From Intention to Action: Turning resolutions into reality

It’s that time of year again. You’re either rolled up in fetal position on the floor or writing a list of New Year’s resolutions. Some of you writing resolutions might prefer to be rolled up in fetal position, and those of you on the floor wouldn’t change places with the resolution writers for a million dollars.

What is this compulsion that drives us every January 1st? How predictable are we that gyms do much of their advertising in January and then again a few months later when our bright, shiny beginnings have tarnished and crusted over and there is empty floor space to be filled.

For me, writing resolutions has always been a fun ritual. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it more attainable. That’s been true in many areas of my life. However, we all have those things that are especially difficult to achieve. Sometimes the writing of the goal isn’t enough to get us there. And our good intentions, no matter how strong, can’t motivate us to “Just Do It.”

That dilemma led me to think about how I had approached other goals in my life—ones that had been attained. For example, I hadn’t just thought about working for myself and ended up with a successful business. It was accomplished by breaking the goal into manageable chunks. Of course, I didn’t realize I was doing that 19 years ago, but in hindsight it’s obvious. So, why not do the same to finally achieve the goals that have been regulars on too many of my annual lists?

Writing “I will eat healthier, write regularly, and work out more” hasn’t been enough on its own to make those dreams a reality. But taking intermediate actions to bridge the gap between intention and action has proved to be successful.

For example, I’ve become quite regular with my exercise, following the “don’t skip more than 2 days in a row” rule. But sometimes, even though I know I’m going to feel great once I do it, I just don’t feel like working out. I’ve found a trick—something very simple—that gets great results for me. What do I do when exercise apathy hits?

I put on my workout clothes.

Yup.

That’s it.

There’s something about the act of getting dressed to work out that begins the momentum. Once I’m dressed, I’m going to feel like crap if I take off my workout clothes without having exercised. I know it sounds crazy, but follow the logic. The act of putting on those clothes is a prerequisite to working out, so it gets me one step further along the path to actually performing the desired action.

I decided to try out this trick in another area of my life. After thinking for the umpteenth time that I needed to get to the library to do some writing, I packed up my Neo, a printout of my manuscript, and my supply case in a bag and left it by the stairs leading down to my front door. Every time I walked through the living room, I saw that bag. Eventually, I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and WALKED to the library. How’s that for killing two birds with one stone? 😉

Which leads me to my “eating better” resolution. If you studied my eating habits on paper, you’d think you were looking at the records of two different people. From dawn till dusk, I am the model of good paleo nutrition. After the sun sets, it’s like my inner Carb vampire emerges. I want Cookies, or Cake, or ice Cream, or Chocolate. The letter “C” is evil, isn’t it? 🙂

So, I began questioning why it’s so easy to stay on track during the day. And I realized it’s because my breakfast and lunch are prepared in advance and carted to work and dinner is planned out as well. If I’ve carried meals with me, it’s unlikely that I’ll get something else at the cafeteria. And in fact, I don’t. So, the answer may be to plan and pack up a healthy snack for each evening so I don’t indulge by whim. Whim is a very bad thing when combined with food. At least for me it is.

If you happen to enjoy experimenting with yourself as the guinea pig, let me know how these ideas work out for you. Most important, keep it positive. Don’t focus on what you won’t do. Rather stay focused on what you will do. There’s a theory that your subconscious mind doesn’t recognize a negative. So, for example, if you say I will not eat cookies at night, all your mind hears is I will eat cookies at night. That minor design flaw has been wrecking diets around the world. Just to be on the safe side, focus on what you will do. “I will eat berries and Greek yogurt at snack time.” Or whatever your intention is.

Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. Life is a process. We get to grand places by taking little steps.

Happy New Year.

Feel free to share your tips and successes.

Let’s talk about PORTION SIZE.

Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths. I was born with a stainless steel spoon being repeatedly forced into mine. It seems my family received some faulty data indicating an imminent famine. They decided the appropriate action was to feed me constantly and build up my baby-fat stores to withstand the coming hardship. My grandmother was the commander of this mission. No amount of food I ate was enough. “You eat like a bird,” she’d say.

Have you ever seen a sparrow chow down on a sparerib?

Imagine my surprise when I didn’t die of starvation back in the winter of 2008 after coming down with what I now half-jokingly refer to as “the first but undocumented case of swine flu,” which left me unable to eat for two straight weeks.

After noticing something resembling hip bones jutting through my skin, I crawled out of bed and dragged my weakened body to the scale. I’d forgotten I had bones in that part of my body. I was shocked when the scale said, “Who are you and what have you done with my owner?” and an 11-pound weight loss registered on the screen. Lighter, but still alive. Hmmmmm. There was definitely something wrong with my grandmother’s philosophy on portion size.

Truth be told, I needed to lose those eleven pounds. With the exception of my pregnancy, that winter in 2008 was the heaviest I had ever been, weighing in at 156 pounds. I’d always been up and down with my weight, but somehow I had let it get away from me. Too much snacking and zero exercise were the likely suspects. But now I was beginning to wonder if I was overeating even the healthy foods in my diet.

Motivated at my new weight of 145, I decided to take advantage of my near-death experience and continued lack of appetite. I nibbled at small portions of food to get my tummy used to eating again. When my appetite returned, I decided to forge ahead in the pursuit of health and wellness and a trimmer body. The first thing I did was cut all of my meals to half their former size. I told myself I could eat more if I were still hungry a half hour later. By giving myself that permission, I eliminated the anxiety and sense of deprivation I would have felt. I rarely had to go back for seconds.

The weight continued to come off at a steady pace. It seemed my metabolism had increased. Even if I overindulged at a special occasion, I did not gain weight. My set point had readjusted. As I watched the number on the scale drop and inches disappear, I decided to add in a bit of exercise. I grabbed my iPod and walked a 2-mile route I had mapped out with my car. Back at home, I did a few hundred crunches and stretched.

Those walks did as much for my mind as they did for my body, maybe more. I became addicted to that time away from it all. Soon I added jogging to my routine. Nothing crazy. I worked my way up to two miles and alternated with walking so I didn’t put too much stress on my knees. I promised myself I’d never go more than two days without exercising. My record turned out to be much better than that, in fact.

Six months after the flu, I was down 28 pounds and weighed 128. Some people [don’t pay any attention to my internal critic waving over there in the corner] might say I should be a bit lighter for my height of 5’4” and a half. (Don’t forget the half.) But at 128 lbs., my BMI was within normal range and I was in better shape than I’d been for quite a long time. My head was in better shape, too.

I managed to keep the weight off until today. This morning, I got on the scale and saw that I was creeping up into the mid-130s. I know the reason. It’s this damned winter. I’ve been cooped up, unable to do my beloved exercise routine due to snow and ice on the roads just about every week for the past month. So I’ve been going through the motions along with the too-perky trainer on one of my annoying exercise DVDs. (I want to smack her.) I’m also feeling a bit low from lack of sunshine, and I’ve been filling the void with sinful treats. I eat when I’m emotional. Happy, sad, angry, bored, or anything in between—I don’t discriminate. Sue me, I’m Italian. Sometimes I think those old habits are embedded in my cells.

But enough is enough already, right? It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve been in the groove, and it’s time to return. Reduce portion size that has crept up, eliminate sinful snacks (for me that’s anything that includes flour and/or added sugar), and exercise regularly. Anyone want to join me?