It’s that time of year again. Whether by choice or mandated by your boss, goal setting and planning are often associated with the end of the calendar year. When I was in the corporate world, this time of year was a time when we set goals for the new year along with our expectations and deliverables.
While I was never a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I have many friends who treat this time of year as renewal. They set personal goals for the coming year with the desire of improving their lives. I also know many who have given up on the practice because of the poor results it produced.
Whether business or personal, change is a constant. Yet change is often treated as a difficult process that many people despise. In reality, not all change is resisted. All of us have gone through major life changes and in many cases even embraced them. Think of going to college, buying a home or getting married. Even though there may be some hesitation or fear, we still carry out these changes and accept the differences they make in our lives.
While making a change involves our rational mind, it also requires our emotional (and often not so rational) mind in order to take action. When you don’t include both minds, it will lead to another failed change process.
Change is really a simple process until our emotional mind get’s involved. It’s amazing how our emotional drivers can prevent us from doing things we know we need to do. Let me share a personal example.
Throughout my life I have been highly active. In fact, until college, I was a rack of skin and bones. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I not only put on the “Freshman 15”, I added an additional fifteen pounds to that. The best part is all of it was muscle. The change there started with taking a required phy ed course which turned out to be weight training. Through the first three years of college, I worked out regularly. I remained thin. It wasn’t until I graduated that my weight began fluctuating. As I entered the work-a-day world, less time was devoted to working out, and more was spent working.
Throughout the past eighteen years, I have moved in and out of shape. Usually the “in shape” changes were around events, vacations, marriage, etc. In the end, permanent change to remain in shape gave way to being out of shape.
Fast forward to 2010. A milestone in my life, and not a positive one. My weight had reached the highest point in my life. By summer of 2010 I tipped the scales at approximately 240 pounds. Not good. While I knew that this gain was unhealthy, I was not motivated to change it. My emotional side spoke to my rational side telling it, “I don’t have time,” or “I’m really not eating that much.”. Te little voice in my head helped me justify where I was at.
The breaking point was a recent trip to Canada. Over the past decade, I have done several camping trips. These trips are not a walk in the park. There are no motor boats, no electrical and no air matresses to keep you comfortable. It also involves a lot of work walking over rough terrain, paddling across large bodies of water, cutting wood, etc. While I survived, I was tired of being tired. The emotional side started to agree with the rational mind. Today, I have lost over forty pounds and am on the way to losing another twenty more. The best part is the changes I am making this time will provide me a better chance to create long term success.
The secret to making sustainable change take place involves much more than just doing things differently. It takes a shift in behavior. If you want to make a change permanent, you will need to utilize the following steps:
- Connect both minds: the rational and emotional
- Have a clear goal
- Create a realistic plan to achieve your goal
- Break your goal into “bite-sized” chunks
- Know what to measure
- Track your changes
- Celebrate your success
Let’s go back to my personal goal. The biggest resistor to my emotional mind was not wanting to live on rabbit food for the rest of my life. I like meat, potato chips, cheese, ice cream and all the things they tell you not to eat. I made a conscious decision NOT to give up anything I enjoyed eating. There is something that happens to us mentally when we take things away. We want those things even more. By not giving up anything I enjoyed, I was able to get buy-in from my emotional mind to make the change happen.
Next was establishing a clear goal. My goal was to have a target weight of 180 pounds by February 1, 2011. It was measurable and a stretch. Most important, it had a deadline so there was a sense of urgency.
Now that I had a goal, I had to create a success plan. Focusing on losing sixty pounds would not work. Our mind senses failure when the result isn’t achieved fast enough. Instead, i concentrated on losing two pounds a week. After all, adjusting my target weight weekly using an achievable target is much easier and two pounds is a lot more achievable than trying to lose sixty. Now I only had to focus on what was necessary to hit my target in seven days.
Measurements for this goal were pretty simple. The rule of weight loss is manage calorie count and exercise. Until recently, meauring calories was not simple. Here using technology helped. With a free app. I have been able to calculate the daily calories I can have and incorporating exercise to allow me to adjust intake. The more I worked out, the more calories burned, etc. I also gave myself breaks. Weekends (specifically Fridays and Saturdays) were “free time” for me to eat more of what I wanted. Weekdays involved following the dietary requirements needed to hit my goal.
Tracking the changes are critical. This involved the scale. I needed to know if I was hitting my target weight each week. Results varied from week to week, but the focus was averaging two pounds. Some weeks I might lose five pounds, others I might lose a pound. Either way, I met or exceeded my goal when I averaged it out.
Finally, celebrating is critical. Enjoy the small successes because when they are added together, they create major change. Recognize the progress you are making. Seeing the changes happening made it OK for me to have a little more freedom on weekends to eat what I wanted. After all, moderation is the key here.
Whether these changes are permanent, only time will tell. This much I will say, approaching change this way has made tremendous improvements in the companies I work with. I am only practicing what I preach. My belief is that as long as I keep the focus, I will have made permanent change happen to create what I want. The best part is anyone can do it. A little commitment and focus applied to the steps included here will go a long way.