What would you do to motivate yourself to reach a weight loss goal?
My friend Bryan would write a check to his least favorite politician.
Bryan is a former co-worker and friend I’ve known for awhile now. He’s a computer programmer by trade and, like me, has led a sedentary lifestyle for years. He’s rounding the precarious bend to 40 and has decided it’s time for a change.
As a result, he’s set a goal to lose just over 20 lbs. by November 24. His wife, Amber, a nurse and professor, has told him he can safely lose a pound or two each week, which should give him plenty of time to reach his goal. You can read more about the motivation for his decision here.
I want to dig into Bryan’s process because it’s a great illustration of how to make effective change in your life, and why I think he’s going to succeed — and probably exceed his weight loss goal.
Not long ago, I read the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. This is a fantastic read, and not only digs into the way our minds deal with change, but also gives practical advice on how to accomplish and sustain the changes we make.
The mind, they explain, works from both an analytical and emotional level. It’s like a man riding an elephant. The man, or “the rider,” as the authors call him, is our analytical mind, riding and directing the elephant, which represents our emotional mind, and is just as difficult to steer. The rider needs clear direction, a clear and specific goal to reach, and the elephant needs the emotional motivation to follow his lead. If you don’t have a specific, attainable goal with the necessary emotion to see it through, you won’t realize the change you want to achieve.
The process looks like this:
1. Direct the rider — create S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals that don’t leave room for ambiguity. Don’t let the rider get lost in vaguery or endless options. Give him a crystal clear destination.
2. Motivate the elephant — find the feeling behind the goals you want to accomplish. Shrink the change and poke holes in the problem so the task doesn’t seem large and impossible to reach. The more accessible you can make the change, the more motivated you will be.
3. Shape the path — tweak your environment and surroundings to make it easier to change. Put your workout clothes next to the bed. Make yourself a smoothie the night before, so you can just pull it out of the fridge. Pave the road so that the ride is much smoother.
Now…about that check.
Bryan has set some very clear goals about his weight loss plan. He will eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch, and then have a sensible dinner with meat as an option. He will run in the mornings, training to attempt a half marathon within a year. Clear, concise and attainable.
His motivation is two-fold. His positive motivation stems from his foster children, whose energy and attention are demanding he get in better shape. He wants to spend time with them and be around with them for a long time. His family has a history of Type II diabetes, and he doesn’t want to fall victim to his genetics.
Bryan has built in negative consequences to his actions as well. He has written a letter of intent and a check for $50, addressed and stamped, to SarahPAC, a political action committee for Sarah Palin, Bryan’s least favorite politician on the planet. He has given this check to me with instructions to put it in the mail should he fail to reach his goal on November 24. If he should fail, not only will he have donated to one of his least favorite causes, but he’ll automatically put himself on the mailing list of every Tea Party candidate within 500 miles. I’m sure he has nightmares about it.
He has effectively directed the rider with clear goals, he has created both positive and negative emotional consequences to guide his actions, and he’s continually shaping the path to change. I truly believe he’s going to reach his goal. Read more about his process here.
It can truly be difficult to make effective change in our lives, but it’s not impossible!
What change are you attempting to make in your life?
What would you do to reach your goals?