Today is the day, this is the year you are going to make all those changes you want to make in your life! Have you said that to yourself before? How did it work out? Want to learn some easy steps to make this year different? To actually make and KEEP those changes? Read on….
We’ve all seen the gyms in January, they are packed full of people with good intentions. The gyms in February are a different story. They are practically empty, only the people who were there before January 1st remain. What do they know that all of those good-intentioned enthusiastic, missing people don’t know? They started off with small, tiny, even minuscule changes and grew them into big changes. They “chiseled the change” but more on that later. There are six steps to lasting change:
1. FIND YOUR BIG “WHY”
At the very heart of change is finding your deep reason for why you want to make a change. Losing 10 pounds sounds like a good goal but it is superficial. It’s easy to talk yourself out of making daily changes when you have been carrying that 10 pounds around for a few months or years. You’ve gotten used to it, it isn’t impacting your life all that much. Why inconvenience yourself for something that isn’t that big of a deal? Sound familiar? You have to go past the weight and figure out what is really nagging you about that 10 pounds. For some people, that 10 pounds means loss of stamina and they can’t keep up wth their kids or grandkids. For others, that 10 pounds means their knees ache or their back hurts. Or maybe your goal is to eat less junk food. We all know that is a great goal but without an important WHY it can be hard to drive past your favorite fast-food chain when your stomach is growling.
2. MAKE A 3 MONTH “SMART” GOAL
Many times our goals are along the lines of “eat healthier” or “exercise more”. While they are good goals, they are nebulous. Research tells us that if we want to have the best chance of achieving a goal, we have to figure out exactly what it is we want to accomplish. We have to make it SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. This is way easier than it looks, I promise! Let’s take “eat healthier” as an example….
- SPECIFIC – “eat healthier” can mean many things to many people. Do you want to eat more vegetables? If so, how many more? Do you want to eat less sugar? Do you want to eat more homemade meals? How many per week? You can’t track your progress if the goal isn’t specific.
- MEASURABLE – this is where the tracking comes in. It’s impossible to track “eat healthier” but “eat 4 homemade meals a week” is completely trackable.
- ATTAINABLE – if you currently don’t even know where the closest gracoery store is located, eating 4 homemade meals a week is going to be really difficult. This is where our pride gets in the way. We all like to think we are going to crush any goal we set for ourselves, so we have the tendency to set very lofty goals. What can you achieve in 3 months? If you travel for work, 4 meals may be far too many a week. Maybe the goal looks something like “I will make dinner 1/2 of the nights I am in town each week”. These goals have to be highly personalized.
- REALISTIC – much like the last point, you must be realistic about what you can attain in 3 months. Look at your calendar, do you have a vacation coming up? Big projects at work? Maybe you have a surgery planned, all of these will impact what can realistically be attained in 3 months.
- TIME BOUND – this is where the 3 months come into play. Research tells us that 3 months is the sweet spot when it comes to goal setting. It is a long enough time to get something significant accomplished but not so long that you lose interest. If you keep at something for 3 months it also has become a habit and as we all know, habits can be hard to break.
One great way to help you stay on track is to have milestone markers that let you know if you are staying on track. Going back to the making meals at home goal; your milestones could be, at the end of the first month you have gathered several easy recipes to try and have bought all the groceries and other items needed to make the first dish. At the end of the second month you have several more recipes and routinely make 1-2 meals a week. If you have met those milestones on time, it is not a big leap to assume you will be making 3-4 meals a week at the end of 3 months.
4. Weekly Action Steps
These action steps are the stepping stones that lead you to the milestones and ultimately your goal. These typically need to be way smaller than we think. Think about the Attainability of your step each week. Maybe your 3-month goal is to be drinking 8 glasses of water a day. You think to yourself that it is really not that hard and why are you even setting such a silly goal? Of course you can drink 8 glasses of water a day, no problem! Nevermind the fact that you currently drink maybe 2 glasses a day and the rest is coffee, soda, wine, what have you. Getting those 8 glasses a day consistently will take more planning than you realize if you want it to last. This is where “chiseling the change” comes in. You have to chisel down your goal to small, easily attainable action steps. I cannot stress enough how important this is! So the first week, your action step might be to buy water bottles that you enjoy using or downloading a reminder app on your phone. The next week might be to track how many glasses you drink daily without trying to reach a specific goal, this is your baseline. The third week might be to drink one glass over your baseline. You get the idea. These steps are small to increase the likelihood of success. We want to continuously win each week, everyone loves to win and keep winning. We want the small wins to have a snowball effect and that only happens if you chisel the change down to successful steps.
5. DAILY CHAIN
This is much like the reward stickers we give children for accomplishing their goals. We do it because it is motivating for them, and guess what? For adults too! There is something very rewarding about marking things off a to-do list, and it is totally in our heads. Dopamine. When we accomplish something we set out to do, when we win at a goal, our bodies release dopamine which makes us feel good. We all want to continue to feel good, so it makes sense that we would continue the action that led us there. We want to reinforce the wins as many ways as possible. Just knowing you accomplished a task may not be enough. But marking things off a list, or making X’s on a calendar for every day that you did your action step? That can be the visual reinforcement that is needed. Seeing a chain of X’s can be incredibly motivating. Making that daily X gives you a little dopamine, looking at how many X’s you have in a row gives you a little more dopamine. Our brains learn better from success, why not use that to your advantage?
This doesn’t have to be big, just meaningful. You just worked hard for 3 months, you deserve it! For the person who had an exercise goal, maybe you buy new workout clothes. For the person cooking meals, maybe you buy a kitchen gadget you want. Maybe it’s completely unrelated to your goal like going to the movies or going out to a fancy dinner. Whatever it is, write it down when you make your goal. Look at it often and make sure you do it very shortly after accomplishing your goal. Remember – our brains learn best from success and reward, so make sure you reinforce your accomplishment with a reward and your next goal may be even easier to attain!