Shrinking the Change

Last week, I talked about not having time to train.  I gave some quick and dirty solutions – that’s all you need, right?  Just some ideas and you’re good to go?  And you’ll keep it up?

Not always.

Often when people say that they don’t have time to train (or that eating well is too expensive, or that they just can’t sleep eight hours a night), something other than time or money or stress is often a factor.

Fear of change is a factor.  Fear of failure is a factor.  Fear of the unknown is a factor.  This kind of fear more often slows us down than compels us to act.

There is healthy fear too.  The kind of fear that feels like willfully jumping off a cliff (as opposed to the kind of fear that feels like being pushed).  Sometimes life throws us big changes that we can’t control, and we decide to run with them.  Those are the changes that we don’t have a choice about making – moving, making a major career change, getting a new medical diagnosis, and so on.  Whole life overhauls and the healthy fear that accompanies them can definitely light your fire and get you developing new habits.

But what about the little changes?  The eating well/training more/sleeping better/faithfully going to practice stuff?  The things we know we should be doing, but have a hard time getting around to?

Beating yourself up about how you “should” will only motivate you for so long (if at all). Relying on outside pressure might stand up for a while, but more often than not if we’re feeling coerced into change, we’ll resist it.  One thing that I’ve found works time and again:


Xavier Vergés, for Flickr

Shrink the change so that you feel bigger than the change.

Set yourself up to win by making the change so small that it seems ridiculous.  Last week’s quickie sessions seemed like a great idea, but you still “couldn’t find the time”?  No problem, cut them in half: pick three exercises instead of 5, do one set instead of three.

If eating more healthfully is your goal and throwing everything out of your kitchen isn’t going so well, change one snack food to a healthier option, buy one extra bunch of veggies on your next shopping trip and cut them up as soon as you get home, drink one less soda a week.

Trying to sleep better?  Instead rearranging your whole sleep schedule, instate a 15 minute ban on screens before you go to bed, or stretch and breathe right after you brush your teeth – add a little something to a routine that already exists to make the habit you’re developing seem like less of a chore.

Shrink the change until it doesn’t even seem like a challenge any more – and once it’s not a challenge, be consistent.

More than fear, clarity and confidence encourages compliance in your new habit.

Be clear about WHY you want to change whatever it is you want to change.  What actual value does it hold for you?  How does it line up with how you see yourself? What would be different in your life if that change was made?  What would you gain?  What are you willing to give up to gain it?

There’s the rub – often to gain a new habit, you have to give stuff up.  Stuff you like – time you’re used to setting aside for other things.  And at first this will seem like an imposition – when folks start training they feel really selfish, taking time away from their families to focus on themselves.  It gets easier – once your habit is actually a habit, it won’t feel like such a big deal.  That 30 minutes that you use to train will just be another part of your day, your weekly veggie prep time will become a part of your grocery shopping, your screen-free time before bed will be a part of your nightly routine.  But at the start, don’t deny that it’s a pain to make changes; grieve what you have to give up, accept it and get on with things.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the more simple (and the smaller) the change, the more likely it becomes a routine.

So, what big changes do you want to make, and how can you shrink them?

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