One Change at a Time

For quite a while on Facebook, I’ve been following a friend’s attempts at getting into better shape. He’ll post several updates about going to the gym regularly, how great his diet is right now (“I just ate two grapefruits for lunch.”), and so on.

Then I’ll see an update along the lines of “Too tired to go to the gym this morning.” This will often be followed in a day or two by something like “That new KFC sandwich is awesome!”

A few days after that, I’ll see some deeply remorseful entries (“Why do I keep failing myself?”) and then some serious resolve to make it all work again.

And the cycle repeats itself.

His desire is in the right place and, overall, he’s making positive progress. The only problem is that this progress is very much in the “five steps forward, four steps back” mold.

One step forward is better than “five steps forward, four steps back.” On the surface, the accomplishment is the same, but underneath it, the “five steps forward, four steps back” approach leaves you worn out mentally and physically and reduces your ability to really trust yourself.

I shot my friend an email and (besides asking if I could mention his story very non-specifically on The Simple Dollar) suggested that he try just accomplishing one thing in a week. Pick one very simple goal for the coming week and accomplish it. Let everything else just flow according to routine.

Guess what? About a week later, he posted that he had kept his eating under 2,500 calories each day this week and it was easier than he thought it would be. All he really did was just start off each meal with some very low-calorie foods, allowing himself to get partially full on them.

One simple strategy, one change that he can repeat and repeat and focus on and repeat some more until it becomes a normal part of his life.

I’m a huge believer in this “one change at a time” philosophy. I’ve seen it work time and time again in my own life. If I take on three or four big projects or changes in my life all at once, I usually end up failing at all of them. If I merely take on one at a time, I see success.

I’ll use a couple recent examples from my own life. Last summer, I simultaneously tried to take on a stronger exercise routine, a book manuscript, and a community organization goal all at the same time. The stronger exercise routine failed completely, the community organization initiative was mediocre at best, and the book manuscript wound up being almost a month late.

On the other hand, I’ve been completely single-minded about getting everything ready at our home for the baby and I’ve felt that I’ve been pretty successful at that. Things feel like they’re coming into place quite nicely, with most of the “big” things on our list taken care of.

Don’t worry about a big transformation in your life. Most big transformations never work over a short time frame. Instead, pick one little thing to change and focus in on that change like a laser beam.

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