Many people are approaching 2021 with new hopes, goals, and vigor, and though New Year’s resolutions are nothing new, this year feels unique because of what we have been through collectively and individually. In setting goals and aspirations, whether they are around health and wellness or career and family, taking the time to familiarize yourself with the barriers that may get in the way and practicing compassion for one’s self is essential in sustaining forward movement. Rushing ahead without this reflection can cause undue stress, injury, and even depression.
In continuing my series of conversations with physical therapist and yoga teacher Kristin Williams around health and wellness, we dig a little deeper into the types of barriers that get in the way and how to overcome them. Both Kristin and I come from radically different backgrounds, but together, we can take our diverse experiences both personally and professionally to offer real-world solutions that can be implemented today. We do this to open a conversation for all to join so that we as a community can unite and grow strong.
The time is now. Health and wellness have never been more important. You don’t have to change everything; you just have to take one small step. As you read this, take a moment to jot down one personal health and wellness goal you have for the coming year and what one obstacle might be in the way of achieving that goal. Small steps lead to big gains, so read on and join the conversation.
“Compassion is key.”
One of the major barriers I deal with is perfectionism. One morning, I was jogging with Kristin, and we were talking about the barriers to health and how corporate life can often be a barrier, with its never-ending treadmill of achievement that can lead to burnout. The stress not only affects everyone on the team, but it also affects our health and our bodies’ ability to function properly (i.e., sleep, think, digest, etc.).
Fortunately, I recently began a new position where the corporate culture is much more focused on health and wellness. Not only does the leadership embrace health and wellness, the company offers a variety of programs to support these goals—but even then, I felt like I could do more. Personally, I was focusing on health and wellness, but I expressed judgment toward myself because I wasn’t taking part in more of their programs. Kristin stopped me right away. “Be kind to yourself,” she said. “You can’t do it with the company because you’re doing it on your own. I heard a bit of shame, and you need to have compassion for all that you are doing.”
She was right. Not only is corporate culture a potential barrier—but even when it isn’t, my perfectionism is. I was grateful she pointed it out. This is what friends and community are for. The barrier is perfectionism; the solution is awareness, compassion, and friendly support.
“All of us need support.”
“Unless you have a supportive community,” adds Kristin, “it’s hard to set and meet new goals. Our friends can help us with the negative self-talk.” When Kristin and I teach our yoga classes, we end them by saying to our students and ourselves, “We hope that the practice will allow you to be kind to yourself and to others around you.” Finding a community that can do that for you—whether that’s currently online through a yoga studio, a support group, or another group of like-minded individuals—will put you on the road to success and make that road a lot more enjoyable to travel on.
“Education is empowering.”
Sometimes that support can be in the form of education. In fact, that’s how I met Kristin. I had injured myself and went to see her for physical therapy. She educated me on my body and what I could do to make it stronger.
“Don’t rely on me to fix you,” says Kristin. “Let me empower you with education so that you can learn about yourself.” Kristin attributes her success as a health care professional to having those kinds of conversations with people in a non-judgmental way. I am personally motivated by learning—that’s what works for me. You might find that something else motivates you, like surrounding yourself with people who love to share their knowledge and passion for health and wellness. I’ve found that there are many ways to learn, and socializing can be part of it—maybe that will work for you, too.
“The mind/body connection holds the key.”
In addition to having compassion for yourself and getting support for negative self-talk or perfectionism, deeper work is sometimes useful. Kristin had a patient in his 20s who came to her office with intense physical pain. Not only was he physically uncomfortable, she noticed that there seemed to be a psychological component to it. “He just seemed to feel uncomfortable in his skin,” she says. After a series of sessions where Kristin created a safe environment for him to relax and open up, he ended up coming out to her. “He was beating himself up about being gay and it was having a physical manifestation,” says Kristin. “His physical pain went down dramatically after that.”
If this doesn’t drive home the need for self-compassion and kindness, I don’t know what does. We all have things that we struggle with, and bringing awareness to these barriers only works if it’s followed by compassion; then, it’s like a door opens that allows for the next positive step to be taken. Sometimes that step is goal-setting; sometimes that step is to sit with the pain; and sometimes it’s to take a break.
“What motivates you?”
With COVID-19 and gyms and exercise classes being closed and winter making outdoor activities more challenging, it’s hard to get motivated. Those external forces just aren’t there. For me, as I mentioned before, learning motivates me. Learning about yoga or the mind/body connection keeps me excited about my health and wellness goals. Perfectionism, as I mentioned before, can seem like a motivating force—but more often than not, it stops us in our tracks. Learning about perfectionism as a barrier is a great way to combine that which motivates me to confront that which blocks me. For Kristin, she likes to set concrete achievable goals to motivate her.
“When I was in physical therapy school, I was just sitting all day studying or working. I felt really unhealthy, so I set a goal to start running long distance so I could really start slow. My first goal was to run four miles. I hated running!” says Kristin. ”But then I did it, and later, I was able to run ten miles and even more. I felt like a superhero.”
For achievable goal setting, you need to start small and make a plan. “Eventually, I found a plan for a marathon,” says Kristin. “Part of that plan is resting so that my body and psyche can heal.” Accepting your strengths and weaknesses should be a part of your planning. Doing that with kindness will allow you to meet your goals while avoiding stress and injury.
The way we approach our health and wellness goals informs the way we approach everything in our lives, and prioritizing health and wellness will bring benefit to every aspect of our lives. It starts with awareness and compassion, and then from there, you can employ additional strategies to suit your particular barrier. We’d love to hear what goals you have for the coming year, what barriers you have uncovered, and your plan (besides huge doses of compassion) for success!