Making Changes and Setting Goals
The Process of Change
For some rare individuals, change can be radical. For example, I know folks who have quit a habit cold turkey and never looked back, or who have made large, sweeping lifestyle changes and been successful.
However, for the majority of us, change is more of a process...for me, often a slow process!
One of the most effective ways to approach change, including a change in eating habits, is to take small steps. Over time, a series of small changes (which may have seemed fairly insignificant in and of themselves) can add up and become quite significant!
When change occurs over time and old habits are individually replaced with new habits, the new lifestyle is often more easily maintained.
Let’s take the decision to “quit soda” for example, as this has come up frequently in counseling and can be quite a difficult change. For an individual who drinks four cans a day of his/her favorite cola, simply deciding to quit cold-turkey is quite a large change. Often times a few days into this new conquest, the craving and desire for a soda cloud the mind and make it easy to give-up and return to the old habit. This can bring feelings of failure and frustration.
If, instead, the soda dilemma is approached in a gradual manner, the likelihood of success increases. Let’s say the soda drinker instead decides to start by decreasing soda intake. She could think through the course of a day, and identify the times that soda is consumed and what events are connected with that habit, then choose the soda that she is least dependent on. For example, let’s say she has a soda mid-morning while she runs errands, another with lunch, a soda to pick her up during the afternoon lull, and then a final soda with dinner. Maybe she is least attached to the morning soda, since it is a busy time and her mind is occupied with other things.
At this point, it would be wise to choose another beverage to replace that soda with and fill the void. If our subject is willing to drink water, that would be a great replacement. If she doesn’t care much for water, tea might be another option (preferably home-brewed, so it is not loaded with sugar and preservatives). So now, while she is running errands, she might carry a water-bottle with her to sip on instead of her usual soda.
Once this becomes habit, it is time to move onto the next easiest soda to replace. The pattern is repeated, working from easiest to hardest feat, until she has met her larger goal and replaced soda with a new, healthier beverage. Because the change has been gradual, it becomes more tolerable and maintainable than simply “giving up soda” from the get-go.
Even if it takes several years for our soda-gal to completely give up soda, let’s look at the positive benefits from simply decreasing her intake:
One 12oz can of Coca-Cola Classic = 140 calories
1 pound of body fat = 3500 calories
3500/140 = 25
According to this calculation, reducing calorie intake by simply cutting back by a soda/day and replacing with water or unsweetened tea (which are both calorie-free), can result in a pound of weight loss in 25 days!
Benefits exist even with a small change, and are multiplied with each additional change!
Some tips about goal setting
It is often helpful to set SMART goals, goals that are:
In our example of the soda drinker, here is how that first SMART goal might have read:
“I will decrease my soda intake to 3 sodas/day for the next month, by replacing my morning soda with either water or unsweetened tea.”
Specific - she was very clear about her goal and how she would approach it
Measurable - did she drink 3 sodas rather than 4 today?
Attainable - her mind is on other things when she drinks her morning soda, so replacing this soda with another should be do-able
Realistic - she started with the goal of decreasing soda rather than cutting it out completely
Time-oriented - she made a commitment by specifying that she would do this for one month
At the end of the month, if she has been successful, she might set another goal. If she found that her goal was not met, she might identify what went wrong and revise her goal for the next month.
I encourage you to think about your own life, is there something you’d like to change? Possibly to eat more vegetables, dine out less often, or drink more water? If so, try to think of a small step that can get you started towards the direction you’d like to head, and set a goal!