The New Year gives us a fresh start, a chance to evaluate the year behind us, take the lessons, and craft a vision for the year ahead. In terms of our health and fitness, it is also an opportunity to begin the work of letting go of habits that no longer serve us and creating new ones that will move us towards the vision we have of our fittest selves, living our healthiest lives.

The 5 Factors of Health

There are 5 areas worth looking at to make a plan for our healthiest year yet. Let’s take stock of where things are at in each category, define what we have control over in terms of changing it, and make a plan of attack. Breaking bad habits and creating healthy new ones starts one small step at a time, and with brutal honesty about how we sabotage ourselves.

The 5 Factors :

1. Sleep

2. Nutrition

3. Exercise

4. Relationships

5. Mindset

The 5 Factors of Health: SLEEP

GOAL: Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
Arguably the most important influencer on our health is the amount of sleep we get. Less than 7 hours a night increases risk of cancer, early death, dementia, and cognitive decline, and other chronic diseases. Busy is not an excuse. It might make it harder to prioritize time in our day for sleep, but it doesn’t make it impossible.

1. How many hours, on average, of sleep do you get every night?


Go to bed at a consistent time

Sleep in a dark and quiet room

Make sure your bed & bedding is as comfortable as possible

If you are a clock watcher, hide the clock

Silence your cell phone notifications until morning

Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine

Do not watch TV or look at other screens while in bed.

Listen to relaxing music or guided meditation to help fall asleep

Avoid caffeine after lunchtime and alcohol at night (which may help you fall asleep
but destroys the quality of your sleep)

3. Let’s figure out your optimal bedtime:

What time do you have to get out of bed in the morning to make your day work?

Including 15 minutes to wind down/read/get settled, what time do you need to be in. bed to be able to get up at that time and still get 7 hours of sleep?

4. Which of the habits above are you willing to try to work on to improve your sleep?

LEARN MORE: Read ” The Sleep Revolution” by Ariana Huffington

The 5 Factors of Health: Nutrition

GOAL: Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. Eliminate refined carbohydrates processed foods and sugar.
Our modern American diets are carb and sugar-filled. Combined with our sedentary lifestyles, as a nation – we are heavier and unhealthier than ever. Trendy diets may give us the satisfaction of losing weight quickly, but they don’t fix our bad habits and food addictions or help us maintain those results for the long haul.

1. How would you like your weight and/or body composition to be different in the new year?

2. Why is this important to you?

3. Habits of healthy eaters: (put a check mark next to the ones you already do and circle the ones you need to work on)

Plan food menu for the week

Cook and prepare for the week on the weekends

Eat until 80% full

Eat without distractions ( screens, etc.)

Awareness of real hunger vs. an emotionally driven desire to eat

Majority of the diet consists of real, whole, nutrient-dense foods

Low to no sugar and limited or no refined carbohydrates

Moderate alcohol consumption (2-4 drinks a week)

Vegetables at every meal

Protein source at every meal

Healthy fats at every meal

Limited starch and carbohydrates and real food sources of those

Regular daily water intake

No sugar or sugar substitutes

The 5 Factors of Health: Nutrition


Every reason you can come up with about why you make poor choices around food can be transformed into a way to stop letting that excuse sabotage you. Let’s dig a little deeper into your excuses and see what habits you could work on to dial in your nutrition.

Do you prepare food to bring with you during the day to eat? If no, why not?

1. What habits do you need to create or change so that you can start doing this?

2. Do you rely on takeout, frozen or pre-made foods, ready to eat snacks, and other food that is convenient, but often full of ingredients that are hard to pronounce?

What one small step could you take to improve the quality of the food you eat on a daily basis?

Are you willing to plan your meals for the week and prepare food ahead of time?

What day of the week can you commit to making time for this?

One Small Step at a Time

If you try to make too many changes at once with what you eat, or overwhelm yourself with a bunch of new habits you have to create to eat better, you will likely fail. Behavior change requires us to make small steps, be consistent with them, and these turn into habits that are no longer difficult to sustain.
Here are some examples of small changes you can make to your nutrition. Circle the ones you are willing to try:

Add some veggies to at least 2 meals a day

Aim to have 20-25 grams of protein per meal

Start your day by drinking a glass of water

Limit take out to 1 or 2 nights/days a week

Reduce the amount of sweetener in your daily coffee

Cook yourself dinner one night a week

The 5 Factors of Health: Exercise

Finding What Works for You

The best form of exercise is the kind you can be consistent with. Many of us have experimented with fitness regimes that we have not been able to maintain for any period of time. Don’t give up! Any “failure” to follow through is really just information about what does and doesn’t work for you.

Here are some ways to evaluate failed attempts at fitness, and try something different that may work better for you or new things to consider:

1) If you have FAILED at working out alone or on your own, CONSIDER trying group classes of some sort

2) If you have FAILED when you don’t have accountability, CONSIDER recruiting a workout buddy who is motivated to get healthy or work with a Personal Trainer

3) If you have FAILED at working out in the morning, CONSIDER trying evening workouts.

4) If you dread exercise, it makes it a lot harder to go. Find something that makes you feel excited. To do this, you have to be willing to try new things.

5) Work on your mindset. Waiting to feel motivated means you will be sitting around for a long time. Practice pushing yourself to workout when the true desire is not there. MOVEMENT creates motivation. There is no way around this.

6) Be afraid and do it anyway. The only way out is through.

Is there a gym or a class or a type of exercise that you have been curious about but too afraid to try?

I challenge you to go find them on Facebook or their website right now, message or email them, and ask to set up a time to go check it out or give it a try…..

Get an appointment on the books and make it happen!

Stop thinking about doing it and just do it. Take the first step!

The 5 Factors of Health: Relationships

Creating Healthy Connections

Humans are social creatures. No matter how independent or introverted you are, you still need actual human connection. This doesn’t just mean having people you spend time with, it means having people you spend time with that make you feel seen, heard, and supported.

1) Do you have at least one person in your life that you feel supported by? ( you can reach out to them if you are having a tough time, they encourage you to take healthy risks and try new things)

If yes, that is awesome! How do you make time to keep this connection close?

If no, here are some ways to try to change that.

We naturally surround ourselves with people who reflect our lifestyle choices. This can be tough when we decide to work on being healthier, as the people in our current circle don’t always share the same desires or values.

Ask yourself if the people you spend time with have the same interests or desires as you. If they don’t, where can you find people that do? You need to work on finding a community. For me and many other folks who are CrossFitters – we have found these connections and community at our Crossfit gyms. For others, it may be a church or a group of people with the same hobby.
Write 3 ideas of places you might be able to find and connect with like-minded people:



Now, what action do you have to take to make this happen?

Consider setting a daily and/or weekly goal for connection and relationship building. That can be as simple as, putting your phone away while you are eating food with another human.

Write that simple daily and/or weekly goal below:

The 5 Factors of Health: Mindset

Creating Mental Toughness

A healthy mindset is one that is growth-oriented ( read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset). It is one that is able to focus on the things you have control over. A healthy mindset is one where you are aware of your thoughts and feelings, rather than be blindly controlled by them in day to day life. A healthy mindset is the foundation of good mental health, a positive mood, and healthy coping.
Developing and understanding mindset is a big topic. There are many good resources on it where you can learn more and practice techniques to improve it (see the book recommendation above). For our purposes right now, I am going to focus on 3 tools for you to start using to improve your mindset in your daily life.


When negative emotions present themselves, that is a sign that you are focusing on things outside of your control. When anger, frustration, sadness come over you – ask yourself this question and use it to guide your response:
What do I have control over in this situation?
Focusing on anything else will magnify feelings of upset and powerlessness and push your behavior in an unproductive direction.


It is easy to evaluate what someone is thinking or feeling or why they took the action they did, but our minds don’t always lead us in a truthful direction with that. We often make assumptions that fuel negative emotions. When you find yourself making an assumption, instead stop and ask yourself, are there any other explanations for this? Consider all of the possibilities, not just the ones you think are true. Then, take some action and have a conversation/ask questions to find out what is real.


The single most powerful mindset tool you can develop to transform how you feel about your life is cultivating gratitude. What this means is training your mind to look for and focus on the things that you have to be grateful for in any given moment or any given situation, even when it is hard.

Start by adding a daily ritual of finding 3 things you are grateful for from that day. Next, you can challenge yourself in situations where you feel stressed, take a deep breath and find something to be grateful for. Keep practicing this daily, and it will continue to become easier and automatic!

The 5 Factors of Health:

This is a Journey that Never Ends

Paying attention to these 5 factors of health and working on the skills I have given will help you create a life that is happy and healthy. There is no endpoint, there is always room for growth in these areas. Even when you have made major improvements or changes, then there is the work of maintaining them.

Being a healthier human being requires you to learn to “love the process” of growth, change, learning.

This year, I challenge you to commit yourself to the journey. Small steps and efforts on the daily lead to big changes. Just don’t give up!


The concept of the 5 Factors of Health was coined by Ben Bergeron. This article was created as a self-evaluation and goal setting tool by Rachael O’Donnell LCSW, LADC, CrossFit level 2 Trainer, and Pn1 Nutrition Coach.