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My Health Counts! Fostering Self-Management

Goals and Action Planning

Getting peace of mind about health care begins largely with finding the right doctor—one who values relationships based on openness and trust and provides high-quality care. Regardless of what kind of relationship they have with their doctor, there is a lot people can do to manage their own health, like watching what they eat, getting exercise, and limiting stress.

Once you've decided to take an active role in your health, one of the first steps is to set a goal for yourself. This is something you and your doctor or other members of your healthcare team should do together. It's part of your treatment plan—allowing you to extend your care beyond the exam room walls and into your everyday life.

Pick a problem. Talk to your doctor and take an honest look at the unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle. It's your turn to zero in on a particular behavior that you'd like to change to help prevent future illnesses, to have better control of conditions you already have and to prevent complications. For example, you might decide that you want to make healthier food choices, increase your physical activity or take your medications as your doctor has prescribed. Write down your goal and date it. Share it with your doctor and other people you trust and ask for their help.

Look for ways to accomplish your goal. There are many ways to reach any specific goal. If your goal is to lose weight you could start an exercise program, decide not to eat between meals or decide to cut out cola of other sweetened beverages from your diet. Sometimes what keeps us from reaching our goal is the failure to see alternatives, so you'll want to list all the options. Share your goal with family, friends and your healthcare team and ask them to help you add to your list.

Turning your Goals into Action Plans. When you think about reaching that goal it can be overwhelming. Generally, goals are too big to work on all at once. If you’re thinking about losing a significant amount of weight, say 50 pounds, it's not something you can achieve in one week, or even one month. You'll need to break down those goals into smaller achievable steps—this is action planning.

To be successful action plans need to:

  • Come from YOU. The action plans should be something you want to do or accomplish. Don't choose something to please your doctor or your loved ones.
  • Be Reasonable. It should be something that you can accomplish within a week. Remember, it's the combination of successful actions plans that will help you achieve your goal.
  • Be Specific. The more specific your goal is, the more likely you are to succeed. For example, instead of saying, “I'm going to exercise more,” decide what kind of exercise you'll do. Be specific about what days of the week you'll exercise and what times you'll exercise on those days. Your new goal might be: “After dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I'm going to walk 1 mile in through the neighborhood, with my dog.” Try to answer the questions what, how much, when and how often.
  • Be Realistic. Go or the real, not the ideal. The ideal might be walking 10,000 steps a day, but if you're currently walking only 500 to 1,000 steps a day, going for 10,000 may be too much. A more realistic goal may be 1,200 to 2,000 steps. When you do that, add a few more.
  • Be Behavior Specific. Think behavior, not results. For example instead of saying, “I'm going to eat healthier,” decide to add one serving of vegetables to your dinner at least five days this week and switch from drinking Coke to water at lunchtime.

Plan ahead. Try to think of things that could go wrong and plan how you'll deal with them. For example, if it rains and you can't walk in the park as planned, where will you go to walk? Is there an indoor track nearby, or could you go to the mall? If you plan how to handle problems in advance, they won't prevent you from following through with your action plan.

Check your confidence level. Ask yourself, “How confident am I that I'll be able to meet this goal?” Calculate your confidence level on a scale o 1-10 with 1 being not sure at all and 10 being totally sure. If the answer is below 7, you may need look at your action plan and either plan or foreseeable problems or change your plan so you are more confident of success.

Keep track of results. Once you are confident of your action plan write it down and post it where you will see it every day. It's a good idea to keep track of how you are doing each day. Check off accomplishments and list any problems you encounter. Ask family and friends to check in with you to see how you are doing—they can be good motivators. At the end of the week, see if you've accomplished your action plan and if you're made progress toward your goal. If you are struggling with your plan it's time to problem solve.

One of the most important things to remember is that you can change your behavior. Even though chronic conditions can make you feel helpless at times, if you work with your doctor to set goals and you take responsibility for following through with them, you can make changes that will lead to better health and decrease the advancement of disease.

Ready to start . . . Make a Plan for Your Health!

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