Category Archives: Personal health planning

Creating Your Vision of Optimal Health

The word vision spelled out with Scrabble pieces

What does optimal health look like for you? Each of us will have a different answer. Taking some time to find your answer is the first step in creating a more healthy and fulfilling life.

Find a quiet place where you can relax and won’t be disturbed. Take a few slow, easy breaths to help you put other concerns aside for a while and focus on your vision.

Choose a time frame to work with. You might want to look ahead a few months or let your imagination travel years into the future. Ask yourself how you’ll feel, how you’ll look, and what you’ll be doing. Looking at the Wheel of Health may bring to mind important areas you might otherwise forget.

Guided imagery can be a valuable tool to help you relax and let your mind visit the healthy future you hope to create. Using all of your senses can make that vision more useful and real. I’ve created a guided imagery recording for this:

For those of us who like to put our thoughts into words, journaling can be a great tool. Getting our thoughts out of our heads and on paper (or into an electronic format) helps us to explore them more thoroughly. It also gives us something to refer to weeks or months from now. For others, drawing or painting serves that function. Or we might include both in an art journal.

Mind mapping is great for those of us whose ideas refuse to follow a simple linear pattern. Mind maps can be simple or elaborate and may include photos, drawings, and more. They can be sketched on paper or done using software. Here’s a simple one I did using XMind:

Mind map - central topic, many branches

In recent years, vision boards (also known as dream boards), have become a popular tool. You can make them on paper or online. Pinterest has many examples that may inspire you. Here’s an example of one I created with an online tool at DreamItAlive.

Vision board with 12 photos representing exercise, learning, nutrition, etc.

Your vision of your optimal health will be as unique as you are and may surprise you. This video shows an unexpected vision and how it transformed the lives of the people who shared it:

Once you have a clear sense of your vision, consider what makes that vision important to you. If you connect your vision to your values, it will have much more power to move you toward the health you desire. If those connections aren’t already in your journal or mind map or vision board, make a place for them.

Having a vision of your optimal health is a great first step, but without action, it will accomplish nothing. Research shows that just imagining a positive future, without taking action, makes you even less likely to succeed. But finding your vision, crafting a realistic plan, and then taking action can dramatically increase your chances of success. As you learn and grow and your life changes, your vision of optimal health will also change. Remember to revisit and refresh it at least once a year.

If you’d like to share your vision, please leave a comment.

The Wheel of Health

Potter using a wheel to create a pot

“Sitting kills.” “You should eat more vegetables.” “Sleep more.” “Get up at the same time every morning.” “Stop smoking.” “Spend more time with your children.” “Everyone should get a dog.” “Floss your teeth every day.” “Take these pills.” “Ask your doctor…” And on and on and on…

We are bombarded by health advice from family, friends, television, magazines, the Internet, doctors, dentists, and more every day.  Some of it good, some of it not. Even if we can sort that out, how do we make sense of how all the good advice could possibly fit together and make sense in our lives?

One tool we can use is the Wheel of Health  developed by Duke Integrative Medicine.concentric circles centered on you, with mindful awareness, self-care and professional care

The wheel is centered on you and your mindful awareness of yourself and your life. That informs your self-care, not only in the obvious areas like exercise and nutrition, but also in areas we may not consider as often such as our physical environment, our work, and our spirituality. All of those are vital to our health and well being.

Beyond that, we have professional care, including preventive care like dental check-ups and immunizations, and treatment for health problems that need something more than self-care. That care might be conventional (like flu shots) or complementary (like acupuncture).

When I was introduced to the Wheel of Health during my integrative health coach training at Duke, it didn’t make everything suddenly fall into place, but it gave me a useful framework to consider the many things that affect health and how to bring them into balance.

We’ll be discussing all these areas over the next several weeks. I’d be delighted to see your thoughts in the comments below.