Men's health

Independent thinking could help your plans for better health this year

Girl relaxing in the beach park.

Girl relaxing in the beach park.

Are you making plans for the coming year?

Whether you are keen to get fitter, lose or gain weight, stop smoking or slow down on your alcohol intake even the best laid plans can be well off course before the end of January.

While people pride themselves on individual thinking and creativity today, when it comes to eating, drinking and smoking, group mentality can take over.

The difference between those whose plans succeed and those that don’t could be simply found in the way people maintain their independence and sense of purpose when “under fire”. Independent thinkers may be better than their peers at developing their plans at the start by focusing on the things that really matter, measuring their progress but then, importantly, protecting their plans from the will of others in order to stay on course. Here are a few tips on planning to succeed.

Perfect your plan

If you want to change a few things in your life but are struggling to get started a SWOT analysis1, often used to build business strategies, can do wonders to help you personally to prioritise your goals and get focused:

A Swot analysis

S          List your personal strengths that can keep you on track

W        acknowledge your weaknesses that might hinder goal achievement

O         Recognise the opportunities that might flow from your goal success

T          Note the threats that might create barriers to your goal achievement

So for instance if you saw excess weight as a weakness and turned this into a strength by losing weight through better diet and fitness then armed with more energy and fitness more opportunities may open up in your work and personal life thereby reducing the threat to your life and security caused by inactivity and obesity related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Gather facts

Once you have decided on your biggest weakness that you want to change it can then help if you gather as many facts on your situation so as to measure your total performance.
For instance if you need to lose weight check with your doctor about other health indicators e.g. your latest lipid (cholesterol) levels, blood pressure and blood sugar results. If you are more than 10-15kg overweight then your liver, renal and thyroid function results can also be relevant.

Arrange a full nutritional assessment with a Dietitian to find the quickest way to improve your diet to not only lose weight but also to learn how to improve the other parameters e.g.your cholesterol, blood sugar and hypertension. A Dietitian could also give you a sports nutrition plan to match your exercise regime for better fitness.

By taking this approach at the end of the exercise you will not only have lost weight but also will have improved your lipid profile, lowered your blood pressure and (depending on training) you may have also have improved your sporting performance.

Develop a plan

Once you know your goal i.e your “weakest link” it is then important to develop an action plan to change things.

The SMART approach to planning was developed by George Duran2 in 1981 but this mnemonic acronym for setting objectives is still useful today.

S          Be Specific, write down exactly what you want to do..e.g. lose weight

M         Measure performance…e.g.weight yourself every week to check progress

A          Set Achievable goals each week e.g. 0.5-0.7kg weight loss/week

R          Make them Relevent, rewarding…e.g. losing weight so as to run and beat a “best time”

T          Develop a Time line by breaking the overall weight goal into achievable stages.

Develop an Independent thinking approach

While these methods of planning can give you a structure and can act as a guide to reach your goals, ultimately you will reach a point where you will strike a barrier.

What ever your plan or dream something or someone will pop up to head you off course. This is where independent thinking comes in.

Independent thinkers are critical thinkers who having gathered all the necessary information “set their own sails” and future direction.

They can think for themselves but are also active listeners and learners; they can organise time, thought and actions; they have a very strong desire for success; they ask the tough questions regarding a course of action; they can look at where the source of information comes from; solve problems; can be objective and are not easily influenced by the thoughts and actions of others.3

Using knowledge and critical thought processes independent thinkers can reflect on past success and failures, attitudes and behaviours and use any skills they possess to build new ways of reacting to changes in their environment.

Simple situations where independent thinking can help weight loss

  1. Friends are heading off to buy fish and chips for dinner
  • What effect will this group action have on your efforts to lose weight? Are there healthier food choices on offer?
  1. You want to reduce alcohol but the drinks keep on flowing?
  • How can you extricate yourself from drinking more? Could you be the designated driver or switch to drinking something else?
  1. Your running buddy lets you down, its raining and bed feels so warm?
  • The rest of the week could be the same. Is there a shopping mall to walk in or gym near by or is there a better plan?
  1. It’s Wednesday already and still no exercise.
  • There are still 4 days left this week so get creative figure it out.
  1. I wanted to lose 20kg this year and I’ve only lost 3kgs after two months!
  • So already you have lost the equivalent of 7lbs of butter. Go look at that in the supermarket and with only 17kg to lose what do you need to do to get back on track?

Achieving a healthy weight and maintaining it requires not only a plan but also the knowledge of how to modify that plan to suit changes in your lifestyle your environment and your need as you age. Do contact us if you would like to extend your nutrition knowledge in this way.

Alongside independent thinking it helps to understand where personal qualities such as optimism, hope4, commitment, resilience and self-worth fit in. You can find out more about this in Lea’s other articles:

Our “Attitude” is the key to better health
Break free from procrastination for better health
Accept responsibility for your own success
Hot tips to build commitment
Increase self esteem to achieve your New Year’s resolutions
Find optimism for goal success
Making changes
Building resilience
Challenging our self limiting factors


  1. Humphrey A. (dec 2005) SWOT analysis for management consulting SRI Alumnai newsletter SRI International
  2. Duran G. Theres a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review AMA Forum 70(11) 35-36.
  3. Willis J. Beyond the comfort zone: 6 ways to build independent thinking. Eutopia. Jan 10 2014
  4. Instilling hope and respecting patient autonomy: reconciling apparently conflicting duties. Bioethics 2005 June,19 (3) 215-31

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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