I know I’m not alone here, but my favorite part of living in New England has always been the change of seasons. I love that just when we get used to (or sick of) one way of life, that’s exactly when Mother Nature switches things up on us.
Changes that are beyond our control cause us to be reactive, to adapt, and we usually manage quite well. So why is it that changes that we have the luxury of initiating ourselves are so hard for us to embrace? If we know, or have heard, that a certain exercise might benefit us tremendously, why is it so hard to make time to try it? If we want something, like more energy, or weight loss, why is it so hard to do what it takes to get it? If we need to save money, why is it so difficult to resist buying things we don’t really need? When we understand logically that a behavior is harmful and we want to quit, why is it so difficult to stop?
There are many answers to these questions, and theories as to why we have a hard time breaking old habits and forming new ones, but I think much of accomplishing real change boils down to how we think, and talk, about what we really want, and how we plan to get it. Real, sustainable change comes from setting clear goals that are actionable, measurable and realistic.
Day in and day out I hear people tell me that they “want to be in better shape.” When I ask what that means, 99% of the time I get a blank stare. When asked to define “better shape” most people have given it little or no actual thought. I ask them to redefine their goals by talking only about real tangible things like “well, I’d like to walk up the stairs from the T and not be out of breath,” or “I’d like to be able to run a mile” or “I think I should be able to touch my toes.”
If you would like to “get in shape” that’s great, but it’s not an action, and it’s not an actionable goal. You do not walk outside and “do shape.” That’s unfortunately not how life works. You walk, run, bike, stretch or otherwise move to “get in shape” but you have to know what that means for you, you have to think about it.
Consider this: If “being in shape” means being able to touch your toes, then how will you make that happen? Will you wake up one day and it just do it? Not likely, will you seek out exercises that are known to increase flexibility and try them, now that’s a good idea, but how often will you go, and how will you know if you’ve made progress? Do you wish to touch your toes by tomorrow, or by winter?
Think about something you have been trying to accomplish and apply the steps below:
- Figure out what you really want to do in simple actionable words.
- Set a time frame, when do you wish to be able to do this by?
- Break your goal down into individual actions that you can measure.
- Work hard and track your progress, consider sharing your goal and progress with others. Studies have shown that people with strong support networks have more success meeting goals and sustaining change.
- Celebrate – reward yourself for progress at each step along the way, but with something unrelated to your goal. If you are trying to give up soda now is not the time to have one because you have gone a week without. Reward yourself with something healthy and unrelated, like new music, a Broga class, a new item of clothing, or a beer with a friend (unless of course beer is what you are trying to change!)