Clouds on a Lake

We all want to be healthier, but why? What's our real purpose? Even the strongest resolve can collapse if you're trying to change for someone else—get thinner for a spouse, quit smoking for a nagging mother, exercise because you're supposed to. "To get motivated in a healthy way, start by asking yourself a series of questions," says Marianne Legato, MD, founder of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University, whose latest book is Why Men Die First: How to Lengthen Your Lifespan.

These questions, compiled by Legato and her LLuminari colleagues, may seem difficult to answer at first, but the point is to get you digging down to a place where your intentions become clear. If a question seems particularly intimidating, think of it as a lake whose waters are deep and cold. Dip your toe in, letting your body adjust to the bracing temperature. Then dunk a foot, a leg, until you're all the way in. You may want to write down thoughts or just roll them over in your mind.

Part of this exercise is to remind yourself about what you—as opposed to everyone else around you—need in order to feel happy and fulfilled. If you don't make time for what matters to you, how can others value your importance?

  1. Who am I? How do I think of myself? What are my strengths and weaknesses?

  2. Who do I want to be?

  3. Why am I here? Why am I important? What is my mission?

  4. What am I missing? The time to read a book? A close friendship?

  5. What's my motivation for wanting to improve my food and exercise habits? If it's to look better, do I expect favorable results to bring love?

  6. Am I afraid of making changes or of taking risks (quitting a boring job, getting out of a bad relationship)? Do I fear failure or the responsibility that could come with success? Could I embrace change instead as an adventure?

  7. What has stopped me from keeping resolutions in the past? Is the obstacle (or obstacles) still present in my life? If so, how will I navigate it this time?

  8. When I'm tempted to wander off track, what could I say to myself, or do, to stick with the original plan?

  9. How can I build in support for myself? Ask a friend to be a health buddy? Join a walking club?

  10. What am I doing in my life that's hurting me? Smoking? Drinking too much? Letting work interfere with relationships?

  11. What are the sources of joy I need to feel whole?

  12. Am I happy?

If you don't have the energy to make changes now, ask yourself these questions again in a month or two. And consider that in order to part with what has become habit or routine, you may simply need to take a leap of faith. "So many of us are in jobs we hate or relationships that are stagnant, but we're too paralyzed to change," says surgeon Nancy Snyderman, MD, whose books include Dr. Nancy Snyderman's Guide to Good Health for Women over Forty. "As we age, we stop taking risks."

Next Steps: Click here for more from's 2011 Feel Good Challenge