Back in the year 2000, when I was a fledgling personal fitness trainer, I started to study coaching. I could tell that my weight-loss clients were not finding it easy to stick to recommendations like walking more, eating less sugar, drinking less alcohol. I knew they wanted to change, but they didn’t seem able to. I wanted to help.
Luckily, two behavioral researchers, Prochaska and DiClemente, put their brilliant minds together in the early 1980s and delineated a simple little theory that would go on to help millions of people work through sometimes difficult lifestyle behavior changes. I wrote an article in 2007 to help fitness professionals learn how to use Prochaska & DiClemente’s Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (which is commonly referred to as “The Stages of Change”). Now, I’m going to help you learn how to use this brilliant little theory in your own life, when you’re toying with the idea of changing some behavior or adding a new creative or healthy practice to your life.
The Stages of Behavior Change
There are 5 stages in the Stages of Change. To illustrate the stages clearly, let’s take “adding a yoga practice to your wellness routine” as a possible behavior.
Precontemplation: In this stage, the concept of starting a yoga practice is not even on your radar. You might hear your friends talk about it and think, “Oh, that’s nice for them” and then not even give it a second thought. In other words, you’re nowhere near actually starting to practice yoga. It’s not interesting, you don’t see the benefits, and you have no interest at all.
Last time, I started to talk with you about the concept of practice and what it means when you practice something so long it becomes a habit. If you decided that what you’ve been practicing--whether an unhealthy behavior, an unhelpful way of thinking, or an absence of any healthy behaviors whatsoever--is no longer working for you and you’re ready for change, then you’ll want to read today's post. Because here, I’ll break down for you exactly what steps you need to take in order to give yourself the best possible chance to succeed at starting and then maintaining a new, healthy practice--even if you're totally scared to start or afraid to fail.
First, let me say than I loved Eat, Pray, Love. Both the book and the entirely adequate adaptation made me laugh, cry, and feel pain and joy.
Second, let me also say that, as a marriage skeptic who actually got married a year before I found Committed, I relished reading that book more than any other non-fiction book I had until that point read. What a gift to independent, intelligent, not-the-marrying-type women everywhere, like me. It’s a splendid work of research, writing, and storytelling. And I don’t find it meaningful at all that Ms. Gilbert’s marriage has since ended. (Well, it’s meaningful to her and her former husband, but it says nothing about the quality of the book or the quality and validity of her actions.)
Finally, though, today, I want to talk about Big Magic. Because this, of the three* books I have read by the lovely and wonderful Ms. Gilbert, is the book that contains
I’m absolutely terrified to write this post. My brain has wanted to write it, but my body shuts down when I sit down to type. I’m fighting through, though, because I know it’s important. No, it’s crucial—for me, for my joy, for my life.
This post is about my dreams. It’s about the dreams that I left to die a sad and lonely death while I pursued what I had convinced myself were “smarter” goals. In 2009, I walked away from my dreams (a second time) and into what would be the most difficult period of my life, fighting for things I did not believe in, getting farther and farther away from my dreams and from myself in the process.
The funny thing is, many of you know me (or know of me and my work) only after 2009. Many of you have no idea that when you attended my yoga classes or my back-pain workshops, those things were my efforts at a compromise. They were not my dreams. They were certainly closer than other things I tried (like the job that I have now), but they were not my dreams. I left those in 2009, like I said. I never thought I could achieve them. So I never even tried. I mean, I half-assed tried, but I didn’t commit because I didn’t really believe. In my mind, my dreams would never be attainable, so I could not put aside all of the other noise, distraction, and false needs to pursue my authentic dreams. I didn’t. And I suffered. Wow, have I suffered.
I feel the desire to write through all of the things that led to my avoiding and neglecting the pursuit of my dreams, but perhaps not now. Not in this post. I have so many important things to do now, I don’t want to stay stuck dredging up the “how did I get here.”
Did you know that the secret to increasing your health and wellbeing is to use effective SMART goals?
When people set out to achieve health, wellness, or fitness goals, they mistakenly focus on outcomes (i.e., "I want to lose 15 Ibs," or "I want to lower my cholesterol," or “I want to live without back pain.”).
Successful clients instead focus on actions—things that they choose to do, practice, or take part in. Well-chosen actions lead naturally to the ultimate outcomes people seek. They are the centerpiece of what we wellness coaches call SMART goals. These goals are:
S = Specific. "I want to feel better" is a vague outcome. "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday" is a specific goal that will likely help you achieve the outcome of “feeling better.”
M = Measurable. "I will walk today" is too loose. Does walking to the car, which is 20 feet away, count? "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday" is a measurable goal—there is nothing vague about it.
A = Actionable. "I will lose 20 pounds" is not an action. Can I look at you and see that you are losing 20 pounds, right at this moment? No. But if you say, "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday" and it is Monday and I see you on the treadmill, I can see that you are likely on your way to losing that 20 pounds.
R = Realistic. "I will work out for an hour every day this month" is not realistic. If you set your goal too high, and then you don't succeed, you will feel bad about yourself. Set your goal at a reasonable level to make sure you succeed. After all, success breeds success. Achieving even one tiny action goal—perhaps "I will walk at 3.6 mph for 30 minutes on Monday and Friday this week"—will set you up for bigger and better future goals. Always start small.
T = Timed. "I will work out" is not a SMART goal because it has no timeframe.
In order to reach a goal, you must have a set time within which you will complete that goal. Set new action goals each week, and make sure your goals can be accomplished by your next goal-setting date.
Now that you know what a SMART goal is, download the SMART goal worksheet I created and craft a SMART goal that will help you reach an outcome you desire.
Be sure to follow the tips in my super-explanatory post about how to make sure you can start and maintain a new practice first.
And remember, stay curious and find something to enjoy about each SMART goal you set!
Ever since I can remember, I have gotten sick when I have been forced to work a solid "8-hour workday." I never drank coffee until I started working in the corporate world, as I tried to force my energy level to adhere to the false notion that a worker at a desk job for 8 hours is a productive one. Nothing could be further from the truth, but only recently have scientists and corporate bigwigs been catching on to that fact.
It's been shown time and again that we humans need rest--and lots of it--to be at our best, cognitively, emotionally, and physically. We start to destroy cells and important muscle tissues as soon as we cross that line from "working optimally" to "being a little fatigued," and it's all down hill from there. The thing is, we humans cross that line after a much shorter time than 8 hours! As Tony Schwartz reveals in his excellent New York Times piece, "Relax! You'll Be More Productive," in as little as 90 minutes after an energetic high, we need a rest.
The bottom line of the article, and what my body seems to have been telling me for years, is: Relaxation improves performance.
And by performance, I'm talking not just about work. I'm talking thinking/reasoning skills, emotional skills, and life skills that are crucial to "performance" in relationships, day-to-day interactions in public, and self-care.
We need vacations and time away from the "grind" sprinkled heavily throughout our days, or we just don't feel and act right. If we don't get that needed time away, addictions are a frequently used crutch to help us push through, and we all know that addictions can have some dire consequences.
I realized after trying to work for other people many times that I just couldn't play by someone else's rules (which required someone else's schedule) without getting dead sick. It happened every time! My body told me loud and clear, "Sara, you need regular relaxation built into your days or you'll die." Or at least, that's what it felt like. So I put a plan in motion to get out of the 9-to-5 (or, more often, 7-to-6) rat race and into a life that better suited my values: healthy life, healthy relationships, healthy body (none of which I had when working the corporate gig).
As we emerge from winter to spring, keep your needs for relaxation in mind. Honor your body's rhythms. And if you think you need some good brainstorming to come up with ideas for how to find that relaxation even during a 9-to-5 (or 7-to-6) gig, let me help. I can't give you answers, but I can ask you all the right questions to help you find what'll work for you.
Now, isn't it nap time?
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