Planning for successful change (part 4 of 5)

number 4
number 4 (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; I’ve detailed out (through a worked example) the first three steps in the process:

  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.

We’ve now broken up our whole “desired change” into believable, staged milestones (Step #3 of our process) that represent a viable and do-able road map to the “future you” you want to be. And we’re sprinkled in some nice meaningful “rewards” along the way to act as incentives and provide opportunities to celebrate our progress along the journey.

Now let’s focus on Step #4, Designing and building habits for success. At this point, you’ve laid out the big picture, so now we want to concentrate on the smaller stuff — you want to figure out what small changes might trigger other small changes, and also what of your current behavior might be leveraged as some kind of a “reward” for carrying through on your small change.  [For some great insights, read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It lays out a cue/routine/reward model for understanding and adjusting your habits so that you can effectively reprogram yourself. Very useful stuff!]

Think about this within the bigger picture of our road map and the milestones we created in Step #3 — specifically, by the end of the first month, we want to: “Have started walking 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week. Weight at 205 lbs.” So really it’s about experimenting to see how we can start walking. That’s really all we’re trying to master in the next 30 days.

So, you may decide to start by committing yourself to a 30 minute evening walk immediately after dinner AND BEFORE you watch any TV. In fact, the evening TV might become the “reward” you allow yourself for getting your walking in. Maybe you allow yourself 60 minutes of evening TV for every 30 minutes of walking, or something like that. Depending on how you are wired, that might be an incentive for some extra walking over and above your 30 minute daily target. [By the way, I’m a big fan of daily walking and it has done wonders for me in both health and personal productivity — here is my personal experience with daily walking, and it is now a 2.5 year old habit that has become very important to me]. One other small change you may decide to experiment with is replacing your late night popcorn snacking with snacking on carrots and celery instead (maybe only for Monday through Thursday nights, with Friday’s reward being some of that good ol’ popcorn…). Try out your new “two small changes” program for 1 day. You can do anything for one day, right? And do it again the next day. That’s not too hard. Do that 7 times in a row, and you’re starting to get somewhere. See how it feels. Keep measuring everything, and see where you are making progress, what feels good about it, and what adjustments you might want to make to reinforce your new behavior for another week, and then another week after that. A couple of further thoughts to ponder:

  1. Try not to make your rewards detrimental to your change goals. If you are trying to focus on personal health, a reward should be neutral to positive in terms of reinforcing your behavior. Buying yourself a new walking jacket once you’ve hit 30 days of consecutive evening walks is good — stuffing your face with a banana-split daily as a “reward” for your daily walk? Not so much…;
  2. Remember those “artifacts” that we touched on in Step #1 — things like written affirmations, visual cues, and reminders are good to help you “remember” your new habits. A note taped beside your favorite TV chair that says “I intend to enjoy excellent health through daily exercise and proper nutrition” might just push you to take action when you inner demon whispers to you “it’s OK to not go out tonight. It’s just one night, and you’ve worked hard today…”;
  3. And remember, it is all about your inner-talk and the things you tell yourself are OK –so pay attention to what’s going on inside your head. By the way, it’s in your head, so you can control it;
  4. Choose things that will work for you and the realities of your situation. There is no point in committing to go to the gym 3 days per week if you cringe at working out in front of people. And if you have young kids at home, a walk after dinner may not work. Perhaps instead it’s first thing in the morning, or at night once the kids are in bed. But don’t let your situation become your excuse for not doing anything — that’s just you not accepting personal responsibility, nothing else. Come on, you’re better than that.

At this point, you’ve got everything now in place to start trying out some small change initiatives and see what feels good and what you think you can (and want to) stick to.  Be prepared to experiment with your change initiatives; keep measuring things and reflecting on what’s working and on what your are struggling with. You will find keeping a daily journal very helpful at this stage — it’s a good place to record daily metrics and your thoughts so you can build a record of how things are actually progressing.

So, congratulations! You’re well on your way towards success as you work towards your first milestone at the 30 day mark. We’ll explore holding yourself accountable to your change program next time…

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