The Pennington Plan by Andrea Pennington, MD, LAc

People often know what they should do to lose weight, lower their blood pressure and manage relationships better. But, bad habits die hard and most of us do not have an easy way to implement changes needed for lasting success. Often changes are only made in one area when the condition has far reaching effects in several spheres of one's life. We all have the internal ability to improve our health, relationships and even emotional well-being often without medication. To reclaim our natural state of wellness and achieve optimal health, one must learn to bring body, mind, and spirit into harmony. This allows many people to conquer cancer, beat addictions and manage all types of chronic disease. We can revive this natural tendency with the help of a little guidance and inspiration.

The Pennington Plan is a 5-step program that was originally taught as a heart-healthy plan to women who were busy raising families, managing the household and balancing careers. The Plan takes advantage of key psychological and spiritual principles which are briefly described below but can be used by anyone:

Step I: Describe Your Goal: It's critically important to be very specific when it comes to describing a health goal. With Step 1, I ask you to define your wellness goal in vivid terms as if you are describing the scene of a movie. For instance, if I were to wave a magic wand and grant you your fondest health wish, what would life be like from that moment forward? How would you behave? What would be different about your outlook? How would you carry yourself? How would you treat others and how would they treat you once your health dream has come true?

It's not enough to say your dream is to be a size 6 or to not have heart disease. You must be specific about what life will be like to mobilize life-changing energy and motivation. The more graphic you get the better chance you have at imprinting this vision into your subconscious to manifest your dream into your present reality.

Step 2: Define your Motivation: What do you value most in life? Will achieving your health goal allow you to better utilize your life to contribute to your family, community or society? Why do you want to achieve the goal you described in Step 1? If you do not have a burning desire for your goal you will surely give up at the first sign of resistance. Successful change requires that we push through the opposition and keep moving. Without a sincere motivating factor, you may throw in the towel too soon.

Come up with 5 motivating factors for reaching your goal. If you're changing your health habits for yourself, that's wonderful, but if you run into a low-mood or low self-esteem day, you may not stick to your plan. Perhaps seeing your children graduate or get married could motivate you to put down the second helping of ice cream. Maybe being able to travel and sightsee without stopping to catch your breath will inspire you to endure longer workouts and resist moping on the couch. Ponder why your goal is worth your efforts and note this in a journal.

Step 3: Devise a Plan and Get Started! You cannot expect wellness to just show up in front of you without proper planning. Step 3 requires that you devise a strategy that provides structure and allows for flexibility. It's recommended that you come up with five potential steps to your goal that will boost the vitality of all parts of your being: mind, body and spirit. Speak with your healthcare professional to be sure that your plan includes the elements specific to your condition. In general, be sure to include nutrition, fitness and mindfulness practices in your plan - even if your goal is to beat asthma. Everything in life is easier when your whole being is pointed toward your destination.

Step 4: Chart Your Progress: Make notes in your journal or on a calendar as you make progress toward your goal. Note any milestone you reach to prove that you do have the power to make a difference in your life. Review your progress regularly to stoke your enthusiasm.

Step 5: Celebrate Your Success! Don't wait until you reach your goal to do the happy dance! Celebrate along the way to keep your passion and motivation peaked. Give yourself mini pamper sessions, enjoy tea time or go to a movie. (Just don't celebrate with the things that contributed to your condition in the first place!) As you practice this 5-step plan, you will undoubtedly feel more powerful, connected and healthy. Living will become an exciting celebration!

Andrea Pennington, a physician and acupuncturist, is author of "The Pennington Plan: 5 Simple Steps to Vibrant Health, Emotional Wellbeing and Spiritual Growth" (Avery; 2005; $22.95). Dr. Pennington has appeared on Oprah and in magazines and on the radio. Visit www.PenningtonInstitute.com or call (301) 588-7366 for more info.