Authors: Florence Scheepers, personal trainer and nutrition coach, and Dr. Elisabeth Scheepers, therapist and personal & executive coach.
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”- Tony Robbins
The above is a very strong quote that best reflects our motivation to change. We make the decision to change our behaviours when we say “enough” and when we understand that our current state is not serving us or making our lives better, but is making our lives more difficult. People do not just make changes, they need to be ready and this “readiness” follows a process from precontemplation to contemplation, to preparation, to action, followed by maintenance (DiClemente & Prochaska, 1998). Not all trials result in positive change and people may fall back before trying again. For a great summary go here
Often people make a choice to change their behaviours after a particular incident, or life altering event. This can be a warning from a family doctor,a new relationship, the birth of a child or the death of a good friend.
However, to change can be very painful and appear overwhelming. We envision ourselves in a better position than our current state, and create a goal that matches with our overall vision. Unfortunately, we may create goals are too far out of our reach, unrealistic or way too big and these are the reasons why people feel that they failed. Attempting to reach unattainable goals – and consequently failing – can lead to depression and anxiety. We might view ourselves as a failure, and lose confidence in ourselves and therefore the hope that we can ever accomplish “anything”. These negative thoughts, often referred to as “internal dialogue” exacerbate symptoms of depression.
If we imagine ourselves reaching perfect health, including our ideal weight and fitness level, within three months’ time after having been inactive and eating too much or not the right food, we expect too much. Imagine trying to reach the perfect piece of fruit from the top tree branch. But, there are ones below it that are also good and in reach. If our goals were to walk 10 minutes every day for five days a week and to eat a healthy breakfast for 5 days a week, rather than run 10 km a day and eat a 100% whole food, zero junk diet, we are much more likely to succeed.
If you ask yourself honestly on a scale between 1 and 10, what’s the probability of running 10 km a day, chances are, it’s a low number. But on a scale between 1 and 10, the probability to be able to walk 10 minutes a day for 5 days will be much higher. Small successes are confidence building and confidence in ourselves feels good as we will have hope that we can maintain the change and do even better!
When embarking on a change, picture what you would be like if you had everything you needed and wanted. Imagine how your life would be different, what you would be doing, how it would make you feel. Perhaps it’s been a long time since you’ve exercised and you want to improve your fitness; can you imagine yourself being fit, feeling fit, and exercising regularly? Then create a goal that matches your vision. Think about action goals. Goals that promote change need to be actions or behaviour that are concrete, rewarding and achievable. If your vision is to be more fit, working out and exercising are behavioural goals.
If you dream about being a homeowner but you have never saved a dollar in life, you will need to start writing down your monthly expenses and identify where you can cut some of your spendings. This activity might give you confidence that you can easily put away $50.00 or $100 per month.
When you are not satisfied in your career and are envious of those who have more responsibility as well as a higher income, you might have to start with identifying your interests and match these with your abilities and personality. This means thinking about different careers, what you like about these and finding out what background and experience you require to be successful. In addition to this, the career you have in mind needs to be a good fit with who you are as a person and with your values. A career coach can help.
Once you have a goal, ask yourself, on a scale between 1 and 10, how confident are you that you can reach that behavioural goal most days of the week? If the number is lower than 7, change the goal to something more manageable. Maybe exercising 5 days a week is a 3/10, but working out 2 days a week is a 9/10. Pick a goal that you can reach with some degree of confidence.
Once you picked your goal, track how many times you have reached it in a week. If you can reach the goal 5-6 days of the week with ease, 3-4 times out of the month, you might be ready to add another goal or up the ante. Remember, the most important component of the goal setting is that they are consistently achievable with a reasonable amount of effort – while also being enjoyable. That is also the reason why it is better to do these new behaviours 5 out of 7 days rather than every day of the week.
Progress isn’t a straight line. There are many turns, ups and downs. But any progress, no matter how small, is progress. With each small victory, we become more confident and are more likely to reach more complex goals with gradually on directly observable results. Often, working on behavioural change, looking at end result only, can be daunting as progress is slow. Giving yourself credit for your engagement in a project no matter how small, helps you to focus on the process as well. To use the example of walking, when walking in nature, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your back and the mild breeze in your face, helps you to stay in the moment and find some joyment in the activity. Having achieved your goal of the day in walking time or distance, is the added bonus! Engaging in enjoyable activities increases happiness and when an activity is fun we are more likely to repeat the same.
When you are unsure how to start, consider asking a coaching professional who can help you with giving you guidance and support. A coach asks you questions and helps you to identify the right goals and a coach can help you with a template to record and measure your progress. Also, a coach can hold you accountable for reaching the goals you have set for yourself, giving you a better chance to succeed.
Whether it’s related to fitness, nutrition, relationships, or career choices, a coach with the right expertise can be a great asset.