Planning for successful change (part 3 of 5)

number 3
number 3 (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

In previous blog posts (highlighted below), I introduced a 5 step model for driving successful and sustainable change in your life and have detailed out (through a worked example) the first two steps in the process . To recap, those steps are:

  1. Tuning your language, setting the goal, and visualizing success;
  2. Describe your starting point, formalize the gap;
  3. Set out milestones and personal rewards;
  4. Designing and building habits for success;
  5. Pulling it all together and holding yourself accountable.

The example used for illustration has been around physical health, for two reasons: (1) it is something that we can all relate to, and (2) it is generally straightforward so we can measure our progress against tangible, specific objectives. Having said that, the same 5 step model will work for planning and implementing any change, either in your personal or professional life.

Working through steps 1 and 2 already, we now have identified the gap we want to close between our reality today, and our vision of how we look and operate in the future. Step #3 is to set out milestones and personal rewards. The staged milestones are the progress markers along the way that guide our change program, and the personal rewards are the things that we promise ourselves — in advance — that we will give ourselves when we hit our milestones. Change is hard work and requires ongoing discipline,  and if we tell ourselves in advance that we will reward ourselves along the way, it makes the whole journey a bit more bearable.  In our case, we’ve got 10 months or so to slim down (30 pounds), get into the habits of (i) regular daily exercise, (ii) reducing our TV and snack consumption, and (iii) getting more sleep. Your homework in Step #2 was to actually measure your current baseline for at least 2 weeks — so now you have accurate (daily) measurements that you can work from as you plan your milestones.

Now, if you try to change everything at once (“No more TV! No more snacking! To bed by 9:00 pm! 5 days a week at the gym!”) you’ll almost assuredly fail as that’s pretty disruptive on too many fronts. Instead, use the time frame you do have to plan out some believable and achievable milestones. Based on your starting position and your end goal, you might aim for:

  • End of Month 1: Have started walking 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week. Weight at 205 lbs;
  • End of Month 4: Walking 45 minutes daily, 5 days per week. Doing 20 minute exercise routine 2 times/week. Have reduced “time wasted” in front of TV by x hours daily. No snacking past 10:00 pm 5 times/week. In bed by 11:00 pm 3 times/week (on average). Weight at 195 lbs;
  • End of Month 7: Walking 60 minutes daily, 6 days per week. 20 minute exercise routine 3 times/week. “Time wasted with TV” reduced by 2x hours daily. No snacking past 9:00 pm 5 times/week. In bed by 11:00 pm 4 times/week. Weight at 185 lbs;
  • End of Month 10: Walking 60 minutes daily, 7 times per week. 20 minute exercise routine 3 times/week. “Time wasted with TV” reduced by 2x hours daily. No snacking past 8:00 pm 5 times/week. In bed by 11:00 pm 5 times/week. Weight 175 lbs.

The milestones above are believable, and you can see that they grow over time with a reasonably small change  to an activity (eg: length of daily walks, number of daily walks), and with the addition of a small new change. When laid out this way, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable to at least accept it as a viable and do-able road map to the “future you” you want to be. Which brings us to rewards — if you’re going to head down this path, what kinds of rewards do you want to focus on that might help you stay motivated to continue? It might be new clothes once you hit a certain weight, or a new bike once you’re hit your target of doing your 20 minute exercise routine at least 3 times per week, for 10 weeks in a row.  You want the rewards to be achievable but not without some real effort on your part.

At this point, you’ve now got a believable road-map to get you where you want to be and you’ve got a number of very measurable markers along the way that will tell you how you are doing. And, you’ve got a few meaningful rewards built in along the way to act as incentives to keep you moving forward.

Stay tuned for Step #4, Designing and Building Habits for Success; that’s where we’ll start to put all the planning work we have been doing up to now into action.

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