In today’s blog post and the second in a new series we call Saskatoon Voices, one of our naturopathic doctors, Michelle Marcoux, shares her personal strategy for change.
Setting the Bar Low: a strategy for change in my life
I have a confession to make: I have a hard time following my own advice. I know what I should be doing to feel my best – how to eat, how much to exercise, how much sleep to get, but I rarely do it.
I usually blame motherhood for this, as it’s made my life incredibly busy. Tending to the needs of 2 other humans has resulted in me putting my own needs at the bottom of my priority list, but the truth is it’s my own fault I don’t take better care of myself.
I have always been an all or nothing kind of person.
I set my sights high and if I don’t achieve my goal, I give up and lose all momentum. I agree to stop snacking on junk food at night, but the first time I give in and have some chips, I give up, eat the whole bag, feel defeated, and then continue on with the snacking as if I never set the goal in the first place. It has occurred to me that this is a recipe for failure and a very poor way to achieve change in my life.
Ready for Change
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And I feel ready for change. I want to feel better and take better care of myself. I know what I need to do but I am getting stuck in the actual doing it part.
So I made a deal with myself to set the bar as low as possible.
I figure any step in the right direction is a step further than I am now. So, I set some goals and then started working towards them in small ways. Here is what I did, if you would like to follow along and try it too!
1. Write Down Your Goals
I decided that there are 4 things I would like to ultimately do:
- 90% of the time, eat the foods that make me feel good (for me this is low carb, high fat, moderate protein)
- move and stretch my body 4-5x/week
- get 8 hours of sleep most nights
- do something that fills me up, makes me feel alive and joyous, at least 3x/week
2. What Brings You Joy
I recommend this goal for everyone! It is an important part of self-care.
The first thing I did was make a list of things that bring me joy (see my list on the right if you’re interested).
Things that bring me joy:
- A hot bath (ideally with a good book)
- A walk alone outside
- Going to the library and looking through the new releases, and then bringing home a stack of books. (or making a list and reserving them)
- Lighting candles and listening to a short meditation on my phone app (I use Insight Timer)
- Listening to podcasts (especially on a long, quiet drive)
- Having a day off from being the decision maker (just one day, once in awhile – mostly I like being the boss, but even the boss needs a holiday sometimes)
- Colouring and/or painting
- Playing the piano
3. Break Down Goals into Bite-Size Action Steps
Then I picked ONE of my goals and decided to work on the smallest step possible toward achieving that goal.
Once I had successfully achieved that small step for a month, I moved on to the next small step.
First Goal: Making Time For Joy
My first small step was to do something that brings me joy once a week, for at least 15 minutes. So far the ones I do the most often are walking outside or having a hot bath. I also currently have a stack of 8 library books beside my bed.
Making time for joy has been surprisingly easy – finding 15 minutes per week is very do-able I have discovered.
Setting the bar low has allowed me to feel like I’m making progress, which has motivated me to do it more often.
On average I now spend 30 minutes 3-4x/week doing something that brings me joy. But I only every require myself to do the 15 minutes once per week. The rest is just a bonus.
Second Goal: Exercise
My second small step was to do some sort of exercise for 20 min or less before planting myself on the couch to snack in the evening. I agreed with myself that I don’t have to push myself hard through the exercise, I can phone it in it if I’m tired, but I am going to move my body for that time. Then I am free to sit on the couch and eat if I like.
Interestingly, I often find I no longer want to snack after exercising. But if I do feel like snacking, I go for it, and I don’t feel guilty about it (which means I’m less likely to overdo it).
There are definitely nights where I walk my way through the exercise and put in a minimal effort but it still feels good to do it. I still feel a sense of accomplishment and I still get a little endorphin rush, even if don’t break a sweat.
Third Goal: Better Breakfasts
My third small step was to have a breakfast every morning that fuels me and makes me feel good. And by make me feel good I mean give me steady, sustained energy without a crash, and help me feel focused and clear-headed. The rest of the day I can eat whatever I want. Typically for me this breakfast is keto style – high in fat and low in carbs. Most often I have my bulletproof mocha. This drink is the highlight of my day and I look forward to having it every morning. Because it’s so delicious it has been an easy thing to do consistently. This recipe was recently published on our blog, you can see it here: Bulletproof Mocha Recipe
Small Steps, Big Results
So far I have managed to sustain these three small steps for long enough that I can feel the difference they are making in my life. On average I am exercising for 15 min 3-4x/week, bringing extra joy into my life 3x/week (goal 1 achieved!), and eating a high energy, healthy breakfast 7 days per week. For me that is a huge change compared to where I was a few months ago. And these changes feel very sustainable because they require so little from me and are easy to do.
I share this with you in the hopes that if you see yourself, you may feel inspired to make one, small step towards a goal you would like to accomplish. Breaking down big dreams into small steps has created real momentum in my life, for the first time in a long time. I’m starting to take better care of myself and I’m finding that the more momentum I have, the better I feel, and the more I am continuing to move forward and take small steps. If you are feeling stuck I encourage you to define your goals and pick just one small step that points you in the direction you want to go. Remember: set the bar low. The easier it is to achieve your goal, the more likely you are to do it and the more likely you are to feel motivated to do more.
Fourth Goal: Better Sleep
I haven’t yet added a fourth step but my plan, when I feel ready, is to start going to bed by 11pm 2x/week, ideally on weeknights.
If you need help getting started with your goals or steps or if you just need someone in your corner to encourage you along the way, meeting with a naturopathic doctor can provide support and structure.