Change Your Whole Life in ONE Small, Easy Step!

steps to change

Digger unveils the key to big life changes in one small, easy step.

Would you ever consider jumping from first floor of a building to the second floor in a single leap? Of course not! You would look for an easier route – like the elevator or the staircase. The elevator is outside assistance and the staircase is a series of small, easy, achievable steps to elevate yourself to the next level: one small step at a time.

Life changes are much the same way.

Every year, people make dramatic New Years resolutions, and every year most fail at sticking to them. Every January, the gym gets crowded. Then it soon returns to normal.

Studies have shown that drastic life changes usually fail. Simply because our minds resist change. Especially big changes.

So what’s the best way around that resistance? Steps so small that the mind barely even registers them as a real change. The best chances for sustained life changes are those that are implemented one small step at time.

Let me illuminate…

In a nutrition class, my professor described her usual initial meeting with morbidly obese patients. They would often recoil at her presence, expecting a scolding and a drastic diet overhaul. So they were surprised (and kinda disappointed) to hear one simple suggestion like this:

“Do you drink soda?”
“Do you think you could switch to diet soda?”
“OK great, see you in a week”
“That’s it? Nothing else?”
“Yup, that’s all for now. See you in a week.”

Study after study shows that for the best chance of success at sustained life change, small steps are best. How small? So small that the mind feels indifference rather than resistance. The following week, she would offer another small step. Such as adding a glass of water to the morning routine.

I have had my own personal failures with big life changes. Like many, I bought a gym membership but couldn’t stick with it. It just always seemed so daunting. Then I found a few clever mental tricks.

Add A Timeframe

First, I added a timeframe and reassessed my goal. My goal was no longer “become a life-long gym bunny”, instead I decided to fully commit to exercise, but just for 2 months. I defined “fully” as 3-5 workouts per week. After 2 months I could reassess if this is the right fitness approach for me.

On days when my enthusiasm dipped, the reminder “just for 2 months,” got me back into the gym. I wanted to give this a real, honest shot, and 2 months of 3-5 workouts per week felt like that real, honest shot. After that, I could reassess with an honest excuse: “Tried it. Hated it.”

Within 3 weeks I was hooked. The endorphins, the joy, the energy that regular exercise provides, the physical transformation. I’ve been a gym regular since 2002. If it didn’t work out, I was willing to try out other ways to exercise.

Reframe Your Goal

Note that my goal was not X lbs of weight change, my goal was to exercise a specific amount. It’s the self-care, the mood-lift, the strength and energy that keeps me going back. Being motivated by the act of exercise or its immediate benefits is a more sustainable motivator than a specific goal such as X lbs of weight change. It’s best to find a sustainable motivation and goal to drive your commitment to a life change.

Lie To Yourself

Sometimes life happens and I’ll miss a few weeks at the gym. Then my mind resists the idea of going again, because I am expecting to pick up exactly where I left off, which is harder and more daunting now with time away. In these situations, I’ll give myself a ‘free pass.’ This means: just go to the gym. Go through the motions. I can lift empty bars the whole time if I want. I can just do a fraction of the reps I’ve last done. I am dropping all expectations of what I am meant to accomplish, just get in through the door and do something, anything. Even if it’s a lame workout it’s better than no workout.

I find nine times out of ten I have a great workout. The treadmill warm up amps up my heart rate and my energy and I usually have a decent workout. It may not be up to the level as before my extended break, but that’s not surprising. And then, a day or two later, I am motivated again without resistance.

Some people find it great to get the support of a buddy who has or is making the same change.

Similarly, it can be daunting to pick up with a big project. It’s usually just the getting started part that is the hardest. In these times, I reset my expectation to a much more manageable step. Like “just work on it for 15 minutes.” Nine times out of 10 I would keep going long beyond that 15 minutes.

So if you find yourself frozen at the cusp of a massive undertaking, reframe your expectations. Find a small, reasonable step you can take in that direction. Steps so small your brain feels indifference rather than resistance. Take that step and when you accustomed, take the next small step. This is how lives are changed.

What strategies do you suggest for sustained life changes?

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