Setting small health goals that lead to the rewiring of behaviours could be the most important thing you do to prevent and reverse chronic disease.  

A magic pill would certainly be the easiest quick-fix around disease.  I could’ve done with a supply when I was working in health food or nowadays at backyard BBQs when I’m hit up for advice on all sorts of ailments. There are regular requests for quick fixes for weight loss, for lowering blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, for clearing problem skin, increasing energy or reducing stress and anxiety.  It’s a magic pill they’re often looking for.  A miracle cure in a capsule or tablet that will take away all their health problems so they can just keep doing as they’ve always done.  As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy and if it does, then it won’t last.

Some treatments are simple and resolve health issues faster than others.  For example, herbal medicine for an acute cold. Others take longer, especially when we’re tackling more chronic conditions that have taken years to develop. Hunting down the source of the underlying problem is a priority and when it’s found, it can take motivation and commitment on the patient’s part.  That’s because the underlying cause might be a leaky gut, an insidious bacterial infection or a food intolerance which is contributing to the illness and that might involve a rigid diet for a period of time, taking some horrible tasting but highly effective anti-bacterial treatment or removing dairy from the diet.

Are you willing to give up the things that made you sick?

In the process of leading people towards optimal health, I’ll often ask if they’re willing to give up the things that made them sick in the first place. From the time I graduated, I vowed not to be that broad-brush approach Naturopath who removes gluten, dairy, alcohol, coffee and chocolate from everyone who comes to see me. I for one, am partial to the odd glass of red and some darky chocky so I don’t like to put those around me into a state of denial unless it’s necessary. Besides, we’re all individuals with unique genetics, living and working in varying environments and we all manifest poor health in different ways so there’s no one-size fits all approach.

But when it’s necessary to adopt the changes that can turn health around, most people are willing to dig deep and give it a good crack, even if it seems a little overwhelming at the start.

What if diet or lifestyle changes are required and how can you set yourself up for success? Should you go all out or start small?

Research has shown that you are more likely to achieve your health goals if they’re small and achievable.

Getting started

Sometimes just getting started with a new behaviour is the hardest part. One of the best ways is to break it down into very small goals…..tiny goals. Let’s say your goal is to improve your physical health by becoming more physically active. Setting a goal that you’ll walk every day may be too big to start with. Start by asking yourself can you do five minutes of walking? If the answer is yes then go for it and maybe you do that every day for a week. The next week, increase it to ten minutes and the week after, to 15 minutes. The goal’s not to run a marathon but instead to break down the barriers and create a new habit.

If your big change revolves around eating better, setting a goal that you cut out all sugar, fried foods and coffee might be too big for you. Breaking it down into smaller health goals like drinking coffee only one day this week, swapping the toast and jam at breakfast for a homemade omelette or trying a new vegetable this week could certainly be more achievable.  For more tips on eating for optimal health check out my Naturopath’s Tips for Eating Well.

Consistency is the key

These examples are SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Goal setting in this way helps you to focus your efforts and increases the chances of achieving your goals. When you set small goals and achieve them, it feels good right? The reason for that is because when you deliver on a promise to yourself, your brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which is responsible for pleasure, reward and motivation. Each time you achieve your goal, the surge of dopamine rewires your brain for continued success.

Small goals that are achieved and repeated become new habits and something that comes naturally like showering, eating or going to work.  This might just be the magic pill for health.