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Tips from wellness coaches for New Year’s resolutions

By Jan Brogan
Globe Correspondent / January 2, 2012
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What gets in the way of all those weight-loss, fitness, and living-healthier goals we set in a burst of determination on New Year’s Day? Rigid expectations, negative emotions, and nonstop distraction, according to Dr. Paul Hammerness, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Harvard University, and Wellcoaches founder Margaret Moore. Hammerness and Moore are coauthors of the book “Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life,’’ a guide to training the brain to accomplish goals. Here are five of their tips.

1. Don’t overcommit. “Often people set the wrong goals,’’ says Moore. She suggests people make an “aggressive vision statement’’ with no deadline, such as: I’m going to be thinner and stronger. Then set a realistic, shorter-term goal, such as I’m going to have a regular exercise regime by a certain date.

2. Dig deep to get to the “why.’’ When you tap into the heartfelt source of your drive to be healthier, you will power up your journey to change, Moore says. What is it that you really, really yearn for, that you’ll have when you are healthier and fitter?

3. Sit down with a friend and brainstorm what your top strengths are and how you can use them to handle challenges. Because negative feelings are so good at taking over the brain’s resources, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and ignore strengths, says Moore. Only about a third of adults even know what their strengths are.

4. Experiment like a scientist. Try a new strategy, and see if it makes a difference. If you are trying to break a habit, like smoking, say, work on things that could replace it: Say smoking provides the benefit of five minutes of relaxation or mindfulness. Experiment with other five-minute options that could produce the same calm: five minutes of walking, stretching, or meditating.

5. Get a handle on distractions. Schedule an hour on a specific day of the week to go to the gym, for example. Put away your cellphone and don’t check e-mails first. Hammerness, who specializes in treating people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, emphasizes the importance of focus and managing everyday distractions. “People don’t do that, and they are begging to get off-task,’’ he says.

Who qualifies as a ‘wellness coach’

When Medicare starts covering certain coaching sessions in a few months, those services must be provided within a primary care doctor’s office and delivered by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

What exactly is a “wellness coach’’? In the private sector - for now, at least - anyone can claim the title of wellness coach, with little or no qualifications. But efforts are being made to change that.

For example, the Wellesley-based Wellcoaches company offers a certification program that takes trainees with a background in fitness, nutrition, physical health, or mental health, and offers studies that include behavioral science and psychology.

The National Consortium for Credentialing of Health & Wellness Coaches - a group of more than 75 individuals and organizations in health care, including government agencies and academic medical institutions - is developing national standards and competency testing.

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