3 Steps to Creating Change That Sticks
3 Steps to Creating Change That Sticks
How do we deliberately enact change in our lives? Quite a question, huh?
If changing our behavior on our own was easy, an entire industry of counselors, therapists, teachers, coaches, trainers, and other "helping professionals" would cease to exist. Oftentimes, we're well aware of areas in our lives that are in need of change, but we aren't sure where to begin with untangling behaviors that are often hardwired into our daily lives over the course of years.
Creating change in the realm of health and fitness is something that's on the minds of millions of people at any given time, and there's no secret it's an ongoing struggle for many of those individuals. While seeking the help of a qualified coach or trainer can certainly speed the change process when it comes to your health, there are steps you can take on your own to get the process started. And if you've already hired a coach or trainer, the following steps will only help them perform in their role even better.
Let's start with a step that seems obvious, yet is frequently overlooked or executed poorly:
- Have a Clear Plan
Have a clear idea of what you're doing and how you're actually going to do it, beforehand. What a concept! Many people think they have a plan in place, but what they have usually goes something like this:
- Some type of broad, arbitrary goal (Ex. "I'm finally going to lose this belly fat!")
- This broad goal might be time-bound (Ex. "I'm going to lose this belly fat before that wedding in three months.")
- There might be some vague actions they plan to take (Ex. "I'm going to lose this belly fat in three months by eating fewer carbs!")
Unfortunately, this type of approach that lacks specificity and clear action steps won't last long, and is unlikely to produce any significant or lasting change. This individual may succeed in "eating fewer carbs" for a few weeks, and might even see a little progress on the scale or in the mirror. Some might even be able to white knuckle their way to that special event, but eventually the house of cards will come crumbling down.
To enact a change like this more effectively, we can first utilize the SMART framework for goal setting. SMART goals are:
- Achievable (or actionable)
How much weight would you like to lose exactly? Or is it more about body fat percentage? How will progress be tracked? What does your carb intake look like now? Is your goal realistic for a three-month timespan? What does this goal mean to you, why are you trying to achieve it?
By answering these questions first, you'll have a much clearer understanding of what you're trying to achieve. From there, the next step is to:
- Break It Down Into Actionable Steps
We now have a clear idea of what we're looking to achieve and the timeframe we have to achieve it. Next, we need to break down the larger goal (in this example, losing belly fat) into its component parts. What skills will I need to develop in order to achieve this goal? How will I build and practice those skills? What action do I need to take TODAY in order to get closer to my goal?
Get as specific and clear on this as possible. A helpful framework to help you break down your larger goal into smaller pieces might look like:
- What will I work on this month? (Skills needed to create change)
- What will I work on this week? (Practices to hone those skills)
- What will I work on today? (Daily actions you use to practice)
This approach serves a few important purposes, starting with providing you with specific, manageable tasks to focus on each day. An example might be "Have some type of protein at each meal today." That's IT, it doesn't need to be any more complex than that, and it likely should not be. This is how we avoid overwhelm, and build consistency and sustainability.
Secondly, this approach places more emphasis on the process, versus focusing solely on an outcome. This is absolutely critical for creating lasting change. "I will lose this belly fat in three months by any means necessary" is the wrong perspective to have if you want change that sticks. Skip the shortcuts, and engage in the process of building skills that will serve you forever.
Finally, this approach works wonders for building self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the level of self-confidence you have in your ability to achieve a specific task or excel in a specific area. Many people struggle with self-efficacy in the realm of their health and fitness, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. By consistently executing a small action step each day, you stack the small wins that increase your confidence over time.
You now have a rock solid plan in place. The last piece is making sure it means something to you.
- Make It Meaningful
We saved this step for last, because it's truly the lynchpin to executing your plan and creating the change you've envisioned. If the change you're working towards is not deeply meaningful for you, your chances of following through will drop significantly. It is not a matter of if, but of when you will experience discomfort during the change process. It's unavoidable.
Making it through that discomfort will require you to keep your eyes on some type of North Star, better known as your "why". Try to place most of your focus on what you stand to GAIN from the change process, instead of what possible negative consequences you're looking to AVOID.
For example, envision what losing that belly fat will do for your confidence, energy levels, and interactions with the world around you, rather than focusing on a fear of poor health outcomes. "Avoid goals" can sometimes be helpful, but don't keep us as excited and enthusiastic as all the awesome things we stand to gain from a healthy lifestyle change.
A helpful exercise for uncovering the deeper meaning behind our goals is called the "5 Whys". It involves starting with a broad goal, and asking ourselves "Why is that important to me?" a total of five times. Each time we get one layer deeper towards the true reasons a goal is meaningful to us. This will help you understand your true motivations, and therefore have a clearer vision of what success in making this change looks like.
There you have it, 3 steps to jumpstart your change journey, whatever the change may be. The only tiny thing left now is for you to get out there, and do the actual work ;)