“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”
– Lao Tzu
It’s getting towards the end of January … how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Those promises to eat healthy (I’m never eating pizza or donuts again!), exercise (I’m going to go to the gym every single day!) and be more mindful (I’m going to meditate for an hour every day!) – were they maybe a tiny little bit too lofty?
Even if your goals to adopt healthy habits aren’t rooted in a New Year’s resolution, chances are you have experienced the trouble with making goals like these. Have you had a few slips or maybe “fell off the wagon” and gave up completely, telling yourself it’s impossible and you will never be able to do it?
Don’t begin the self-hate talk! It’s not that you aren’t motivated, “too weak” or not capable of making a change. Making a change in habits, especially lifestyle habits, is really tough. When we make a conscious change, we are going against those ingrained grooves that we’ve created for ourselves. How long have you been doing this habit – months, years, your whole life? Just as those habits grew roots over the years, breaking them and forming new ones is going to take time.
Thankfully, science can help us with something called the Transtheoretical Model. It states that when we modify our behaviors to make a healthier change, we move through specific stages of change:
- Precontemplation – I have no intention of making a change
- Contemplation – I am thinking about making a change
- Preparation – I am taking the steps to get ready to make a change
- Action – I am making a change
- Maintenance – I have made a change
These stages may appear linear, but they are more of a circle, where we may flow through and also swing back. Many times we jump from Contemplation right to Action, without carefully planning out the steps that will help us be successful. As a result, our habit change might fail and we get discouraged, give up and allow the feelings of self-doubt to creep in. This is the time for reflection – to see where our focus needs to go and to step back into that cycle with more awareness. When this happens, take time to think about your goal and ask yourself the question – was it a SMART goal?
Was my goal vague? Changing “I want to eat healthier” to “I will pack two servings of fruits and vegetables in my lunch three days a week” creates a tangible objective that can set the wheels in motion.
Can I break down my goal into measurable components? I can’t measure a general “eating healthy,” but I can measure how many times a week I packed fruits and vegetables in my lunch.
Do I truly feel like I could reach this goal? Does it feel “impossible”? For example, I know with my work and school schedule that packing my lunch every day of the week is going to be tough to change right away, so I am going to work on doing it three days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Choosing an achievable goal builds confidence and keeps morale up during the difficult process of change.
Am I being practical with my goal? If I’m going from never packing my lunch to packing it five days a week, I’m not setting myself up for success. It may seem trivial at the time, but very small, realistic steps turn into long term successful changes. The tortoise always wins the race, right?
Am I creating a time frame for my goal? Having a deadline makes it more likely to get accomplished! Change “I want to eat healthier” to “I will pack two servings of fruits and vegetables in my lunch three days a week for the next eight weeks” to keep yourself more accountable and give yourself a time frame to check in and assess.
A common misconception is that it takes 21 days for a change to become a habit, but in reality, the path is often longer and the first 21 days might just be the start of the habit formation. Because making healthy changes means you’re in it for the long haul, taking a look at the steps you take to achieve that healthy lifestyle goal can make all the difference. You work hard to change these habits – make them sustainable! Small, practical and manageable goals will build the confidence to lead your towards your ultimate wellness vision. Just remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon!