Help for the "Starter with No Follow-Through" – Part 1

It’s no surprise that improving your health - eating better, exercising regularly, getting more hours of quality sleep - doesn’t just happen. That’s why I’m taking on your biggest health-change challenges (change-allenges?). This blog post is in response to an email I got about a common health-goal hurdle:

 

Dear Lara,

My greatest obstacle to reaching my wellness goals is maintaining those goals as a priority. Other projects and obligations push my wellness goals further down the list and soon I’ve lost focus.

How can I overcome this?

Sincerely,

Nancy

 

Help is here, Nonstick Nancy. First, let’s acknowledge that you’ve overcome a big barrier already – you’ve taken the first step! Most people think about how they should take this first step, or when they will, but so few actually take it. Congratulate yourself for taking on a new challenge.

Seriously. I’m not patronizing. This has to be done. When we brush our successes under the rug, we are left with little evidence of our accomplishments, which is one way of ignoring the positive and putting our attention on the negative. Also, a lumpy rug.

Now, how to maintain?

It’s likely that at least one of the following is a factor in your goals taking a back seat:

1.     Your goals aren’t appropriate.

2.     Your frame of mind isn’t serving you.

3.     Your goals are negotiable.

4.     You haven’t sharpened your “roll with it” skillz.

 

I’ll address each of these in upcoming blog posts. Let’s take a closer look at #1.

 

Your goals aren’t appropriate.

Avoid the rookie mistake of picking too much to change at once.

Baby steps.

Leeeettle beeety beeeeby steps.

 

This is not a novel concept. However, people typically ignore this advice, because they feel like taking baby steps won’t lead them to see big changes in the outcome on which they are focused (e.g., pounds lost, miles run, clothing size). 

For instance, if someone wants to lose weight but has not been consistently exercising for years, an appropriate goal would be to take a 5-minute walk every day. Most people don’t want to do this, because they believe a daily 5-minute walk will not lead to noticeable weight loss. Instead they may set a goal of a daily 55-minute walk. They are, however, mistaken in thinking a daily 55-minute walk will lead to weight loss, because it’s unlikely that they will actually do this regularly in the beginning.  Thus, the 55-minute walk goal quickly becomes zero minutes walked.  

There’s an inherent problem with focusing on an outcome (weight loss in the example above) and planning your goals from this standpoint. Being solely focused on an outcome makes it much harder (dare I say, impossible) to maintain the behavior(s) that you hope will get you there. It’s necessary to find something enjoyable about the behavior itself in order to find lasting success. 

 

When someone only has eyes for an end-prize, they continue to choose

·      too many behaviors, or

·      goals that are too large

 

Unfortunately, this leads to

·      failure to maintain the behaviors in the long run, and

·      failure to meet the ultimate goal

 

This pattern continues again and again. We trick ourselves into thinking that perhaps we just weren’t hard enough on ourselves the last go-round. Or maybe our goals weren’t stringent enough, or there were too few of them. If you've taken this approach to no avail, perhaps it's time to entertain a new one.

Pick a goal. A tiny goal. That you like. And get really good at it.

I'll continue to address Nonstick Nancy's issue with this four-part series in upcoming blogs, and I hope it helps others as well. Please leave comments with your opinions on how to get behaviors to stick and what you find most challenging in your attempts to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Much love y'all,

Lara