Health is an interesting topic in regards to goal-setting. What’s the point at which you’ve achieved perfect health? What does it take to be perfectly healthy?
Interestingly in life we’re often driven by goals that are set in the future. We all know about “SMART” goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Well, that’s one way to look at it. Say you want to loose two pounds by the end of the month. What does that say about where you’re at in five months? Very little. Unless you change your habits along the way.
Process, outcome and performance goals
Performance psychology differentiates between process, outcome and performance goals. Outcome goals are where we measure ourselves against others – say all athletes in one heat at the Olympics. One has to be the fastest. The outcome goal is to be faster than the other athletes in your heat. Performance goals measure the individual performance – for example measuring your time that it takes you to run 100 meters. So if your fastest time was 14.5 seconds, your performance goal might be running 100 meters in 14.2 seconds. Process goals relate to how you run. When you work on process goals you improve you technique or your mind-set, for example. Process goals are much more about the individual moments that, when added up together, deliver your outcome and performance goals.
We tend to measure health in terms of sickness. When no sickness is detectable, we speak of health.
Health is very challenging to measure in outcome or performance goals. Of course, you can measure cholesterol levels, blood sugar and cancerous tumors. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, a performance goal is to reduce the cancer to an undetectable level. But then there’s the difference between measurable disease and perceived disease. As it turns out many people have slipped discs without experiencing pain. Yet, for some a slipped disc is a very painful experience. So an MRI or CT might paint a different picture than the person’s perception. At the other end of the spectrum, some people suffer from pain when no physical symptoms are recognizable.
The World Health Organization defines health as a “complete physical, mental and social well-being”, yet – when does that ever happen and who determines this? Health remains an abstract construct intensely linked to one’s personal sense of well-being and as such is also closely linked to process goals.
A different approach in regards to health, therefore, would be to focus on process goals by breaking up the goal of “being healthy” into individual moments. How do you feel right now? And how can you improve your current behavior and habits to maintain or achieve a sense of wellbeing? It tends not to be something you do once and magically all problems are solved. It’s a process and requires long-term changes.
The power of process goals
The power of process goals applies to many different areas of life. As an athlete you may beat your opponent one day, but the game can turn out very differently the next. The sweet taste of victory can be short lived when we’re solely focused on performance or outcome goals. The element of luck we cannot control. Yet, if you put your focus on process goals, improving your technique and mental presence you are building a solid foundation for success.
Mindfulness has become increasingly popular for very good reasons. Through mindfulness we can develop a refined sense of our situation and more easily identify areas we would like to improve. It not only helps us to identify process goals, but also to observe our attitude towards performance and outcome goals.
Striving for a moment in which you can declare yourself perfectly healthy is a tiring endeavor. Instead, living each moment with attentiveness and establishing healthy habits provides a nurturing ground for a pleasant sense of well-being. It may not prevent you from catching the flu every now and then, but it will strengthen your body, so that you recover more quickly.
As an exercise try to define ‘health’ for yourself. What are the areas in your body you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with. What does health mean to you in different areas of your life? How “healthy” is your diet, your fitness program, your work and what are the things you could change to make the experience more healthy – physically and mentally?
To gain clarity in regards to healthy living, join my Mountain Retreat in Bad Gastein, June 17-22, 2016. During these six days we explore mental clarity as well as physical clarity for optimal well-being.
Clemens is one of the optimum-you guest experts.