It is sometimes strikingly obvious that people are generally not living the lives they want. This becomes most obvious when people make New Year resolutions, or in many cases, don’t bother because they know they are going to fail.
To change, we must leave behind some of what we have today. To start taking exercise, we must do some things we don’t normally do (go to a gym, buy trainers, etc.) and stop doing some things that we are doing (watching television, going to the pub, etc.).
The stimulant for change in most people is primarily about getting rid of something in their lives rather than gaining something – we tend to be driven more by moving away from pain than moving towards pleasure. For this reason, when someone decides enough is enough and they are going to change, then their motivation is usually quite high.
Some decide to take action by joining and attending a gym. For most people, this is a step outside of their comfort zone and they feel discomfort on some level. As humans we have a pretty good survival mechanism so when we experience anything uncomfortable we tend to move away from it. Even if only unconsciously, our mind asks certain questions: Do I really want to be doing this and are the results going to be worth it?
Three steps to change
To be able to answer this question and to follow through on the change, it is believed three things are required. Firstly, we must have a clear vision of what we are going to gain from changing; this is often called our desired situation. This must clearly define the benefits we are going to receive from the new situation. Secondly, we must have enough dissatisfaction with our current situation to want to move away from it and, finally, we must have an understanding of how we are going to move from where we are to where we want to be.
Goal setting is of paramount importance in steps one and three of this process. A goal is simply a destination, a place where you want to end up. A vision is a goal and a destination with benefits attached to it. These are things that make it desirable, for example, wanting to lose two stones or wear a size 12 dress.
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Both of these are destinations, but they are not really visionary. To progress these goals into visions you might ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain from losing two stones?” or “What will being in a dress size 12 do for me?” At this point, you will be addressing why you want the goal.
To identify the benefits you might gain from achieving your goal, ask yourself where you want to be in three and six months’ time. Imagine what it would be like if you were achieving the goal, what you would look like and how others would respond to you. Work out what evidence would determine that the goal has been reached and how things will be different. You should be able to say that achieving the goal is going to be worth the effort and discomfort.
At this stage, a challenge often encountered is that the vision goal is either too far away (in gaining a sense that you can achieve it), or it is so big that it is overwhelming. For example, if you were to set out to run a marathon, it is likely to require at least six months' training and, if you have only run for a bus in the last 15 years, it’ll be challenging to believe it can be achieved.
The vision therefore needs to be broken down into smaller steps on two levels. Firstly, establish the key things that need to be achieved, i.e. the outcomes. For example, in setting out for a marathon, these might be running four times a week and eating healthily. These are set over a period of one to three months.
Once these have been decided, break them down further into small weekly actions. For example, in the first week start by doing a 20-minute run on Tuesday and a 30-minute run on Friday.
Break down a large desirable vision into smaller chunks so that it becomes manageable. The important thing is that goals are set on each of the levels, to give motivation and then belief that it can be achieved. By breaking goals down you have the means to measure progress on a regular basis. This is essential for providing feedback which, in turn, increases belief that you will achieve the goal.
Be prepared to overcome your own resistance to this change in behaviour. While many people see it as setting themselves up for failure, even if you have a goal and don’t achieve it goal setting is essential for setting yourself up for success.
Nic Jarvis has 29 years' experience working in the health and fitness industry. He has provided leadership development programmes to several major European operators and has recently helped set up Pro-PT on Facebook, designed to help PTs increase their revenue.
This feature was first printed in the October/November 2011 issue of Fitpro Network magazine.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Fitness Professionals Ltd or Virtual Magazine. Consult a qualified health or fitness professional before making changes to your diet or exercise.