Why Focus on Behavior Helped Me Reach Goals

It’s January, so we can still talk goals, right?  As I’ve mentioned before, the things most said to me by friends and clients is, “How do you do it?”  Or, “I wish you lived with me so that I could --------”, you fill in the blank: lose weight, workout more, eat better, drink more water…. the list goes on.  I’m also told that I am “inspirational” … I don’t share these things with you to boast, although I am flattered with every compliment, but the truth is, anyone can do what I do.  Anyone can be an inspiration to themselves.  And that is the truth.

As I sat down to think more about how to reach my own goals and help my clients more, I realized there is a theme.  Behavior.  If we do a better job of focusing on our behaviors our goals will naturally come on their own.  But we don’t focus on behavior, do we?  Too often we are focused on the goal itself.  You can google it and find all sorts of ways to create goals, but not many of the them tackle the behavior itself.  The problem is that the goal is the outcome, and you can’t have outcomes without the rest of the equation. 

Behavior + behavior = outcome.

I came up with that one myself.  Like it?  Very scientific I know.  So, let’s talk what I tend to hear the most.  Weight loss and better nutrition.

Let’s say you’d like to lose 10 lbs.  What should you do first?  We know from previous blog posts that it’s to start small, right? Right!  So what behavior do we need to reach that goal?  Well, that’s different for everyone.  Not what you want to hear is it?  But it’s the full-on truth.  There just isn’t a one size fits all to health and fitness people.  And there isn’t a magic pill either.

However, let’s use me as an example.  I didn’t really make the commitment to focus on my health until my second daughter’s first birthday.  I had given myself time to breastfeed, catch up on sleep, and fully enjoy my children.  But I knew it was time.  Although, in hindsight, my goal may have been to lose that extra 15 pounds, I just wanted to feel better and stronger.  I never once focused on the words, “lose weight.”  Personally, I think that would have made me stress out, focus on the wrong things, eat horribly wrong for my body, and feel guilty every time I wanted a cookie – which is a lot.  Instead, my natural inclination was to focus on the little things, or as I like to call them, the more attainable “behavior goals.”  One behavior at a time.  And although this isn’t exactly how it went, I’m going to break it down so you can see how the behaviors can change and develop over time.

“Behavior Goals”

1.       Months 1-2 – Exercise for 30 minutes 2 times per week.

2.       Months 3-4 – Exercise for 30 minutes 4 times per week.

3.       Months 5-6 – Exercise 30 minutes 4x/week, add one day of yoga.

4.       Month 6 – Drink 2 ½ bottles of water daily.

5.       Month 6 – Make more nutritious choices at lunch time.

6.       Month 7 – Start food prepping lunch meals.

7.       Month 8 – Learn hunger and fullness cues with mindful eating.

8.       Month 8 – Start making more nutritious choices at breakfast.

9.       Month 9 – Start food prepping/planning for the week.

10.   Month 10 – Start focusing on family meals.

Looking at this, I probably did a lot of this stuff backwards.  In fact, I KNOW I DID.  That’s one of the reasons I became a coach.  Behavior change isn’t easy.  However, breaking it down into small attainable changes works!  And even though I broke these behaviors down into months for the purpose of this blog post there was a lot of stuff in between that caused my journey to be very up and down.  Including anxiety, illness, lack of sleep, not to mention just eating the wrong things for my body type and my current health conditions.  It’s been quite a few years to get to a good place.  But I’m where I am because I focus on the little behaviors that will lead to the outcome (i.e. weight loss, better nutrition, etc.)  I never focus on the outcome itself.  This can be said even for my battle with anxiety…. I HAD to change my behavior there too!  Which included my addition of meditation, which wasn’t easy to add into my life, but imperative and LIFE CHANGING.  It took time.  But I focused on the behavior.

The BEST thing to know is that you never move on to the next behavior until you have mastered the one before it.  And to master it may take two weeks or it may take two months.  How long it takes to master the behavior doesn’t matter.  You can’t compare yourself to anyone else.  Slow and steady, your own pace, one thing at a time.  A coach can help you decide which behaviors you should focus on first and when it’s time to move to the next one.

One of my favorite authors and podcasters, Gretchen Rubin (I’m sure I have mentioned her a dozen times), has a lot of good things to say about habit change as well as the “hacks” that can support your behavior.  But one of things she discusses the most is the ability to know yourself.  If you know what motivates you, it’s often just a matter of re-framing it in your brain.  If it’s hard to change your behaviors on your own, know yourself enough to seek support and find accountability in whatever fashion suits your lifestyle.  Another hack she mentions is convenience…. can I just tell you one of the reasons I’ve been successful is because I make things easy for myself?  My gym is literally the one closest to our home.  The classes I teach, work for my schedule and a lot of them are with my tribe, so it’s fun! 😉.   The rest of the time I exercise in my living room which is like 20 steps from the master bedroom.  The food I cook – easy.  I never make anything too complicated, unless it’s a weekend and I am feeling lucky!  I seek out EASY, SIMPLE, FEW INGREDIENT recipes ON PURPOSE!  Because, that’s what makes me succeed!

In conclusion, if you are trying to reach a goal, try breaking it down into smaller behavioral goals instead and only focus on the one behavior you are trying master at that present moment.  For instance, if your goal is to be stronger and add muscle, start with a smaller behavior goal to lift weights 2-3x per week. If you have done that successfully for a month, celebrate!  You are on your way.  Add your next behavior, which might be to up your dumbbells by 5 lbs, etc….  By mastering each behavior one at a time you will be able to inherently build a habit that will stay with you as you move on to the next.  Over time you develop a lifetime of habits that will keep you healthy, fit, and balanced.  And when life throws you curve balls, which it will, you will be more prepared to handle them without a major disruption to your health and your life.

Sound like a plan?  Good!  Now go do it!