imageYou want to get in shape but your buts, oh wells, maybe tomorrows and permission-giving avoidance thoughts keep getting in the way. You truly believe you want to walk a healthier path, but your body just isn't cooperating. The good news is: one, you are not alone and two, you can get your brain on board and get your body to cooperate. Follow the five steps below and you will be on your way.

Step 1: Set a Goal

Ask yourself where you want to start and define your goal. For example, start exercising, eat healthier, or drink less alcohol. It is impossible to tackle every change you want to make at once. Pick the one that is most obtainable. This means you can logistically make it happen, you can economically afford it, and you won't have to turn your life upside down to do the work.
Example: Start exercising on a regular basis. Schedule a range in terms of what regular means so you move away from being all or nothing. For example, exercise 2 to 4 times per week for 25 to 45 minutes.

Step 2: Have a Rationale

What are the reasons why you want to work on this goal? List them out on paper so every time you take action that moves you further away from your goal you can remind yourself of why this is important to you. Make sure you see advantages to participating in your goal and those advantages are personal. Long-term changes don't work if you are really making the change for someone else. Permanent changes are more likely to happen when you are personally invested in them. Be careful not to set a very short-term goal, like fitting into a dress for a special occasion, as that will only keep you on track for a very short period of time and place increased pressure on you. A goal with only one finish line, such as eating healthy until the party or function only help you get on track until that event. This kind of goal setting will make you more likely to fall back into your old habits and lose sight of your goal. A long list of reasons to continue working on your goal will maximize lifelong changes.

Example: I want to exercise regularly because:
1. I want to live a long healthy life
2. I like doing physical activities such as hiking, tennis, skiing, and biking and being fit is essential to that end.
3. Being fit means I minimize injury.
4. Being fit strengthens the bones and means less vulnerability to fractures later in life.
5. Exercise actually makes me feel good and when I am done I always have more energy and a better mood.
6. I like dressing in the hip new styles and being fit makes it easier to buy and wear the clothing I like.
7. It physically feels more comfortable to carry a fit body around. It is easier to run up a flight a stairs, tie my shoes, and have the stamina to participate in my hectic life.
8. Exercise is an important part of my weight management.
9. I want to be a good role model for my children so they will participate in an active life into their future.
10. Exercise is a great way to bond with my husband because we get to exercise together and it's even more fun when the whole family is on board.

Step 3: Make a Plan

A plan means you have spelled out all the details of how you are going to make this happen. It is the where, when, how, and exactly what. Be creative and flexible in making your plans. Think about the goal of exercising and ask yourself some questions so you can maximize success. Are you more likely to make it happen if you do it with someone else? Do you need to be in a gym? Do you have the means to hire a personal trainer to come to your house or work with you in your gym? Do you have equipment in your home or do you need to purchase a few items? Do you have access to your children's school gym? Is there a YMCA within easy access and an affordable gym? Do you have a way to participate in an athletic activity or be active in addition to working out?
The key is to think your plan through and come up with a detailed, specific plan. Keep in mind that making it happen means putting it on the schedule. "I'll do it next week," is never going to happen, but "I'll do it Tuesday morning at 7:30 am," is much more likely to take place. Often our best made plans are interrupted. Sometimes real logistical obstacles get in the way, but usually the only obstacle is us. Regardless of which one played a role, keep rescheduling your goal to happen and eventually it will.

Example: A plan to exercise:
1. Find out the name of personal trainer today.
2. Call the trainer tomorrow.
3. Meet with the trainer the very next day.
4. Schedule ten pre paid sessions on your calendar at your home or in the gym. (Monday 7:30 am, Thursday, 8:00 am, Sunday 9:00 am)
5. Put in your scheduler time to do the homework the trainer has suggested. (Tuesday, 8:00 pm, Saturday, 8:00 am)

Step 4: Put Action before Motivation

Accept you are not going to feel like doing it. You have set this goal because you have not been doing what you want to make happen. You have not felt like it in all this time and you are not suddenly going to feel like it tomorrow. You will be waiting indefinitely if you wait until you feel it. Instead, put action before motivation and just start doing it. The reality is you don't need to feel like it to makes things happen as you just need to do it.
Example: When you don't feel like exercising, walk into the gym, step on the treadmill, and start walking. Write out a card that says, "No excuses accepted. I've made this appointment and I'm keeping this appointment."
Step 5: Look out for Give-Up Thinking and replace it with Go Thinking
Give-up thinking are those thoughts that are giving you permission to avoid your goal. They provide the temptation to lead you astray and take you off track. Give-up thoughts tell us, "I'll do it later, I'll start tomorrow or next week or Monday, I'm too tired, it's been such a tough week, I can't possibly do anymore, or it's just unreasonable to do this, too." All of these thoughts are just that, thoughts. Just because you think it does make it true. Take a look at each of these thoughts and capture the illogic. See the untruth in each thought and replace each thought with a logical, fact driven go thought.

 
Example: Go to thoughts to exercise
1. I'll do it later- This is the con man talking. If I don't do it now I most certainly won't do it later.
2. I'll start tomorrow or next week or Monday- Tomorrow will become the next day and they day after that so get moving and start today. Telling me I will start Monday is like telling myself I will start next year. You have made a plan so get to it.
3. I'm too tired- I am tired but so what. Just because I am tired does not mean I cannot get moving. In fact, exercising is likely to give me more energy not less. Remember I am not going to feel like but that does not mean I can't do it.
4. It's been such a tough week, I can't possibly do any more- It has been a tough week and that is why I need to take care of me. Exercising is likely to make the impact of this tough week less.
5. It's just too unreasonable to do this- What an untruth. It is completely realistic to fit some time in to exercise. I just need to schedule it in and make it happen.

 
Now, all you need to do is follow this five step plan and you are on your way. Make yourself an action plan and follow it until you've incorporated each new modification you'd like to make. You've already learned that just by starting you feel better about yourself, you are able see progress, and you can use this information to increase your motivation to move to the next step in your goal. If exercise was your first step then think about adding the next step. The next step could be eating healthier, prepared portion control, or drinking less alcohol. Envision your goal as a ladder and each rung gets you closer to the top. Remember to give yourself credit with every step you make in the right direction.

About the Authors

Leslie Sokol

Leslie Sokol,Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, is the co-author of Think Confident, Be Confident.

Marci Fox, Ph.D.

Marci Fox, a licensed psychologist and international speaker, is the co-author of Think Confident, Be Confident.

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