Menopause wellbeing: how to set goals to boost your health and happiness
Why meaningful goals can help you thrive during the perimenopause and menopause
With the end of 2022 fast approaching, now is traditionally the time people look to make some resolutions for the new year ahead.
Maybe it has been a few years since you’ve tried to make – and stick to – some New Year’s resolutions? Or perhaps you’ve tried to do so in the past, but when the ‘new you’ fails to materialise, it’s easy to lose confidence in your ability to make healthy changes and incorporate them into your everyday habits.
The perimenopause and menopause signify a change in themselves and present a perfect opportunity to take stock of your health and wellbeing and consider how you could improve certain aspects to help your menopause journey and invest in a healthier future.
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Looking at your diet, levels of physical activity, alcohol intake, sleeping habits and levels of stress are a good place to start when thinking about making healthy changes for 2023. Whatever your aims, it’s worth knowing a little about the science of making healthy behaviour changes so you don’t set yourself up to fail from the start.
Plan to ‘do’ rather than trying to avoid
Research shows  that ‘approach’ goals are more effective than ‘avoidance’ goals as they are associated with more positive emotions and greater psychological wellbeing. This means set your goals around what you are going to do differently rather than what you want to stop doing. Instead of ‘I’m not going to reach for a bag of crisps with my 11am coffee’, frame it more positively such as ‘I’ll have a piece of fruit or a yoghurt with my coffee’.
Define your goals
A well-defined goal is important. If you’re struggling to form your goal, use a SMART approach to help make it more concrete. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (or Relevant) and Time-based.
This will turn ‘I need to do more exercise’ into ‘I will go for a one-mile walk, three times a week, consistently for the next month’. This way, you will know on a week-by-week basis, how well you did and whether you achieved the goal or not.
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Learn and problem solve
Make sure you haven’t set only performance-based goals; weight loss goals is a good example of this. If you set a goal to lose 10lbs, and then don’t achieve this goal you will feel you have failed – this thinking may make you less likely to try again. But the 10lb goal depended only on judgment from the scales to evaluate how well you did and it didn’t take into account any other positive changes you might have made.
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Incorporating goals that focus on learning and mastering a new skill promotes healthier self-evaluation, so if weight loss is an aim, add to this by setting goals around learning a new sport or exercise activity and mastering cooking healthier meals. With learning-based goals, challenges are viewed as part of the natural process and you’ll be more likely to stay engaged and problem solve your way around any issues.
Choose goals that motivate you
Challenging goals produce better results than easy goals, but only if you are highly committed to making changes and have confidence in your own abilities. How committed you are will depend on whether you have intrinsic motivation – do you gain personal satisfaction and enjoyment from the activity or change itself or is the only motivation the consequence or reward at the end?
Choose goals that are intrinsically motivating and you will be more driven to achieve them despite their level of difficulty. Setting and achieving challenging goals will improve your confidence and chances of future success.
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Choosing the right goals and defining them well is key, but that alone doesn’t automatically translate into behaviour change. The ‘intention-behaviour gap’ has been well demonstrated in studies  and it’s turning good intention into action that is the crucial step towards progress.
Action plans and coping plans
Take time to plan and describe the ‘where, when and how’ you will tackle your goal and behaviour changes. It works best if you have created the plan yourself, and then share it with others. Keep the timeframes short, for example weekly. Judge your confidence on achieving your plan out of 10, and if you gave yourself less than a 7, change the plan to one you have more confidence in.
Anticipate any barriers that may get in the way of your action plan to make sure you don’t get distracted or let the plan derail due to other influences. If you plan to workout with a friend, what is your plan if she can’t make it? If tiredness is likely to stop you from cooking a nutritious evening meal, what can you do in advance to plan for this?
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Part of keeping a plan realistic and achievable is to not try and work on everything at once. Pick one or two areas that you feel really committed to and focus on those.
If perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms are affecting your energy, stamina, motivation and mood, see your healthcare professional about replacing your hormones via hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or tweaking your dose if you already take HRT.
Establishing a balanced level of hormones will often enable you to have the energy and motivation to continue making other helpful changes in your life.
It’s also important to take a holistic approach to managing your perimenopause and menopause, such as a balanced diet, exercise and relaxation – and setting meaningful goals can help towards this.
Bailey R.R. (2017), ‘Goal setting and action planning for health behavior change’, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13 (6), pp.615-18. doi: 10.1177/1559827617729634