2016

Zion Nat'l Park, Columbine

Healthful Behavior Change

Which statement appeals to you more: “I want to lose 30 pounds by July 31, 2010” or “I wish to feel energetic and to move comfortably in my body”?

There is a significant difference between the two statements, in addition to the obvious that one sounds tedious and the other sounds delightful. The weight loss statement is a commonly uttered “goal”, while the dreamy second statement reflects a “vision”; both statements warrant a bit of compassionate exploration.

Many of you have set a weight loss goal or another behavior change intention (“quit smoking”, “get fit”, “eat better”, “learn to relax”) that has been created with a long-term endpoint in mind. While I applaud the decision to pursue your optimal health, I also know that the challenge of an endpoint goal is that success is not achieved until the goal is met. Meaning, until the scale rewards you with the numbers you seek, your sense of accomplishment will be diminished. And how exactly would you measure “get fit” or “eat better”?

The opportunity lies is creating a health vision. As is done with the second statement, “I wish to feel energetic and to move comfortably in my body”. A health vision is a futuristic statement, captured with positive words, that will set the tone for the 3-month long-term goal(s), and the essential daily small-step goals you will write, monitor, and modify throughout the behavior change process—the very change process that will lead to the achievement of your health vision.

Working within the framework of this health vision used as an example, we will break it down into small components:

  • Feel energetic
  • Move comfortably in my body

The behavior change process begins by assessing your current choices, habits, and resources, and builds upon what is already occurring in your life. We will invite subtle, pleasant, and effective small-step daily changes that will support the attainment of your health vision.

Your vision may in fact peripherally include weight loss, but we are not going to measure weight loss! We are going to design a few new behaviors that you can add to the repertoire of choices you are familiar with. We are going to measure your success as you incorporate those new behaviors, one small choice at a time.

We know that in order to feel energetic and to enjoy moving comfortably, a routine physical activity program will be initiated and/or built upon.  For instance, what type of routine physical activity are you currently committed to? Two days a week in the gym? None? Walking the dog everyday? Moderate amounts of gardening? Golf? We will step off from your current routine, which for the sake of this example is walking the dog everyday. We’ll explore what type of physical activity interests you, what is your time allowance, whether this will be a solo activity or one that can be shared with a partner.

The 3-month long-term goals might be:

  1. Lose 10 pounds
  2. Eat 5 small meals per day, 3 days per week
  3. Walk 3 times per week for 30 minutes, without stopping

These long-terms goals are realistic and measurable—the two essential components of successful goal creation.

Now we will write daily small-step goals that will be lead to the achievement of the 3-month goals. These daily goals will be pleasant and subtle, as well as measurable and realistic. A tracking tool will be utilized to assess daily success; if a barrier presented itself and success was not achieved, we will explore that barrier, modify the goal if necessary, and continue to look to future successes.

The small step goals for the first week as a beginner—the dog walker—might look like this:

  1. Walk for ten (10) minutes, without stopping, twice this week.
  2. Engage in demonstrated upper and lower body stretching exercises, twice this week.
  3. Complete a food diary for three (3) full days, email it to my optimal life-management coach.

These three goals may not appear to be meaningful in terms of looking at a long-term goal of 10-pound weight loss. But for the person who is not engaged in routine physical activity, except for the slow dog walking, or for a person who is not eating with awareness, these subtle behavior changes are in fact the perfect small steps toward the future. These goals invite immediate success, and allow for confidence building, as opposed to “I am going to go to the gym 4 days this week”, or “I am going to cut out the junk food this week”—both of which are too big, too loosely defined, and too dramatic in terms of the shift in behaviors. Will this person eventually be at the gym 4 days per week? Sure, it is entirely possible. Will this person be eating far less junk food in the future? Very likely!

Our brain is a marvelous organ and it protects us – from perceived stressors. Big, undefined goals that limit pleasure or add unfamiliar behaviors—too much, too soon— are perceived by the brain as a stressor. This then evokes the fight or flight response and the brain literally will become resistant to that new behavior! When we write small-step daily goals that are pleasant and subtle, the brain welcomes the opportunity to engage in an activity that is perceived as pleasant, which will lead to ongoing engagement.

After one to three weeks of success and comfort with the initial small-step goals, you will be ready to up the ante just a bit, to look like this:

  1. Walk for ten (10) minutes, without stopping, three days this week; OR Walk for fifteen (15) minutes, without stopping, twice this week.
  2. Engage in demonstrated upper and lower body stretching exercises, three times this week.
  3. Eat 5 small meals per day one (1) day this week.
  4. Eat a 6-color salads twice this week.

These goals will become comfortable and familiar within a couple of weeks and can be ramped up another notch, then another, and another. Within the first eight (8) to ten (10) weeks, substantial progress will have been made in regards to engaging and enjoying subtle and pleasant behavior change. You are well on your way!


Robin Mallery

Robin Mallery

Robin Mallery is passionate about food! Starting from where and how it's grown, to how far that food travels to the dinner table, to how it is prepared and savored...Robin blends shopping, cooking, and eating tips with her unique Kitchen Zen and mindful meals approach to enjoying real food.

While you are waiting for her to finish the upcoming book, "Kitchen Zen: The Journey to Nourish Body and Soul in Our Changing World", you can find Robin's sporadic blog posts here or on FaceBook.
Robin Mallery

2 Responses to “Healthful Behavior Change”

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

“Robin brings dedication, focus, passion, and intellect to whatever endeavor she is pursuing. She does not just talk about good health, she practices it thoroughly every day of her life. When she talks to clients about healthy lifestyle choices, they are able to see the effects of healthy choices by observing the woman in front of them!”
Arthur S., Client

Blog Categories