COACH Yourself to Success in 2021

It’s a new year, and you’ve got a resolution in mind. Whether it’s aiming for a healthier diet, improving your stress management, or finally committing to that daily workout, achieving your goal probably won’t be easy. Resolutions made on New Year’s Day are often in the trash bin by Valentine’s Day. But this year can be different if you learn how to COACH yourself to success.

Dr. Beth Frates, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, designed a strategy she calls COACH to move you toward your goals. It’s a process that can help sidestep pitfalls that may have derailed you in the past.

“Sustaining healthy habits is a lot about mindset as well as self-talk,” says Dr. Frates, president-elect for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. “Self-talk is something we do silently in our own head. But self-talk is actually not silent; it speaks volumes.” The trick is training the voice in your head to urge you forward instead of holding you back.

Getting started with the COACH approach

Dr. Frates’s COACH approach relies on five basic components.

Curiosity. Ask yourself questions about what you enjoy as you choose your path
to your goal. “Curiosity encourages us to embrace and explore what we really like to do,” says Dr. Frates. If your plan is to exercise more, it might specifically mean exploring new types of movement to get yourself going. “For some it
might be a Zumba class, for others yoga or strength training,” she says. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. “There are so many options for exercise, choose the one that really gets you excited,” she says. And whenever possible, include some variety in your plan. “The brain loves novelty,” she says.

Openness. “Many of us, when we reach the new year, experience self-talk that goes something like this: ‘It never works anyway. I’m not going to stick with it, I never have, but I might as well give it a try,’” says Dr. Frates. “That’s being judgmental, and it’s also forecasting negative results.” Instead, try thinking about your challenge differently. Move past some of the negative self-talk and
bad habits that impeded your progress in the past, she says. When a problem arises, change your internal script.

Say instead: “‘Everyone makes mistakes.I have tried this in the past, but I’m going to try something new and a little different this year,’ or ‘I’m going to use new strategies and techniques this year,’” says Dr. Frates. “I’m not judging myself. If something doesn’t work, I’m going to try to learn and grow from
it. I’m going to look at what happened and make improvements.”

If you look for growth and learn to see setbacks as stepping-stones, not as end points, you’ll be less afraid of failing and more likely to persevere until you succeed.

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