The What If Experience

Explore a new "What If..." question about life each week with some thoughts, some answers and some action steps. Share my journey of personal growth and living in possibility.
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Now displaying: February, 2018
Feb 25, 2018

A few months ago, we talked about developing a "5 commandment" list for yourself - five statements that if you lived by them each day and made decisions by them, you’d be living a life centered around the values you want your life to be marked by. I’ve edited my list since then; I changed one statement. Here are my five commandments:

  • Love God.
  • Prioritize people.
  • Choose health.
  • Spend intentionally.
  • Create consistently.

You can check out episode 62 if you want to understand what those mean to me or more about why or how to create that list.

Since that episode, we’ve been talking about tools and tactics we need to make lasting change in our lives. This is the last episode in that series and I wanted to summarize it all for you today by showing you an example of how all the pieces could work together.

When I compare how I'm actually living with how I want to be living, there is a definite gap in two of those commandments. I’m not doing a good job of choosing health or creating consistently. Actually, I’m writing very consistently, but I’ve not been in the art studio in months. And I have some deadlines coming up for some pieces that need to be finished. I need to find a way to work that into my schedule.

The bigger problem is my health. In the last year, I’ve gone from being in the best shape of my adult life to terrible shape. I’m neither eating right nor exercising. That has to change, I feel terrible and it keeps me from doing things I want to do and living the way I want to live.

Today I’m going to walk you through how I can use all the tactics we’ve talked about to get my eating back on track. I’m going to go through the steps in the order I presented them in the January and February episodes.

Game Plan for Eating Healthier

A few things to remember as we dig into making a plan…

  • Change is a process.
  • Treat the process as a research scientist would.

Identify the following people in your life: Mentor, Cheerleader, Partner

There are different types of relationships that can help you succeed. Mentors can be people you know and meet with or people you learn from online, in books or by media like this podcast. This one I’m going to have to think about. If I do another round of Whole 30, then Melissa Hartwig, (creator of Whole 30) would be considered a mentor. If I do a four to six-week stint of vegan eating, then I’d count Forks Over Knives as a mentor, as well as a handful of friends who are vegan. But, I’m leaning towards doing a more sustainable, long-term plan, so I’m going to have to work on this one after I decide what exactly I'm doing.

Cheerleaders are another personal resource. These are people who encourage you along the way. I have a friend I meet with weekly and I’ll recruit her specifically to be a cheerleader as well as a long-distance friend who’s changed her eating habits dramatically over the last few years.

Partners are people walking the same road at the same time. My family will be partnering in this to some extent, but they may not be entirely enthusiastic partners. I’d also love if you partnered with me. You don’t need to do the same thing I’m doing, but if you’d be interested in participating in a 30 day Healthier You challenge alongside me, sign up here and I’ll send you some info about how to get started and open up a private facebook group as well.

Identify unhealthy relationships that would sabotage your change-making.

I’m going to have to think further about this one, I can’t think of any unhealthy relationships off the top of my head (I've weeded out many of them already). This might include people who encourage overindulging, or who I only get together to eat ice cream with or people who don’t have a focus on a healthy lifestyle.


Put yourself in your default future.

My default future if I continue down this path is that I’ll most likely be on medication for weight and diet-related disease. This could be heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or any number of other issues. I won’t be able to enjoy life as much or play with my grandkids. Things that I love to do will be much more difficult and so I probably won’t do them. Things like hiking, kayaking, and beach-walking. I don’t want those days to be over. I don’t want to spend my time in a hospital. I don’t want to be constantly dealing with medications and doctors. I don’t want the constant pain and inflammation I’m feeling now. I don’t want the second half of my life to be lived on the sidelines from a recliner. I want to be active. If I keep on like this, that won’t happen.

Face the whole truth.

The whole truth right now is that I’m an overweight, middle-aged mom. I’m hampered by my weight gain and by my body’s reaction to the foods I’m eating. I’m uncomfortable, but not doing anything about it. There is nothing good on this path except immediate, momentary satisfaction that only lasts until the next cookie. And, I’m being a terrible role model for my son. I’m not acting like I value health right now.

Obsess over the why.

Because I want to feel good. I want to be functionally fit. I want to be able to move and react easily and freely. I want to be able to run, dance, jump, walk, and skip, just for the joy of movement. I want to play on the floor with my grandkids (assuming I ever have grandkids). There is too much world left to explore to be unhealthy.

Gamify it: Limited time, Small Actions, Scoring

I’m going to work on healthy eating for the rest of the year, but I’m going to work in 30-day increments to keep the time frame smaller and more immediate. I'll start this plan on March 1st. For this month I’m going to use an incentive to gamify the process and I’ll talk about that in a few minutes. And I’ll track each successful day in my journal. I’m going to use a long-term incentive too. I’m going to consider a month successful If I’ve made all good choices for 25 days out of the month. When I reach 10 successful months, I’ll treat myself to something I’ve wanted for a long time, a stand-up paddleboard. I’m going to cut a photo of one up in 10 pieces and begin to put it back together again as I complete each successful month.

Create a personal vision statement.

This is a statement that I will repeat to myself before I eat anything. I'm going to start by trying:   I make healthy choices so that I can hike, travel and play with my grandkids.

Identify skills you need to make the change.

I need to make a decision on how I’m going to eat and I need to carve out time for planning meals.

How can you acquire these skills?

I’ll make a decision on what to eat and create a meal plan before March 1. Mostly, that’s not acquiring skills, but spending time pulling recipes together. And I think it’s going to be slightly different than anything I’ve done before, so I may need to do some online research.

How can you practice willpower in small steps? List three steps you can take in the order of increasing difficulty.

Step one: good choices at home for snacks
Step two: good choices at my Tuesday and Wednesday meetings where there’s food present
Step three: good choices when I’m surrounded by bad food all day on Sundays

Who can you recruit to help you manage the harder challenges?

The women in my groups and on my Sunday ministry team


What positive incentives can you add to your plan? (small rewards, reward actions, not results)

I’m going to put $1 a day in a jar each day I make good choices all day. After a month I can spend that or keep adding to it.

What negative incentives can you add to your plan?

That $1 a day? If I don’t make good choices, it’s going in another jar and I’ll donate it to a charity I totally disagree with.

Build personal boundaries.

For the next month, I’ll order groceries online once a week. This keeps me from making bad choices when I’m there and limits my options for making bad choices at home.

Distance yourself from trouble.

I’ll eliminate the junk and tempting things from the kitchen. I’ll move anything remaining to the back of the pantry where I tend to forget it…or the other end of the house. Or, I’ll throw it away if that doesn’t work.

Create behavior prompts.

I’m putting some photos of travel, hiking, and kayaking inside my kitchen cabinets. Maybe do some art pieces or put some posters up too that will remind me subconsciously of who I am.

Harness your inner lazy.

I need a meal plan. If I have a 30-day meal plan, I’ll follow it. I tend to fall off the wagon far more easily when I work without a plan. When I have a meal plan in place, I have to make an effort to break it, and if I do, I know I waste time, food and money, which I don’t like.

Use tools.

I’m going to track food and water for a month. I’ve done this before and it really helps with awareness and accountability.

That’s it! Remember, these tactics are about how you’re going to support yourself as you make changes and not what you’re changing. Also, parts of this might not work. I’ll try it for a month and see. I’m sure there are other things along the way I’ll think of and I’ll add them in as I go along.

This process isn’t limited to making changes in how you eat. You can use it for any change you want to make. What do you need to change? You’ll be far more likely to be successful if you make a plan.

If you do want to come along with me on a Healthier You challenge in March, click here and join in. I’m actually doing exercising alongside healthier eating, so I’ll probably be talking a bit about that as well. You don’t need to be doing what I’m doing, but we can help partner in making good choices and sticking to our own plans. Let’s see what we can start to accomplish in the next 30 days!

Feb 18, 2018

My degree in college was in Interior Design. We did a little bit of decorating—I was trained in stylistic periods, materials and furniture. I was taught fabric types and color theory. But, the majority of my training came in three parts: determining the problem, solving that problem and presenting a solution. It just so happened that the problems I was solving had to do with environmental spaces that people lived or worked in. We learned how to make spaces functional to solve practical issues but at the same time, we solved psychological issues as well.

For example, you want your bedroom to function well as a bedroom, but you probably also want it to be a restful space that promotes sleep. You want your office space to allow the right number and different types of work that need to happen, but you also need it to promote the right quality of work or promote sales.

Our environments influence our behavior, often unconsciously. When restaurants want to turn tables faster, they can change the music to be more upbeat and a faster speed. You’re more likely to eat faster and leave than if the music played is relaxing and calming. Research has shown that a subtle background aroma of cleaning liquid in the air influences people to be perceptibly cleaner and tidier than they would otherwise be. This leads me to believe I need to diffuse Lemon Scented Pledge in my son’s bedroom and whenever I want him to take a shower. Mark Tyrrell says,

Another fascinating piece of research reported in the journal Science in October 2008 involved hot and cold cups of coffee. Students were asked to hold a cup of coffee in their hands for a few seconds before reading an information pack about a hypothetical person and then assessing this person's 'character'. The students who had held a hot cup of coffee were significantly more likely to describe the hypothetical individual as 'warm and friendly' than the students who had held an iced coffee. Just the immediate environment of their hands had seeded their unconscious minds, and, although they all read the very same information about the imaginary individual, their responses were largely in accord with the environmental 'suggestion'.

Environment influences behavior. Designers of all kinds know this to be true. I know how your eye is likely to move across a web page and I can influence your behavior with what I put in those locations. Landscape designers know how they want you to use an outdoor space and create environments that lead to the outcomes they want.

I could go on with examples for a very long time. But, instead of creating paranoia about how every environment you enter has been designed to affect your behavior…let’s talk about how this idea can help you influence your own behavior. Last week we talked about how to beef up your internal ability to make changes. We talked about motivation and skills. This week, let’s talk about ways we can make external things work in our favor. I’m going to focus on incentives and environment.

How can you use external factors to help you make changes in your life?

Let’s start with incentives. You know how this works. Companies offer incentives for employees to work there. Stores offer incentives for people to buy there. The dictionary says that an incentive is "a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something” or "a payment or concession to stimulate greater output or investment." You probably have thought about using incentives to change your own behavior before. It might sound like this, “when I lose 20 pounds, I’ll buy a new wardrobe” or, “if I eat right for six days, I’ll eat whatever I want on the seventh day.” Do incentives work? Yes, they can. But we need to be very careful to use them strategically.

3 Tips to Use Incentives Effectively

Reward behaviors, not results.

Give yourself a reward for studying an hour each day, not for obtaining a specific grade. Orient your incentive to train a behavior that leads to a change. Reward what you do, not what you achieve.

Keep your incentives relatively small.

Small incentives have the power to influence our behavior, but not be the sole reason driving us toward change. If your incentive is too large and becomes the primary motivation for behavior change, then once that incentive is gone, a relapse is pretty certain. So, think of incentives as small encouragements and as supplements to the other tactics we’ve talked about.

Another reason to use small incentives along the way is that your motivation needs help in the beginning and middle. Momentum has a way of helping the final push. The odds are greater that you will stop or quit in the middle or be overwhelmed at the beginning. So, reward small wins along the way (during the process) and don’t focus on a large incentive at the end.

Consider losing loss aversion or negative incentives in addition to positive ones.

We humans are wired to be more motivated to avoid losing things than we are to gaining things. In other words, we’ll work harder to avoid a loss than to receive a gift. What if every week that you didn’t work out at least five times, you require yourself to send $20 to a charity whose purpose you really hate? This is technically a bit different than punishment because, with punishment, you’re trying to decrease a behavior. Apply negative incentives to behaviors you’re trying to increase.

The other external factor that influences your behavior is your environment.

5 Ways To Harness Your Environment To Help You Change

Build Personal Boundaries.

Draw some lines in the sand. If you overspend when you go to the mall, don’t go to the mall. Simple, right? Or, leave your credit card at home and only take the amount of cash you’re willing to spend with you. If you can’t avoid the chocolate croissant and fancy sugared-up drink at the local coffee shop, don’t spend your Saturday mornings hanging out there.

Boundaries can be created in your home as well. If you want your TV time to be an intentional choice rather than a default behavior, move the TV to the basement family room where you have to intentionally choose to watch.

Two cautions about boundaries. They work so well that we can rely on them the same way we can rely on large incentives. Use them as part of a plan for change, not your sole approach. And make sure you create and maintain the boundary by choice. Someone else cutting up your credit card, telling you to avoid the bars or ice cream is never going to work as well as boundaries you create and maintain yourself.

Distance yourself from trouble.

Make the behaviors you want to do easy and habitual. Make the behaviors you don’t want difficult and keep them far away. If I find myself snacking on something when I don’t want to at a table with friends, I move the snacks to the other side of the table. If you want a better relationship, spend time with that person. If you want to exercise more, make it easy and convenient. If the effort of going to the gym will be too much and you won’t get there, then figure out something more convenient like a subscription to a yoga site that will let you workout anywhere you have room to lay down and wifi access (here is one option and a second one).

On the other hand, loss aversion can come into play as well with a gym membership…if you pay enough that the idea of wasting the money becomes a strong enough incentive to get you there, that’s legit too. If you’re not enforcing a no-chocolate (or alcohol, Dorito, or Oreo) boundary, then keep the undesirable item in the most difficult to reach location in your kitchen. Make it inconvenient and difficult to get to.

Create a behavior prompts.

Create physical cues that remind and reinforce the behaviors you want to encourage. Create a pre-flight checklist for walking into your home in the evening with the right attitude after work. Put a photo of an active, healthy person inside the snack cabinet door. Put a poster in your office showing the behavior you want to encourage. Put a mirror behind the phone in your workspace to remind you to smile and be friendly when answering a call. Put a behavior reminder on your phone lock screen to remind you of the change you want throughout the day. Make a wall-hanging checklist for habit tracking. Be aware that you might need to periodically change these, visual cues tend to have a half-life. My five commandments have been on my lock screen and bathroom mirror for about two months now and I tend not to notice them anymore, it’s time to change things up.

Harness your inner lazy.

We have a default bias. Our brains want to conserve energy and any decisions they can create a default for, they do. So, make your default the behavior you want to encourage. Do you want to spend more time with your spouse? Buy season tickets to something you’ll enjoy and find a babysitter in advance. Put it on your calendars and it will become a default. It then becomes something you’ll actively have to cancel instead of actively have to pursue.

Another great way to encourage default behaviors is habit stacking. Tack behaviors you want to encourage on to other things you already do habitually. It’s ridiculous, but I have trouble washing my face and brushing my teeth in the morning. I’m groggy, I’m rushed and it just often doesn’t happen. So, I decided that it was part of my initial wake up routine. Before I even let my dog out of his crate. I get up, use the bathroom, brush my teeth and wash my face. I don’t leave the bathroom to start my day without doing that. It totally worked, I almost never miss a morning now. Instead of a decision I have to make, it’s a pattern in my life.

Use Tools.

There are tools available to help us do so many things these days. Track food and water intake, sleep schedule, steps walked, heart rate and habits formed. I have a friend who wanted to intentionally spend a few moments with her spouse uninterrupted reconnecting after work every day. She painted up a bench, put it in her kitchen in a very prominent spot, and christened it "the love bench". She and her husband spend time there each day and the kids know that’s parent time and they can wait a few moments for whatever they need. This is a tool to add intentionality and togetherness to her marriage.

How can you use your phone, TV, video player, yoga mat, notepad, journal, furniture, or bookshelf to help you succeed? How can you harness tools that are easily accessible in your every day to work for you and not against you? There are dozens of trackers, reminders, equipment, and tools available. Find them. Try them. Get creative. Make them work for you.

Next week, we’ll finish up this series on change-making by putting it all together. We’ll review all the tactics we’ve talked about by creating a plan to make a change using all of them. I’ll bring you along on my plan for change and you’ll see one example of a way to put it all together.


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Feb 11, 2018

We’ve talked about the tools you need, a growth mindset, and busted some myths about making changes. Don’t you think it’s about high time we actually make some changes? It’s sooooo much easier to think about and talk about making changes in our lives than actually doing it. I’ve had a legitimately crazy week with an average of one major crisis per day. Authentically major crises, not some silly hangnail kind of crisis. And this podcast recording is late. Even though I know it’s late, I’ve put it off all day. I’m generally not a procrastinator. But, I’m was having a ton of trouble forcing myself to get to work on this episode. Why? I think it has to do with the fact that I actually have to buckle down and make some changes at this point. It’s much easier to think about it and plan to do it…tomorrow. Or, next week.

Much of what we’re going to talk about in the next two weeks comes from a book published in 2011 called Change Anything. (not an affiliate link, just a great book) The folks that wrote the book describe six outside influences that affect our change-making ability. These six fall into a few categories. Half relate to our motivation and half to our abilities. In each of these two categories, there is a personal, a social and a structural influence. In the toolbox episodes relating to people (here and here), I already talked about the social aspect, so we’re going to focus on the personal motivations and abilities this week and the structural motivations and abilities next week.

When it comes to making changes in our lives, many of us feel like Allie Brosh who says in Hyperbole and a Half

Most people can motivate themselves to do things simply by knowing that those things need to be done. But not me. For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don't want to do. And if I lose, I'm one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know whether I'm going to win or lose until the last second.

I know it’s a book of hyperbole, but she hits pretty close to the mark about how we feel about personal motivation and willpower. Usually, we know what we should do, the question is will we do it? If my son liked doing his homework, the laundry and taking showers, he wouldn’t need external motivation, like my constant insistence, bribes, and threats to get it done. Now, wouldn’t that be a lovely world? If he eagerly tripped off to take a shower and do his laundry? But, I can’t really judge him too harshly, because I have the same issue when it comes to balancing the checkbook and paying bills, choosing the carrots over chocolate, and cleaning pretty much anything.

If the change I need to make is getting my finances under control, I’d better learn to balance my checkbook, control my spending and pay my bills whether I enjoy it or not. If I need to change my eating habits, how can I make myself bypass the chocolate and reach for the carrots? Or, if I want to have a presentable house, how can I convince myself to clean consistently and thoroughly? How can we convince ourselves to do things in the short term we really aren’t eager to do in order to get the long-term results we really do want?

I’m going to give you five strategies today. Grab your pen and notebook, because this is a super practical episode and you are going to want to remember these tactics. Grab this printable worksheet you can use to generate ideas about each of these tactics and apply them to the change you want to make.

1. Put yourself in your default future.

My ex-husband is a diabetic and suffering the physical deterioration that uncontrolled diabetes causes. He was recently in the hospital for a few weeks with kidney failure. I’m not in any immediate danger of being diabetic. But, my grandfather was and its always in the back of my mind. I have a serious sugar addiction and I’ve gained a ton of weight in the last several months. Someone you know facing a life-threatening health crisis that is a potential result of one of your behaviors that needs to change is a way to make the future seem very real. Feeling, touching, smelling, visualizing that future - good or bad is a way to help bring it to bear on the decisions you face in the short term. What can you do to make the future seem more realistic? If you need to develop a habit of wearing a motorcycle helmet. Talk to an emergency room nurse. Spend time with people who live in or daily deal with the future you want or want to avoid.

2. Face the whole truth.

We have a way of conveniently avoiding unpleasant details by glossing over them or using language that sounds polite and less provocative than the truth often is. I noticed myself doing it as I thought about the language I just used a few moments ago in talking about the results of diabetes. I said, “the physical deterioration that uncontrolled diabetes causes.” This is politely sanitized language. Telling you that is one thing. When I’m trying not to eat a half a package of Oreos I need to think of it as, “having parts of my feet amputated, losing my eyesight, missing my son’s life because I’m in the hospital half the time, losing consciousness, kidneys failing, facing death before my boy is grown.” See the difference? Don’t shy away from the whole truth. Visit it in as much detail, vivid language, and gritty realism as you can possibly muster.

3. Obsess over the why.

While talking and thinking about your behaviors and habits, obsess about the why behind the actions. Constantly associate your behavior with the values driving the change. Since I started with the health example and it’s where I need to change right now, I’ll just stick with it. When I think about making a choice, I need to remind myself that I’m choosing family. I’m choosing longevity. I’m choosing the ability to run, play and hike with my grandkids rather than watch them from a recliner. I’m choosing real lasting joy over temporary pleasure. I’m choosing to be responsible and healthy. I’m choosing to be a good example for my son. These values that I can associate with choices help me see a bigger picture, a “why” that helps overpower immediate gratification.

4. Gamify it.

One of the biggest recent trends in marketing meets personal motivation. Turn your change-making into a game. There are three keys to doing this…limited time, chunked down challenges and meaningful scores. Whole30 works because it's a limited time, the rules are clear and the scorekeeping is how you feel. I track habits I’m trying to form because there’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing those x’s on the page and something motivating about not wanting to break a streak. There’s a story about a man struggling to complete his doctoral thesis that illustrates this point. He gave himself 90 days. That’s the limited time. He created a task of writing 2 pages a day - that’s an easily doable chunked down challenge. And here’s the part I love most about this particular story…the clever scoring. He borrowed doctoral robes, took a photo of himself in them and cut it into 90 pieces. As he completed his 2 pages a day, he added a piece of the photo and he began building the picture of himself as a doctoral candidate.

5. Create a personal vision statement.

Develop a short sentence or two that you can repeat to yourself when faced with a choice that will put the choice in perspective. It could paint the picture of your default future, it could talk about what kind of person you want to be. It should be full of value words and it must be personally motivating to you. Commit to repeating this statement to yourself before making choices relating to the change you want to make. As I’m thinking about this for myself, I’m going to test out, “I’m the kind of person that makes healthy, responsible choices that mean I’ll live to play with my grandkids.” Yours could be, “I’m responsible with my money because I take care of those I love.”

Those are five tactics for increasing your personal motivation. Add them to your personal “why” and the five commandments we developed at the end of last year and you’ll have a set of strategies that help tilt the odds in your favor for making short-term choices that lead to long-term change.

That covers the motivation side of the personal influences, but what about the abilities? We tend to have blind spots when it comes to what we know and don’t know. For example, if I want my son to make good food choices, I might need to educate him about those choices. Is yogurt a healthy food? What about granola? Are the Clif bars he loves a good choice? I don’t have Coke in the house, so he’s not faced with that choice daily, but what about wanting one every time we’re out? What if I taught him that a daily sweetened soft drink can add 15 lbs a year to his weight. And over five years that’s 75 lbs. What if I see the 35 lbs I should lose as constantly carrying everywhere I go an extra bag of the dog food I dread carrying down my stairway every month. What if I have to buckle down and wade through current health data, or find new recipes or learn a new way to cook? What if I need to develop new skills in the grocery store: reading and interpreting labels, not shopping when I’m hungry, distracting myself when I’m prone to snacking, identifying when I’m stress eating and developing other coping mechanisms. What skills or abilities do you need to make your change possible? Relationship skills? Budgeting skills? You may need to ask a partner or friend because we often don’t see exactly where we’re lacking.

After you’ve identified those skills, start developing them. Get help, take a class, learn to use deliberate practice to acquire a new ability. It’s an intentional learning strategy.

Also, be aware that willpower can be an acquired skill. We don’t think of it that way, but be encouraged, because it can be practiced and improved, just like other skills. Start small. Practice intentionally. Recruit a coach or a helper. Increase your skill level.

I threw a lot of tactics at you today - this week and next will be tactic heavy. Super practical. So if you have that thing you want to change in your life. Take these tactics and start applying them. Recruit a friend to help you brainstorm ideas, hold you accountable and help you practice.

Remember that change is a process and you’re approaching it with the attitude of a research scientist. Try these tactics and evaluate the results. What worked? What needs changing? Your motivational statement isn’t motivating? Try a new one. Your “why” isn’t powerful enough? What would be?

Feb 4, 2018

Up until about six years ago, I hated running. I had to run when I was in school to condition for swimming. I hated it. But, it’s convenient! It accomplishes a lot in a relatively short period of time and can be done almost anywhere. After I was no longer swimming competitively, every so often I’d think about the benefits of running and I’d decide I was going to be a runner. Yep, I was going to do it! This happened about every three to five years. So, I’d pick a date, I’d lace up my shoes, I’d head out the door with my enthusiasm.

And, I’d hate every minute of it. I’d want to die. If I was really hardcore about it that time, I might last three days.

About six years ago, I was watching Darren Hardy talk about the differences between how successful people behave and how unsuccessful people behave. He said one thing that changed my attitude about running. He said that everyone has things they don’t like to do. Successful people don’t like the things that are hard any more than unsuccessful people do. They just do them anyway.

They just do them anyway! And I realized that I don’t have to like to run. If it works best for my schedule and lifestyle, I just needed to do it anyway. That fundamentally changed my expectations about how I feel about running.

I decided to start running again. But, this time, I did it differently. I learned how to start running. I got a Couch to 5K app and started slowly, increasing my run to walk ratio gradually. I gave myself a goal of running a particular race hosted downtown by my favorite hockey team…a Nashville Predators shirt was incentive swag. And I began to post run photos online and arranged to do the race with friends. This time, I was successful. I did the race. I had a great time and I've been running off and on ever since. The really funny thing is, that I really do enjoy it far more than I ever expected to.

I tried repeatedly to make that change in my life and failed pretty miserably. And then, I finally succeeded. Fluke? No. I did all the wrong things for the wrong reasons all the times I failed and I increased the odds significantly the time I was successful. Some of the things I did hint at some of the ways you can increase the odds of making changes successfully. We’re going to talk about those strategies in the upcoming weeks. This week, I want to dispel a few myths about change so that we’re all starting from the same place.

Myth #1: If I have enough willpower, I can change. If I don’t, I can’t.

Wrong. If you have a tremendous amount of willpower, that’s awesome and it certainly will help you. But, for the rest of us mere mortals with willpower that crumbles in the face of a single Reese cup, the good news is that willpower doesn’t have to be the deciding factor in whether you succeed or fail!

In 1962, Walter Mischel did a study that put a marshmallow in front of children who were instructed not to eat it for 15 minutes. If they held out for the whole time, they received another marshmallow, doubling their treasure. Most kids couldn't resist, but the minority that did went on to be more successful in life. This study was interpreted for years to show that intrinsic self-discipline and willpower was a key factor to success in life. But, what if that was too simple a conclusion? What if there was another factor involved?

Recently some researchers at Change Anything Labs reworked this experiment. They ran it exactly the same way the original was done and got the same results. Turns out human nature hasn’t changed in fifty years. Shocking, right? But, then they did something different. They taught the kids some strategies for dealing with the temptation in front of them. And the kids actually put those strategies to use. They really wanted that second marshmallow, they just didn’t have the skills to know how to avoid eating the one in front of them. This time, many more of them won the marshmallow stare down and 50% more of them walked away with two marshmallows clutched in little hands. Sticky little hands.

We learn from this that experiment that willpower can be supplemented by skills and strategy. And that’s what the next three weeks are going to be about. Strategies that will increase the odds of your success tenfold.

Myth #2: Change is an event. I need to change, I do and then voilà, I’m a new person!

Wrong. Change is not an event, change is a process. When I failed in becoming a runner, I thought that what it would take for me to make that change was to make the decision to run and then to follow the oft-quoted slogan of running shoe giant, Nike. I’d just do it.

But, that’s not what it took. It took time for me to learn how to run. It took time for my body to adjust. It was a process of change that took months. And frankly, the first round of that Couch to 5K didn’t really make me a runner. Repeating that process a few times did. There were milestones along the way. The first time I felt a runner’s high. The first time I ran twenty minutes straight, without stopping or walking. The first race I did. Realizing that for me, running is therapy and not competition. The realization I didn’t need to run fast or far to be a “real” runner.

These things all took time. The physical, mental and emotional changes were all a process. Even now, it’s a process. I’ve not been running in about six months and I want to start up again. But, the strategies I use might need to be different. I’m not in as good physical condition as I’ve been the last few times. My schedule is different. I’ve lost the built-in accountability of my workout group. The process goes on.

Myth #3: I can approach change like an athlete: I train, I race, I win.

Wrong. It’s absolutely critical to approach change like a research scientist participating in a long-term experiment. If change is a process, we need to also understand that in that process, things almost certainly will go both right and wrong. We’ll succeed and we’ll fail. If we understand the process to be linear, we’ll expect to head right out and eventually reach the end. Success!

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it happens. It often looks more like a tangled ball of yarn than a straight line between two points. There will be setbacks. Even when something works for a time, it may stop working. How you deal with those setbacks is absolutely crucial to your eventual success.

Treat the process as a research scientist would. Do you remember the scientific method from school? Let me refresh your memory.

  1. You choose a topic or ask a question. In our case, a change you want to make. I want to be a runner.
  2. You create a hypothesis. I’m going to try to become a runner by following the instructions of the Couch to 5K app.
  3. You test the hypothesis. I tried the app. It mostly worked, but there were some things I really didn’t like about it.
  4. Here’s the critical part. You examine the results, revise the hypothesis and test again. I thought the Couch to 5K methodology was sound, I just didn’t like the way they did it. So, I tried a different version, an app called Get Running. Same concept, different ramp-up schedule and Claire, with a lovely British accent telling me to get my tail in gear. Somehow, it’s easier to do what she says when I hear it in an accent I like to listen to. It worked better for me. However, the schedule I was running on stopped working. I was running in the afternoons. Here in the South, that’s just stupid after Mid-May, so I made another change and began running early in the morning to escape the heat.

Those were simple, common sense changes I made in this example. But, had I not had an experimental attitude, I would have stopped at the first speed bump and just decided that it didn’t work and I’d never be a runner. I would have missed out on the success and on all the benefits running has brought me over time.

As we begin to make changes in our lives over the next few weeks, I want you to understand something. Just because you’ve not been successful before, doesn’t mean you can’t be. It means you haven’t been successful yet. Let’s try again, together. I’m going to give you some direction on how to get there, how to use the tools we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks and some strategies for success. I want you to approach it without relying on willpower, with the understanding that it’s a process, that there will be ups and downs, wins and losses in that process and with the experimental attitude of a research scientist. Be willing to examine what you’re doing and adjust. And keep making adjustments until you turn around one day and realize that you’re a runner. Or, 50 pounds lighter. Or, a better wife. Or, whatever it is that you’re trying to improve in your life.

What is it that thing for you? If you worked through the What’s Important series with me after the first of the year, you should know. If not, go back and listen to episodes 62, 63 and 64 and find the gaps between what’s important to you and how you’re currently living. Then we’ll start tacking strategies for making changes next week!