Are you pursuing personal goals relating to your health and wellbeing? It turns out community organisers (and other change agents) have some excellent tools at their disposal to maximise the likelihood of making healthy goals a reality.
Create a vision
A compelling social change goal is one you can picture, feel, imagine – the same can be true of your health goal.
If you took a snapshot of you and your surrounds one year from now, what would be different? How would you feel? Is there a past feeling you can connect with, to help you imagine what you want to achieve?
See if you can remember a time when you felt energised/relaxed/connected or whatever other state correlates with what you want to achieve. Having a strong sense of where you want to get to will help you keep heading in that direction when it gets hard.
Handle barriers to change
A key role organisers play is helping people overcome barriers to action. To do this we need to listen to people, explore their objections, acknowledge the reality of those barriers, and workshop alternative actions or ways to minimise barriers.
To start with, reflect on what got in the way of you pursuing your healthy goals this year. What made it hard to exercise, eat well, build friendships (or whatever else you want to change)? Were these barriers external pressures or internal beliefs or messages? Explore these barriers and acknowledge the reality of them – now figure out how you’re going to handle them.
- If staying late at work has got in the way of exercising, you could schedule exercise for first thing in the day so it’s non-negotiable.
- If travel has been key to disrupting healthy routines focus on things that you can take with you wherever you go: like a 7 minute workout, yoga app, or travel food plan.
- If workplace culture has got in the way of taking lunch breaks organise with your colleagues to challenge this – a lunch club could get folks on board.
- If it’s been hard to prioritise yourself explore what beliefs, assumptions or old messages lie beneath that. Get extra support (perhaps counselling or a buddy to pep talk you) to counter the potential for limiting beliefs to hold you back.
Marshall Ganz talks about the emotions that inhibit action and the emotions that motivate action. Ganz sees story as key to shifting those feelings – how could you change the stories you tell yourself about your health and well being?
How do you feel when you think about your health? If you’re coming from a place of sadness, despair, isolation or cynicism the situation is unlikely to change. Sometimes places become associated with the emotions we carry when we’re in them. If your gym feels like a place of drudgery and self-punishment find somewhere else to be!
Organisers develop others through debriefing activities, recognising contributions, and providing feedback. You can do the same for yourself by building in time for reflecting on how your healthy goals are going.
Setting shorter term goals and measurable activities (like ‘Swim once a week’; ‘Eat dinner at home 5 nights a week’) can contribute to the sense that you are making progress, as well as help you notice what gets in the way of you meeting your metrics. Positive feedback (including positive self-talk) tends to result in greater progress than negative, punitive, or non-compassionate critical feedback.
When we work to change society we bump up against the places where people have settled for an unsatisfactory status quo because they haven’t believed it was possible to change it. Organisers ‘agitate’ people by pointing out the difference between the world as it is and the world as it should be, surfacing righteous anger that can propel people to act.
Where have you settled? Where is that really not ok? If you were to have ‘real talk’ with yourself, what would you say?
Agitation should be done thoughtfully with compassion for the person in question – including when that’s you. There are so many oppressive messages around health and it would be counterproductive to invoke shame.
For more ideas about agitation see Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Another approach which can be very rich and effective is Fran Peavey’s Strategic Questioning.
Make it collective
Organisers invite people into collective action and those people are most likely to stick around if they build relationships with others. Prioritising your health and wellbeing shouldn’t be a lonely endeavour – in fact one of the best things we can do for our health is build connection and community.
Who cares if you achieve your goals? Who will be your cheer squad? Is there a group you could join, or a buddy with a similar mission, or a friend or coach who could hold you accountable?
Check out these tips for developing a support network. Remember that many of the barriers to our health and happiness are systemic – we can include these objectives as part of our larger work together to shift power relationships and win change.
Fight for yourself
Be real about your commitment to your health and wellbeing. If you were making calls to invite people to an action and someone said ‘oh yeah, I’ll try to get there’ you’d know that wasn’t a solid commitment. If you’ve been toying with new years resolutions go ahead and make a clear decision, take it seriously, and set things up to make it really happen.
Marshall Ganz has popularised this saying by Rabbi Hillel amongst organisers: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
Be for yourself! Apply the smarts you’ve gained from activism and organising to your own life.