Small Steps for Success
Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs
We started the new year discussing resolutions and how powerful and important small steps can be in terms of being successful in achieving change.
This topic is so important we’d like to focus a little more on it here.
Most of us – particularly at this time of year – are looking to change something about ourselves. We’re hardwired to reach for the stars. And we’re also hardwired for immediate gratification. Unfortunately – and perhaps obviously – those two traits are pretty much at odds.
Small steps are…well, small. They lack the glamour and glitz inherent in big, hairy, audacious goals. Yet small steps are where most of the magic lies.
Think about this hypothetical scenario and answer the 2 questions at the end: 100 people apply for a job. Every applicant has the goal of getting the job. One person is successful.
- Is setting a goal enough?
- What differentiated the successful candidate?
Here are my answers:
- Setting a goal may be a very important step. And it’s far from enough.
- Many things contribute to success: genetics and luck, for example. But also training and preparation. The successful candidate, among other things, presumably had developed specific skills and strengths, and then built on those skills and strengths, setting them up for success.
For most of us, our new year’s goals aren’t centered around a single job opening. More likely we’ve resolved to get stronger, fitter, leaner, faster, healthier… and in this realm there can be more than one winner. Many more. Also – and this is important – while you typically can’t get part of a job – you can be successful partway on your journey to becoming fitter and healthier. I can start building lots of small habits as steps towards my ultimate goal. If these small steps are sustainable, they become entrenched, some of them automatic, and I am able to build on and improve on those habits. Halfway towards my goal, I realize how much better I’m feeling and this reinforces all the work and changes I’ve been making. If I hit my goal, my journey doesn’t stop there. I’m seeing all kinds of different results and I’ve become a different version of myself. A fitter, healthier version.
And what if I don’t hit my ultimate goal? This is the great part: I’ve still created positive changes in behaviour and habits and am – yes – a fitter, healthier version of myself. And if I want to set the same ultimate goal next year – I’m that much closer.
Let’s make a cheat sheet: My top ten favourite healthy habits. And my top 10 strategies for creating healthy habits.
Top 10 Healthy Habits for 2023:
- Move every day
- Be mindful as often as possible – especially when you exercise and when you eat
- Resistance train
- Up the intensity of your workouts once or twice a week
- Drink lots of water – but not too much 2-3 hours before bedtime!
- Avoid caffeine after noon
- Eat tons of vegetables
- Eat protein throughout the day
- Choose days of the week (3+) when you consume zero alcohol
Top 10 Strategies:
- Choose small, simple habits that you know you can successfully add in and keep.
- Choose habits, behaviours, activities, and foods that you enjoy. There is no “best exercise”. Maybe your friend told you treadmill running is “best”. If you hate running on a treadmill, then it’s far from best for you. Love walking outside? Perfect. Stretching in front of Netflix? Go for it. Hate kale but love arugula? Eat the arugula! And yes, carrots absolutely count as a vegetable! French fries, not so much.
- Augment and improve on habits once they are entrenched. And don’t be afraid to revisit the ones you didn’t enjoy earlier. As you change, sometimes so do your tastes and abilities.
- Focus on how the changes make you FEEL. Healthful habits will have a positive impact on your mind, brain, and emotions before you get feedback that you can see or measure objectively. We are hardwired for rewards. Make feeling better your reward!
- Schedule it in. Grocery shopping, workouts, walking meetings, time to prepare vegetables/lunches/snacks, time to meditate. Schedule it in.
- Everything counts. 3 minutes or 30 minutes of activity? It’s all good.
- Think about adding good habits in lieu of removing bad ones. Healthy habits can often displace unhealthier ones – for example, focusing on eating more vegetables and protein will increase satiety, help stabilize your blood sugar, and reduce cravings for salty and sugary treats.
- Hire a great personal trainer to help you with your exercise strategies. This will ensure your workouts are safe, more effective, and will give you the confidence to keep going, even when things get tough.
- Avoid black and white thinking. So, you ran out of vegetables and haven’t eaten one in 2 days? It’s really not a big deal. Get to the store as soon as you can and get back on track.
- Speak to yourself as you would your most beloved friend: with patience, compassion, and kindness. Be firm and kind. Flexible and resolute. Cheer yourself on. And pick yourself up when you fall over.