Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Many people begin January with enthusiasm and purpose, yet a 2012 survey by research firm Kelton indicates that 31 percent of resolution-makers break their pledges by the end of the month. I know for myself my resolutions have the best chance at succeeding when I have clearly defined goals and a plan for achieving them. Today I’d like to introduce you to Denise Elliott, an expert at setting and achieving goals. As a project manager, she knows what it takes to break down complex projects into attainable milestones. And she did just that with her health.
In 1996, Denise received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis just before her 29th birthday. After making significant lifestyle changes that brought initial success with weight loss and blood sugar management, a divorce sent her into a tailspin. For years, she tried to reclaim control of her health, losing and regaining 100 pounds multiple times. Her weight and increasing blood sugar and triglyceride levels brought her to a turning point in 2012.
“At 46, I honestly didn’t know if I would make my 50th birthday,” she said. “Yet I’m very successful in a lot of other parts of my life, including my work as a project manager. So I decided maybe it was time to employ the principles that I would apply to a work project to myself.”
Dubbing the endeavor “Project Me,” Denise used project planning principles from work to design long-term goals for the year and then broke the project into smaller, defined goals and objectives for each month, including target weight, fasting blood sugar level, triglyceride levels and waist circumference. To set the goal targets, Denise consulted with her endocrinologist, primary care physician and therapist.
To keep herself accountable, Denise created and posted a project charter on her blog in January 2013, setting her intentions for the year, with specific milestones for what results she wanted to achieve by certain events. “I had started many personal initiatives in the past, but they just weren’t successful. And yet, my work projects generally are,” she said. “Against incredible odds, I lead teams into doing ridiculously hard things and it’s all with a plan. So I decided I had to treat Project Me the same way. In the project management universe, a charter outlines the importance of a project, how you’re going to run it, and defines some metrics and operating mechanisms.”
To stay on track with her monthly goals, Denise employed several tools daily. First, she used a Fitbit® to log her steps, giving her an easy way to set target goals for steps to take the next day, week or month. She also used a wireless digital scale that measures both weight and body fat. Finally, Denise tracked her daily food intake with MyFitnessPal® website and smartphone app, finding the online database of foods and restaurant menus particularly helpful. MyFitnessPal also integrates with her Fitbit and scale data, so it completes her daily calorie limit based on her activity level.
While most of her goals were specific and measurable, Denise also included one that was slightly less so. “I threw in one goal that couldn’t be fully measured; I wanted to increase my happiness,” she said. “When I realized I might not make my 50th birthday, I also realized I wasn’t even enjoying the life I have. I didn’t want to lose track of the fact that I wouldn’t feel as successful if I had improved my health without happiness. To create happiness parameters, I leaned heavily on conversations with my therapist about bringing more joy and less anxiety into my life.”
As in her work projects, Denise provided monthly reports on her progress on her blog, posting what she wanted to achieve at the beginning of each month, listing the tasks to help achieve those goals, and then summarizing her results at the end of the month. In December 2013, she posted a recap of the year’s progress, announcing she had met – and in some cases exceeded – her targets: reduced fasting blood sugar and triglyceride levels, a weight loss of 77 pounds, a loss of 14 inches from her waist, and self-assessed indicators of improved quality of life. In January 2014, she posted an update with a new set of goals for the year.
In blogging her progress, Denise has joined an online community of other “fitbloggers” who blog about their fitness endeavors and has made many supportive friendships. When Denise finished a duathlon in October 2013, fellow fitblogger and runner Susan Ito was there to cheer her on. “She was supposed to be competing that day, too, but got hurt so she couldn’t compete,” Denise said. “She probably shouldn’t have been out of bed, but she was determined to be there. She was ringing cowbells as I ran across the finish line. It was really amazing and fun. I was so touched that she came all that way for me. Certainly, I didn’t beat any records for my time on that duathlon, but I felt like a winner because Susan was there. She is just a positive little force of nature.”
For Denise, each day starts with a decision. “Even now, I have to wake up every morning and say, ‘I am worth this and today I’m going to make more healthy decisions than yesterday.’ I think what I’ve realized now is there’s never going to be a day where it’s not going to be a battle; it’ll be a decision I will have to make new every morning from now on. It’s always going to be a journey. I’m always going to be on a continuum of making decisions and moving forward. Every day I clean the slate and start over again. That gives me a lot of strength.”
It sounds like Denise is quite an example of strength herself! I’m so impressed with her idea to connect a professional strength with an area for personal improvement and am positively inspired by her results. How have you successfully managed health-related goals? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below. Many thanks to Denise for sharing her story.
All the best,
Disclosure: Denise Elliott received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
Fitbit is a registered trademark of Fitbit, Inc.
MyFitnessPal is a registered service mark of MyFitnessPal, Inc.