In my last post I introduced two ideas against going BIG with your change efforts:
1) Competence Versus Challenge
2) Decision Paralysis
Read the previous post here if you need to get up-to-date, and read on for 2 more reasons why small steps are the best steps!
3) Eating the Elephant
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You’re likely familiar with the saying, but how often do you apply it to your own circumstances?
Overweight, out of shape, unhappy, tired all the time and too busy to do anything about it…what do I do now? It would feel great to finally conquer the beast, but if the goal ahead is so mammoth that you can’t quite figure out where to start you likely won’t. Overwhelm and procrastination are common reactions when you take on more than you can reasonably or comfortably manage.
Insecurity creeps in, the negative self-talk begins chattering away in your head and before long you’re talking yourself out of action. “I can’t do this! What was I thinking? I’m not committed enough, strong enough, capable enough….blah, blah, blah.”
Here we go again. In your frustration you decide to never begin, put it off until the last possible moment or engage with less than full effort.
This is when you have to think of the goal as “the elephant” on the dining table. If the elephant were tonight’s dinner there is no way you would be able to eat the whole thing in one sitting!
If your goal is to lose 40 pounds you’ll overwhelm yourself right back on to the couch if you start thinking of all the calories you’ll need to burn (140,000 to be exact) and how much exercise it will take to burn even a fraction of that. You still have to get there one pound at a time, so if you focus on what you need to do each week to simply achieve that pound, the elephant will get eaten before you know it. Create a plan that brings success one exercise session at a time, one meal at a time, one day at a time.
Small bites, small steps. Same diff.
4) Psychological Hedonism
Psychological hedonism is the theory that all human choice is motivated by a desire to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. When faced with a task we’re not particularly looking forward to it’s common to experience a rush of negative emotions – fear, anxiety, frustration, guilt, shame, anger – associated with it. The magnitude of those feelings can vary depending on the nature of the task but one thing is certain; when we’re feeling those feelings, we want to get away from them as quickly as possible.
You vow to start a diet tomorrow.
You agree to start running with some co-workers at lunch.
You decide to clean the office on the weekend.
You need to sit down and create a financial plan.
You want to apply for your MBA.
Whatever your challenge, if you’re not excited about it bad feelings will arise as you get closer to implementation. You may feel shame that you let your eating get out of control, or fear that you won’t be able to keep up with the others on the run. You could feel frustration that you have to blow a perfectly good Saturday to clean the office. You might feel guilty because you haven’t been responsible with your finances, or anxious that you won’t get accepted to school. And there may be a whole host of other past experiences or beliefs dragging any or all of these tasks to the ground.
When those bad feelings crop up the inner voice perks up, “Oooo I don’t like this. What can I do right now to make myself feel better?” Your ‘voice of reason’ comes back to you and says “If you get away from this task you’ll feel better sooner.” By avoiding the task you choose short-term mood repair in favor of longer-term goal pursuit. It’s a common reaction but let me ask you. Where’s that going to get you?
Now I’ll admit that it’s as easy to dislike a small task as it is a big one. Down-sizing your full-fat, double-whip mocha to a non-fat latte can bring as much displeasure in the moment as cutting out fat from your diet altogether, but let’s reframe.
Take that elephant and cut it up. Attack the big painful goal through smaller, ‘more pleasurable’ efforts instead of painting your entire energy makeover with one dreary, dismal coat of elephant-grey.
Eat better, exercise more, get organized, make a plan but break it all down to smaller less objectionable pieces of the dreaded whole…or at least less unpleasurable. Think about it. The task can be adequately down-sized such that you’re able to get away from the dreaded feelings by actually completing the task. After awhile the rewards will make each small step worthwhile. Hooray for you!
There’s pleasure in that. I know it!
Dream BIG but Start Small
I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive toward bigger objectives with your health and energy plan, I’m just suggesting you start at a level you can sustain and then build from there. Your goal may well be to exercise 4 times per week for an hour each time, and get your nutrition to ‘mostly healthy’. Heck, maybe you want to quit smoking too? Those are all great goals to get after…just start responsibly.
Action doesn’t need to happen in giant leaps to qualify as success. You want more energy and you can get that by simply taking small steps every day in one or two key energy-boosting areas of your life. The energy will trickle in slowly at first but it will be more than you had. Let’s face it, you likely don’t have a lot of free time right now anyway and if you do you probably don’t have the energy or motivation to ‘go big’ out of the gates, so the decision should be easy.
To gain energy now, I’d much rather you take a 5 minute walk every day than a 2 hour hike once a month. You’ll have more long-term nutrition success if you cut out one little daily food vice like your morning muffin or afternoon soda than if you deprive yourself of every food you enjoy. And going to bed 20 minutes earlier every week night will make a bigger impact on your everyday energy than a catch-up sleep-in on Sunday morning. What good is one mammoth effort at change if you only get to it every now and again?
The first step is small steps. After that you just repeat the steps day after day, week after week, until they become a welcome part of your routine. Your energy will start to improve if the efforts you make are even slightly larger than what you normally do. Trust me on this. Less is more.
Carpe Freakin’ Diem my friend!
Hey, if you want to read more …buy my book Energy Now! Small Steps to an Energetic Life … and get a fun summer special when you do!