Friday, 11 October 2013

One small step at a time, one small change a month

Change is difficult. It is so for me and I think it is so for many people. Big lifestyle changes are flat out impossible for me.

In the past I've struggled with making huge decisions of the New-Years-Resolutions type and failing miserably within weeks or even days of the said decision. I guess we all know this evil circle of huge lifestyle change decision - failure - frustration - worse lifestyle than before. I still get depressed if I think too hard about all the times I decided to eat healthy or get fit, failed miserably and proceeded to eat my to frustration away or crawl in a ball on a sofa and watch TV all weekend.

It has not been a funny experience but I've felt for a long time now that things need to change. Simply put: I was making myself unhappy and that just wasn't acceptable any longer.

And so in my quest to improve my life, I stumbled upon The Small Change Project blog and took to trying the ideas that Katie writes about. They gave me some insight into what was going wrong with my resolutions and how to do it better. I have actually made some lasting changes. Who would have known ?!

One small change a month

I now realize that my previous resolutions were flawed in several ways:
  1. They lacked actionable steps
  2. They were too general and therefore lacked focus
  3. They were too big and therefore overwhelming
  4. They lacked a "fallback" option
For example the resolution to get fit doesn't describe how to do it (1 and 2), is a huge job and when you start thinking about it or planning it you might easily get buried under a pile of changes you need to make (3) and does not provide you with a solution to a "bad day" where you don't go to the gym but instead eat a pizza (4). 

But what if instead of deciding to get fit, you make a decision that this month you will go to the gym twice a week? 
  1. Each Monday and Wednesday I'll go to the gym (actionable step)
  2. The decision focuses on one activity (focus)
  3. The decision to visit gym is not made up of many previously undefined decisions. There is only one thing I need to keep in mind: going to the gym (simple decision)
  4. A failure to go to the gym one time, does not influence my ability to make good on the resolution next day or next week

My experience so far

For the past 3 months, I've been making lasting decisions about my lifestyle and the experience was good, although not perfect.

In August, I have decided to start running 3 times a week. I found a slow-start running plan and it went great. Throughout the entire August I run very regularly and saw a major improvement in my general fitness and a few centimeters went away. The situation got a little worse in September and October, partly due to a bit worse weather, a bout of flu and also slight lowering of motivation. But I am still running and slowly building on what I achieved in August.

In September, my decision was to quit sugar in my coffee.

You might not realize how big a deal that was for me but if you consider that I used 2 teaspoons of sugar in each cup of coffee and drunk up to 4 cups on a week day you might start seeing the problem. American Heart Association seems to recommend up to 5 teaspoons of sugar...yup, by any standard I used way too much.

This decision proved to be an unmitigated success. I have not had a single teaspoon of sugar in my coffee since 1.09.2013! It took some getting used to but by now I almost don't miss it. And not adding sugar to my coffee made me less happy about sugar in sweets. Many things that I used to love are now way too sweet for me. So it's definitely a win-win situation.

In October, my decision is to read a book for at least an hour a day. I love reading and have a large collection of books. But my backlog has been growing in the recent years because I take less and less time to read. And fair enough, I have been getting more busy with full time job and other regular life duties. But when I started thinking about this, I realized how much time a day I waste checking my Facebook for the 20th time in as many minutes, watching silly videos online or browsing through pinterest. So instead, I decided to carve out an hour of daily time to read.

That has been a struggle. I certainly read more but only on a handful of days it has in fact been an hour. It's hard to switch off my computer, my phone and my tablet and just sit down for an hour of reading. But the good part is that with a decision structured like this, the failure today doesn't prevent me from succeeding tomorrow. After all the whole point is to make a lasting change to my life and simply read more.

I will keep you up to date with how this whole experiment has been going so stay tuned.  

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