9 months ago, in June 2019, I came up with a plan.
I wanted to lose weight, stop smoking, get fit and sort my life out. You know, the sort of goals you make on a Saturday night, with the plan to start on Monday, and that you’ve failed at by Wednesday.
It wasn’t original. I’ve maybe created this plan a few hundred times in my life. Usually after reading a new self-help book, or when clothes didn’t fit or after I’d seen a particularly unflattering photograph of myself. My plans hadn’t worked before. Ever. However, I really wanted this time to be different and I was willing to try something new. This is where the plan came in.
Fast forward 9 ½ months and this is where I am.
- I’ve lost over 30lbs (14kg) in weight and reduced my waist measurement by 15 ½ cm and my hips by 12 ½ cm
- Walked or ran over 1760 kms
- I’m regularly exercising and can run for 25 minutes continuously as well as weight train
- I’ve quit smoking
- I regularly meditate
- I live with a significantly cleaner kitchen
I can’t even pretend this is a #humblebrag. It’s a full on, saying it loud and proud, with absolutely no shame, brag. I’m also not going to pretend it’s been easy, however I’m still on the wagon after a full-on Christmas, over a month of international work trips and a month of lock-down for Covid-19. In all honesty it hasn’t been THAT hard. I think, for once, I’ve found a cunning plan for change that actually works.
Here’s what I did
All my previous attempts at changing elements of my world involved will-power and doing everything at once. Which only took me so far before failure as I was trying to do too much too quickly. I needed to do something differently to have a different result, so, I researched habits, will-power and personal change to understand ways to make my changes stick.
I discovered that it helps to have three things in place to create change and new habits.
- Motivation – Why are you doing this? You need a reason to push you forward, and also something to aim for – rewards count here as well.
- Ability – It needs to be something you can actually do
- Trigger – Attach the habit to something you do already so you’re more likely to do it again
It sounds so simple but unless you have these things in place you are relying on willower alone to make things work and that’s impossible. Willpower will only give you a limited amount of support as it’s like a muscle, it can wear out, so you need to create a system that requires little willpower to succeed.
My solution was to create a plan where I moved towards what I wanted slowly and with focus. I would make one small change a month and would focus on just that change for 4 weeks to try and make it a habit. I’d repeat this again the following month with another new and different tiny habit, working to make all these changes culminative. It turned into a 5 step system for each habit that looked like this:
- Identifying a small but specific habit or change I wanted to make and understand what action I need to do to make it happen
- Make the idea smaller. Then smaller again.
- Work out the rules for the habit or change (e.g. how often?, when in the day?, how do I remember it?)
- Do it!
- Measure and celebrate
Here’s what it looked like in real life when I wanted to get fitter…
- I wanted to move more than my usual 2.5miles a day
- My task was to move for 3.5miles a day. I’ll also average that out across a month to give myself less chance of failure. So I would move 100 miles in a month
- All general movement and activity counted as long as it was caught by my pedometer
- To help me succeed I started a walking group at work to go out at lunchtimes (weather permitting), I walked around the kitchen whilst cooking in the evening, I offered to do the weekly shop to get more steps in
- I wrote my daily distances down in a notebook and signed up for a challenge medal that I could win
I can’t lie, it takes thought and a little effort, however the habit is so small it’s not hard to do it. It also turns out that when you’re on a roll you try and achieve more, which is a bonus for when you have bad days, and you will have bad days. But when it takes so little to win, it’s hard to fail.
And these little changes, these tiny habits start to build up, especially when they become unconscious things that you just normally do. Over the following weeks, then months, these teeny habits make big changes. All because you planned, took things slowly and had patience.
If you’re struggling with your reality and you want change, try a different plan today. A smaller and more thoughtful one where you’re less likely to fail. As they say, “Slowly slowly catchy monkey”.