especially in the written form that often makes us more accountable. I used to tell my middle school students, when they asked why science class required them to write, that the process of articulation in the written form and explaining our reasoning to another forced us to face whether we truly understood. Karen explains that for a health coach and peer, after reviewing the peer’s medical and nutritional history, the action plan is a central part of coaching. It is within the goal setting, the development of an action plan, execution and follow-up that the coach finds the place to act as a resource, an educator, an advocate, a sounding board and a cheerleader to their peers.

As we begin to discuss the action plan I start to see just how powerful this tool can be, especially in concert with the support of a health coach. This is more than a mere list of intentions for the week or the month of the sort I’ve engaged in years gone by; this is truly a tool for reflection.

The basic components of the action plan:

1. Establish your short-term and long-term goals so that they have a tangible reward as well as the loftier health goals and write those on the top of your action plan. Karen shares that while the participants are usually motivated to join by a recent medical diagnosis, like high cholesterol, the actual goals often tap into emotional and spiritual health. Her role as a health coach is to consider whole body wellness, not just physical wellness, and to consider barriers to achieving those wellness goals.

2. Make an appointment with your health and keep it.

If your plan states that you’re going to go to the gym or take the dog for a walk don’t cancel that appointment for another function because it seems less important. You have an appointment with your health, and that IS important.

The action plan asks you to identify when and how much of something you plan to do. Are you more likely to get up in the morning and walk? If you put off the exercise until the evening will it never happen?

3. Be specific about how much time and energy will go into meeting your weekly goal. A concrete example – you set a goal to eat a more balanced diet, but then don’t actual turn that intention into action. Karen suggests being very detailed in the action plan. Write into the plan a dedicated time to plan meals and snacks, to shop for fresh produce and to prepare the produce in one sitting so that you can use it for those planned healthy meals.

I think about the fruit salad in a little lemon juice my own mother always seems to have in the fridge ready to go, or my friend Trish who keeps salad fixings chopped and cleaned ready in separate clear storage containers to be tossed together at a moment’s notice for a healthy meal. Karen points out that addressing what will appeal or work for the individual is key. For me, those fresh veggies and fruits already prepared and ready to eat means they’re less likely to end up rotting in the veggie draw and then making their way to the compost.

4. Be realistic and flexible about your action plan. Allow wriggle room to be successful.

A crucial part of the action plan is reflecting on the steps you plan to take and being realistic about whether you’re going to attain that. I know that week after week I say I’m going to track what and how much I eat. I know this is a successful strategy for many, yet week after week I fail. Karen suggests I reassess my action plan.

What is my confidence level that I could track for one day out of seven on a scale of one to 10?

Ten, I respond. I know I can do that.

Good. What about two days?

An eight or nine.

What about three days of tracking?

ActionPlan1I have a confidence level of between seven or eight.

Right there at a confidence level of no less than seven, Karen suggests, that is your goal.

“Once your confidence level dips below a seven rethink your goals.”

The emphasis is on being successful and that success breeds success. If I can be successful for three days this week maybe next week or the week after my confidence will be higher so that I can accomplish four days of tracking.

This morning I remember Lorraine’s dedication, Mary’s insistence that we can all find 30 minutes in the day, Rachel’s passion for renewal, Patty’s commitment and Jessie’s energy. I sneak out of the house before the children and my husband wake. The dog pulls on the leash urging me forward – today I’m part way to succeeding on my four times to get moving this week. Yesterday, I didn’t track my food, but the previous two days I did. I’m feeling successful. I haven’t given up. This isn’t futile. I have a plan. I have a goal.

Your TMC for Women Action Plan for Health template is here.