Small Changes I Can Stick To
By Emily York, PhD
We’ve seen many patients, over the years, who fall into a rut because they feel “stuck”. Either the number on the scale won’t budge or they think they should have made more progress in changing their appearance. But where so many patients go wrong is in thinking that everything is permanent. What they fail to realize is that the solution is in how you choose to view your situation. Too often we think of success as an end. But you are successful when you stay on the path. And unless you remain on the path, you can’t make changes to become a better version of yourself.
We all have things we want to change in our life, whether it is about the way we look, how we feel, or how we interact with others. It is difficult, however, to make changes that are long lasting and meaningful. It is tempting to dive in and completely overhaul a part of your life, such as your diet, but drastic changes that happen all at once rarely last. Small changes towards a goal over time will lead to larger overall changes that you are more likely to maintain.
To start, identify one goal that you have or something in your life that you would like to be different. Focus on your own behavior or experiences in a situation rather than how you want others to change. Thinking about large goals can be intimidating, preventing us from taking the initial steps towards reaching them.
Next, make a list of several smaller steps that you need to accomplish on the way to achieving more significant change. Let’s say you want to start a new exercise program. It is really temp
ting to jump in full speed all at once. The risk with doing that is that you are likely to burn out quickly and quit altogether. The key here is to make small, manageable changes that will lead to developing a long-lasting exercise habit. Start small and ease yourself into the changes. Pick one or two small aspects of the exercise program that you can do at the beginning. Focus on mastering those, and once you sense that you have a good grasp on the first steps, add a little more.
Each step should not feel overwhelming yet should still be challenging. It is important to maintain a regular routine as you are working towards your bigger goal. Often the goal that we want to work towards is long term and it can be challenging to recognize how everyday activities can impact the overall outcome.
Another important step is to clarify for yourself the reasons you want something in your life to be different. It is easy to forget about the overall goal when you are focused on day-to-day activities, making it more tempting to neglect the tasks required to make the smaller changes. Ask yourself, “How is the thing I want to change a problem for me now?” Identify several benefits that you will receive from changing the current problem.
Clarifying the reasons for change can help to solidify the importance of the outcomes. It is common to experience lapses in motivation at times. During these periods when you don’t feel like working towards the smaller changes, remind yourself of the greater reasons for change to motivate yourself to make that one small change each day. The reminders could be in the form of words or phrases you post around your home or in your phone. They could be pictures of what you will be doing differently once the desired changes are made.
Keep the steps you are taking towards your goal manageable and meaningful to achieve your goal.