You had great intentions. Two weeks ago, you set a goal to become a better person, and you threw yourself into it. But now a few days have been missed, and rationalizations have dismissed much of the initial importance. It’s beginning to look like you’re just like everyone else, after all. Another week and what was so important three weeks ago is about to be another embarrassing failure.
It doesn’t have to be. The question is: “How do I break down my goal into achievable steps and then, how do I follow through on them?” There are so many facets here. I’ll try to hit the ones I see and hopefully have something that helps you.
Specific steps depend on what the big goal is, of course. But determining what those steps are is somewhat generalizable. For anything new to become a habit, the old way of doing things has to change. Something has to drop, and a better routine must take its place. Wholesome foods must replace junk food, and a reading or exercise plan will have to supercede another, less productive activity.
Tap into something that already works.
Think about what’s working already. If you have a good morning routine of shower, shave and shine, then tap into it. Add exercise to the front of it, or a devotional time to the end of it. Some years ago, my exercise plan fell apart. My lifelong walk-the-dog-after-dinner habit went down the drain with the advent of children. I had to rethink it. It was harder, but it worked. I woke up with my husband’s alarm and went for a walk while he got ready in the morning. I already had an accomplishment under my belt by the time I’d entered the shower.
Another idea I came across last year was to do a few exercises every time you go to the bathroom. Ten squats, 10 sink push-ups and 10 tricep dips on the edge of the counter – then wash your hands and walk out. Depending how many times you visit the restroom, you could get a decent amount of exercise in this way. If you’re doing this in the company restroom, you may get some strange looks on occasion; but hey – we all need a good laugh, right?
If you don’t have something good you can tag onto, start one. One very cold winter, I could not get outside. My attitude was in the toilet and I had no motivation for anything. I needed an infusion of positivity. I chose a book (it could be anything, but mine was a Bible study) and made myself a warm, health-inspired mocha and nestled into a sunny corner. I couldn’t believe it when the dog curled up on my feet. It was perfect. And it was easy to remember to do the next day – it has now been my habit for several years.
Make it rewarding.
Do you see the magic bullet that made each of my strategies stick? It’s the reward. With my morning walk, it was the feeling of accomplishment during a time I normally wasted waiting for the shower. In my bathroom scenario, little snippets of exercise add up quickly – when else was I going to fit 50 squats and push-ups into my day?? And the Bible study hit my positivity button before I ever opened the Book. Seek steps that reward the effort.
This is harder with food. You have to be careful not to take the cheap reward. Choosing something smarter that still hits the spot but does not trigger an insulin response is tricky. Grabbing a Snickers bar is reward in itself. But 20 minutes later, the body is craving another sugar hit. You have to find something with a similar mouthfeel without the carbs. I keep a pretty bowl of something on my desk, usually raw cashews, that is easier to snitch than getting up to get what I don’t need.
Plan ahead, and commit to the plan.
So here’s the next tip that I just alluded to: Plan ahead. If it’s for exercise, lay out your clothes and sneakers the night before. I have been waylaid by something as simple as my elderly dog asleep across the door of the closet. It’s easier for me to go back to bed than move him. Clothes laid out take away any excuse and guilt-trip you into working the plan. For reading goals, make sure to set up your desk or reading area the night before. Make it comfortable and welcoming, with a special coaster for the coffee cup. Dust and bills gleaming in the morning sun are not welcoming. Keeping those at bay become secondary goals – that must be addressed, too.
And this is where solid intentions make the difference. It is your goal to actually do this, so the clothes must be laid out, the dust must be abated and the bills have to be under control (or at least elsewhere.) Setting aside a minute to do the supplementary goals makes the primary goal more likely to happen. If any one of these things gets done, you need to recognize it as an accomplishment. You are further ahead than yesterday!! (You may not have gotten out the door for that run, but you’ve now figured out what you’re going to wear to run tomorrow. You are a step ahead!) Little strides make big changes.
Make a plan for your plan. Know which route you’re taking, or how far you intend to read. Have a backup plan for illness or setbacks (There are plenty of options for even seated yoga moves at Darebee.com) Set out the recipe for the new meal. Remember, it’s easier to just do the plan in the morning than to come up with a new idea. My grandmother always set out an egg the night before for her breakfast. She had to use it now that it had sat out all night. She committed herself to her plan, and it worked.
Notice the progress.
We are all works in progress. With intentional effort each day toward the goal, however little, overall improvement happens. If you realize later in the day that you forgot to (whatever it is), then at your next moment, do it. Even if you have to get back up out of bed to do it before you go to sleep, that’s where the real progress happens. At this point, partial completion sometimes has to be enough. Five chapters won’t happen at bedtime, and 45 minutes of cardio probably isn’t smart. But one chapter, or one set of squats moves you toward the goal and does not allow an inch of failure.
And that inch forward is what gets you there. Don’t worry about the day you fall down. You’re bigger than that setback. Get back in the saddle in the morning. If something isn’t working, sit down and rework the plan. I’ve reset my exercise goal three times already this year. But it’s okay, because I’ve exercised every day. The goal wasn’t to complete X workout; it was to exercise daily.
Stop and assess every night before bed or at the end of every Friday. What have you done? Did you get 3 days in? How does that compare to where you were before you started? If it’s an improvement, you are making strides. If you’re losing ground, assess that, too. If boredom is getting you down, change the plan for next week. You are not failing; you are finding what works. Boredom is similar to muscle fatigue: you’ve accomplished what you set out to do and it’s time to step up your game. You have achieved your initial goal! Mark this on your Achieved list!
Every day, every Monday is a new beginning. Be intentional about getting better and becoming the best you possible. Because it is possible. You are worth the investment. You just have to go out there and do it. And then you just must celebrate the victory. Comment below with your victory – I’d love to celebrate with you!!
** Personal note: Some years ago, I was coming off a pretty serious ankle injury. I was given a camera, which set in motion what has since become this article. I set myself a goal of finding one photo-worthy thing each day. I had to walk to find it, and was not allowed to photograph the same thing twice. In just a few months, I went from walking to the end of my driveway to several miles a day, renewed my love of photography and conquered depression – all from that one goal.
All photos in this blog are mine unless otherwise noted, and are copyrighted.