A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step. Lao Tzu
When someone wants to make a change in their life - such as losing weight, getting fitter or eating healthier, they usually do something drastic. For example, they'll cut their calorie intake to 1000 a day and vow never to eat cakes, cookies or pizza ever again. Or they'll make a decision that, instead of hitting the snooze button and dragging themselves out of bed at the last moment possible every day, they'll set the alarm to go off an hour earlier and hit the gym before they go to work.
However, the majority of people can't sustain this 'full on' approach - if we could, we'd all be slim, toned and fit, right? Instead, what usually happens is this...
You set your alarm to go off early on the first morning, hit the gym, do your workout (whilst feeling slightly embarrassed because you're so out of shape in comparison to all the 'hard bodies' who look like they must live in there to be in the condition they're in!). However, you carry on, trying not to draw undue attention to yourself, finish your workout and head off to work feeling reasonably virtuous - after all, you got up early and worked out!
Next morning, it feels a little harder to get up when the alarm goes off and when you get out of bed, your muscles are sore and aching from the day before. You remember how embarrassed you felt about being out of shape. You remember that your stinky workout gear is still unwashed in the bottom of your gym bag and so you decide to give the gym a miss for that day. After all, you went yesterday and you'll definitely go tomorrow...
The morning after, however, you discover that your aches and pains are even worse (have you noticed how these things always feel worse on the second day?). So you decide you'll 'rest' for another day but you'll definitely get back to it tomorrow... And, of course, you never do.
And what about how, after sticking to your diet all day, you end up succumbing to a tasty, mid-afternoon treat and, then suddenly, you're wolfing down everything in sight, thinking that, since you've already broken your diet for today, you might as well stuff yourself stupid and start again with the diet tomorrow?
With that in mind, rather than going flat out in an 'all or nothing' approach to making changes in your life, can I suggest that you adopt a 'Kaizen' approach instead?
The word 'Kaizen' means small, incremental steps of continuous improvement, and it's generally applied to business processes - in fact I first learned about it years ago when I was studying education management. However I've since discovered that the concept of Kaizen can be applied to almost anything: improving a relationship, clearing the house of clutter, buidling a home-based business, any task you've been procrastinating over - in fact, anything that could stand a little improvement.
Let's apply it to the area of health and wellness as an example.
Let's start off by making a list of all the things you know you SHOULD do (but, like most of us, probably don't) - you know the ones I mean, things like:
- eating your five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
- flossing your teeth
- exercising for at least 30 minutes every day
- cutting out sugar and sugar-laden drinks from your diet
- drinking more water
Now, by asking you to make this list, I'm not trying to make you feel bad about all the things that you 'should' be doing or providing you with a stick to beat your guilty self with. The idea behind making a list is:
a) To give you a choice of things that you COULD do - the more choice you have, the easier it will be to make the right choice for you and, if it's the right choice, it'll be easier to sustain it and even build on it
b) To help you decide what would be the most beneficial area to start taking baby steps in - i.e., what will give you the most 'bang for your buck'?
c) To provide you with an ongoing list of things to do that you can come back to, again and again when you're ready to incorporate a new baby step into your life.
1. Choose one of your list items - maybe it'll be the one that you think will have the biggest effect on your health and wellbeing. Or is there one that you feel particularly drawn to? Is there one that your intuition is telling you to do? Is there one that you're partially doing already and it would be easy to step up your efforts (for example, if you already eat 2 or 3 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, you might find it easy to add another portion or two).
2. Make a start today. Let's take our fruit and vegetables example again - your aim isn't to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables this very day. Because, if you currently eat NO f and v on a daily basis, then going from 0 to 5 in the course of a day ISN'T A BABY STEP - it's more like a giant leap! (And it'll be much harder to sustain, day after day.) A baby step would be something along the lines of - eat one extra piece of fruit today or eat the salad that comes with your burger instead of leaving it on your plate.
If you're not used to drinking water, a baby step would be drinking one glass or bottle of water over the course of the day or maybe substituting a glass of water for one of your usual soft drinks.
3. Once you've taken your baby step and your piece of fruit has been eaten or your glass of water drunk - pat yourself on the back. You did a good thing - you can feel virtuous for the rest of the day. Now all you need to do is rinse and repeat... Tomorrow, have another piece of fruit - maybe you could try a fruit that you've never tried before - you never know, you might find something delicious that will become a new favourite and make it easier for you to eat fruit more regularly. Or you could experiment with drinking water at various temperatures to find the most 'comfortable' temp for you. (That's not as daft as it sounds - unless it's a very hot day, I don't like drinking very cold water. And in winter, I'm only likely to drink water if it's been allowed to 'warm up' to room temperature.)
The idea is to make each baby step a no-brainer - something that you absolutely CAN do without having to battle against your resistance. Only YOU can decide on the size of your baby step - it has to be something that feels acceptable to you - something that you will be able to do easily and effortlessly. So you might need to experiment a little bit with the size of your baby steps - you may need to cut them in half or you may need to double them.
Give it a go. You don't need to use our health and wellness example. Choose another area of your life that could stand some improvement. Then just take that first step...