We all think we need to set the bar high – in our work life, in our relationships, and with our physical health. And that is true. I mean, who wants to aim low when you are going after something you really want?
A new book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard has me questioning the high bar, at least when it comes to changing behavior. Authors Chip and Dan Heath present a pretty compelling case for setting the bar low and then gradually raising it until a new behavior is ingrained.
For example, let’s say that I’m an overweight couch potato who wants to lose weight (no comments from the peanut gallery!). By setting the bar high, I can start tracking my food, adhere to a strict diet, and exercise several times a week.
Every New Year’s dieter knows how long that will last.
According to the Heath brothers, it is just too exhausting to keep your willpower up that long. By making changes in small steps, the couch potato in our example has a better chance at lasting change because her willpower is not exhausted.
How I’m using the low bar method
One thing I continue to struggle with as we prepare for this big trip is my health. Just last week a cardiac blood test came back high for the second time, so I’m going to see a cardiologist soon. It doesn’t help that my brother had a heart attack in his 30s and my biological father had a quadruple bypass at 50. The genes aren’t so good.
But even with that knowledge I still eat like crap and only exercise because I have to for this race, not because I want to. So how in the world am I going change those habits to eat healthier, lose weight, and become fit in time for our trip?
Here are the bars I’ve set for myself, in order:
- Continue running based on my half-marathon training program. This is a habit that is already ingrained, which is a good start.
- Use salad plates for my meals instead of full-size dinner plates. This is a no-brainer considering that my salad plates are almost as big as the dinner plates we used growing up. Even dishes are super-sized these days. We’ve been doing this for a while, so this habit is ingrained.
- Eat my big meal at lunch instead of dinner so I don’t go to bed so soon after my biggest meal. This is already ingrained for both of us and we sleep better for it.
- Track my food, no matter what. No pressure on this one, because I’m just writing it down without judgement to form the habit of tracking. It didn’t take long for this to shock the hell out of me. Or pretend I couldn’t find my notebook.
- Track my food to comply with the Weight Watchers program. This is something new for me starting this week, and so far it is working out okay. It will take me some time to figure out what is healthy and what is not (the pesto on my salmon/pasta dish today was surprisingly high in points), but the habit of writing it down is not hard.
- Take a beginner’s yoga course in April. If this feels right, I can add it to my exercise regimen permanently in May.
- At least 2 hikes per month this summer with Warren. This is a mutual goal and one that will be much easier this year than last with the running I’ve been doing.
- The Seattle Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon is at the end of June, and it will be such a motivation to finish it, no matter what the time.
These are the incremental bars I’m setting for myself to be in better shape by the time we leave on our trip October 1. What do you think? Too strict? Not strict enough?
Notice I have not set weight goals, time goals for the race, or even measured myself. I’m simply trying to establish habits that will help me stay healthy for the rest of my life.
See that’s the thing. I’m going to follow this path, but it might veer off here and there as things work or don’t work for me. But I’ll keep you posted on what is working for me so you can try it, too.
If you want to read more about change and motivation within yourself and at your company, check out Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link). It is the best self-help/business book I’ve read in a long time.