As promised, I’m back with another installment of improving your habit game. This week, we are going to talk about incremental change. While pop culture has made famous the idea of dramatic change through shows like the Biggest Loser or “nutrition plans” that are really just thinly veiled starvation diets, we KNOW that none of those things work for the long term. Yes, they are sexy because they get quick results and they make for a great story, but that is not how sustainable transformational change is actually created.
I’ve talked before on this blog about how improving your nutrition, your fitness, your body composition, your stress level, your sleep, or whatever else you are working on comes down to the thousand little decisions you make every day. It’s not the sweeping declaration after eating too much dessert that we were giving up sugar forever (or beer, or chips, or whatever). We’ve all done this only to be right back where we started a few days (or hours) later. Except that now we are down on ourselves because we weren’t able to actualize the change that we KNOW we need to make. These massive changes are attractive because we think we get to our desired endpoint faster, but that just isn’t how we move the needle on habits that have been ingrained in us through a million repetitions. In fact, we only end up reinforcing those patterns when the massive change strategy almost inevitably fails.
So what’s a motivated goal setter to do? It comes back to those thousand little decisions and commitment to the process of incremental change. Pick one area that you are going to work on. Then, set the bar at a level that is almost laughably attainable. Then, here’s the important part, consistently achieve that goal WITHOUT FAIL. You have to rewire the system to operate differently and there is NO shortcut. That’s why you can’t get overzealous when setting the bar initially.
Here is an example. Let’s say your goal is to eat more vegetables. We all know that we have to make that goal specific and measurable if it is going to have any meaning, so maybe we say we are going to eat vegetables at least 2 meals a day. But that could be a pretty high bar depending on your starting point, so what if you just said you are going to eat 5 baby carrots at lunch every day? It definitely passes the test of being specific and measurable and it also seems like a pretty reasonable bar. You are primed for success.
After consistently eating 5 baby carrots every day for a couple of weeks, you have built some serious momentum. Now you can ratchet the goal up by adding more carrots or changing the goal to something like having greens with your dinner 5 nights a week. The point is that you are building on your success.
It is nowhere near as sexy as the latest “shred plan”, but the small changes that you can build on are SO much better than the big changes that never get off the ground.