Dr. Doni discusses the value of intuition in setting and meeting your health goals, and gives advice on how to get started.
Over the last few weeks, I have been talking about the things that inform my practice as a naturopathic doctor. First, I shared my approach of viewing your health from the perspective of stress and how to increase your “radar” for stress. Then last week, we discussed the important role your intuition can play in helping you meet the goals you have for your health. Setting health goals and using your intuition are two key principles in my approach to working with patients, so I want to take some more time in this article to talk about health goals, how to determine specific goals for yourself, and how you can use your intuition to help you.
What Is A Health Goal?
A health goal is what you foresee or desire for your health in the relatively near future – say in the next 1 to 3 years. You may also have a more long-term health goal, such as to live to 110 years old, for example!
Each person’s health goal is unique to him or her: it could be that you want to be getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night; or that you want your 8 hours of sleep to occur between 10 pm and 6 am (instead of between midnight and 8 am). Incidentally, both of these goals are consistent with what I recommend in my soon-to-be-released book on natural approaches to insomnia.
On the other hand, your health goal may be to reverse autoimmunity, prevent cancer from recurring, heal leaky gut, or prevent yet another sinus infection. These are all goals I hear from patients every day. And all of them are achievable – I have seen patients successfully reach these goals, which gives me the confidence to say that it is possible for you, too.
Often, health goals are tied to life goals and a person’s vision for their future. Once you realize that you have something worth living for, it becomes extremely clear that you have to be alive and healthy in order to achieve that goal, and so health becomes an important priority on your path.
And an amazing thing is that optimism in itself has been shown to shift hormone levels that put the body in a state of rest and recovery, so your body can heal.1
How Health Goals Can Benefit Your Health
As I explained last week, research shows that in the process of clarifying your goal, you create a point of reference for your brain that allows it to automatically notice activities, people, and products that can help you achieve your goal. It’s like you’re giving navigation instructions to your brain so it can guide you to where you want to go. Without a destination, your brain has no landmarks by which to navigate so you are likely to take many wrong turns or even go nowhere at all.
Research has supported this concept by showing that people who “beat the odds” with chronic health issues like cancer have one thing in common, a strong reason for living.2 Kelly Turner, PhD researches this topic – what survivors have in common – and wrote about it in her book, Radical Remission.
We used to think that our genes determined our health, and that if we were genetically likely to develop a condition, there was nothing we could do about it. Now we know that our genes are only part of our health equation. The choices we make each day related to the foods we eat, the exercise we do, the amount of sleep we get, and our toxic exposures all influence HOW our genes influence our health. This is called “epigenetics” and you can read more about it here.
This means that you can change your health starting today! And having a health goal and a “mission” or a reason for living can help you change your health, survive a life-threatening illness, and/or thrive in your life.
How to Set a Health Goal and Mission for Your Life
To start, I encourage you to use meditation or a form of mindfulness to help you. Set aside some time – an hour if possible – to sit quietly or take a calm walk in nature and allow your mind to guide you to what you desire for your health.
Now, set aside what you think your goal should be and anything you think might limit what is possible – your goals do not have to be logical. See if you can allow your intuition to “speak” to you and help you gain clarity about what you’d like to experience or feel.
After going through this process, you might find that your goal is something you previously thought was impossible. After not feeling well for a long time, it is common to think that things can’t get better, and taking the risk of considering that your health could improve can be scary at first – because what if it doesn’t? But if you never hope or try, then you’ll never know.
Here are a few questions to meditate or reflect on to help guide you to a clear personal mission and goal:
- What or who do you “live for?”
- What inspires you to want to heal?
- When you think of the future, what do you look forward to?
- What have you always wanted to do?
- What would need to change about your health for you to be able to do what you’d like to do?
Aim for your mission and goal to be relatively specific, and use words that describe exactly what you want to experience. It could include a number and/or location but again, these don’t have to seem reasonable.
Your mission likely will relate to others because when you have a mission – something you feel excited to do each day – it means that achieving your goals helps you and allows you to contribute to your community and the world around you.
What If You Find It Challenging To Focus On Yourself?
Some people can find it difficult to take time for themselves never mind conceiving of a goal. To me, this indicates low self-acceptance so, if you find this is the case, you may need to work on that first. Look back at this article on self-acceptance; it includes some simple tools and tips for increasing self-acceptance that you might find useful. Then, when you feel ready and able to take time for yourself and listen to your body, you can come back to setting a health goal and I think you’ll find it much easier.
Getting Started with Goals of Your Own
Once you have a clear vision for your life and a mission for what you want to create or experience and share with others, then you are ready to step into fulfilling that mission every day.
You might start with a tiny little “fetus” of a step or goal. For example, say your mission is to create a resource for people who are healing from chronic infections, and in order to do that you want to implement diet changes that have been shown to help patients recover from chronic infections. Then maybe one of the first steps on your list is to have just one less bite of food each time you sit down to eat so that you can get used to smaller serving sizes, which will help your digestion, blood sugar levels, and ultimately, your body’s ability to fight off the infections.
Try implementing the first step for a few days or a week and notice whether you are able to accomplish it. If not, why not? What stopped you? And don’t forget that, even if you didn’t accomplish the goal this time, it doesn’t mean you throw it out the window and give up. To me, it means that your body has something to teach you – there might be something you can do to make it easier to accomplish your goal. Perhaps setting a reminder on your phone or telling a friend so they can support you on your quest.
Learning as you go is a key part of being successful in achieving your mission and goal. It’s about being committed to what you want but not to how you get there. Just as with our goals in other aspects of our life, we have to go at health goals with a strong commitment to a positive outcome, but without an attachment that can lead to anxiety or disappointment.
Okay, now try again. How does it feel to take care of yourself in that way? Different? Does it feel indulgent? Does it feel good? How does your body feel? Do you notice that you digest food better or even that you have better energy simply by having one less bite of food with each meal?
Now that you have that one down, check in with your intuition and choose something else. What will help you to both improve your health and give you practice in reaching your goals? Each time you successfully meet a goal you increase both your self-acceptance and your intuition. And each time you support yourself through a failure you do the same – you build self-acceptance and intuition. So no matter the outcome, you win!
Summing It Up
In a society where we are taught to consider others before ourselves and to set our health aside in order to get things done, setting a health goal and mission can seem awkward and even absurd. Well, I’m here to encourage and empower you to try it!
Just this week I went through a process of revisiting my own mission, which is to empower millions of people to achieve wellness. I find this mission greatly benefits my health every single minute of every day because it means that I’m constantly learning, discovering, experimenting, and implementing the information I share with others.
By taking the time to clarify your mission and health goal(s), you’ll be setting your mind on a path to achieving that mission and goal, and along the way, I think you’ll find that your health improves. You’ll start living in connection with yourself, instead of at odds with yourself or your body, and in doing that you are also likely to find peace and happiness in the process.
Each day in my practice, meeting with patients, it is rewarding to see examples of how the body heals when “synergy” happens – when one process or system supports another and together they create a positive influence throughout the body that allows for healing. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle – more of a virtuous cycle – as I wrote about in my book, The Stress Remedy.
Health goals help you create this synergy by mapping out your mission and how to achieve it.
Please do share your experiences of creating a mission that influenced your health and whether having goals for your health helped you optimize your wellness.
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20th June 2016
- Puig-Perez S, Villada C, Pulopulos MM, Almela M, Hidalgo V, Salvador A. Optimism and pessimism are related to different components of the stress response in healthy older people. Int J Psychophysiol. 2015 Nov;98(2 Pt 1):213-21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26348260
- Gawronski KA, Kim ES, Langa KM, Kubzansky LD. Dispositional Optimism and Incidence of Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults. Psychosom Med. 2016 Jun 9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27284699
- Frenkel M, et al. Activism among exceptional patients with cancer. Support Care Cancer. 2011;19:1125-1132. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00520-010-0918-6