At the beginning of the year, we hear many variations on “New Year, New You” and all the things that you can do to exercise, lose weight, and change your life. But with Small Changes, Big Shifts, we advocate changing one small thing at a time. No matter how much you need to change your life, you can start small with one thing at a time.
Dr. Daphne Bascom, the Vice President of Community Integrated Health at the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, gives us a couple of suggestions on how to start with small shifts towards a healthier life.
As she says, there are many small changes that we can make when we think about exercise. If you are inactive, it is a small change to walk for 5 minutes a day. It may feel like nothing (or it may be really difficult at the start!). Either way, it is the first step on the path to big shifts in your life.
If you are currently inactive, choose an exercise that you really enjoy and do it for a short amount of time. You could go for a 5 minute walk, bike ride, or swim. A really simple option is a one-song dance party. Songs generally last 3-5 minutes, so when you choose just one, there is a build-in timer. With a fast, upbeat song, your heart will be beating faster at the end of it. (Plus it’s a lot of fun and the time goes faster!) Don’t let short amount of time stop you, as Dr. Bascom says, just start.
With any change you are trying to make, it is important to set your goal and then break the goal down into smaller parts. If you are adding exercise to your life, your goal might be to walk for 30 minutes three times per week. Dr. Bascom explains that we need to set small measurable achievements along the way. If we could just automatically walk out of our door and be walking 30 minutes three times per week, it wouldn’t be a worthwhile goal. It’s definitely a worthwhile thing to do! But the point of a goal is to give us something to work towards.
If you are starting at a place where you are completely inactive, you can set the goal of walking for 30 minutes three times a week. The first measurable achievement would be walking for 5 minutes, three times a week. Once you are comfortable with that, you will move to the next achievement, walking for 10 minutes three times per week. Each time you increase your time incrementally, you have reached a new achievement. As you plan out the steps and stages of your goal, you want to give yourself a timeline for these small achievements. A timeline will push your progress forward and keep you on track to meeting your goal.
Dr. Bascom mentions that another aspect of goal-setting is keeping ourselves accountable. For most of us, it helps to tell someone else about our goal, so that we have someone to check in and share our progress with. Remember, you want someone who will be encouraging and will actually ask you about your goal!
Dr. Bascom spoke more in-depth about the process of setting goals in her video SMART goals. SMART is the acronym to remind us that goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound.
Although our examples here are about exercise, the advice to start small applies to any other change you want to make. If you have decided that you need to work on getting more sleep, you can set the specific goal of getting 8 hours of sleep 5 nights per week. It can be difficult to convince your body to sleep if you are starting from 5 or 6 hours as your normal. Instead set your wake up time, and then adjusting your bedtime earlier by half an hour over a couple of weeks.
If you have decided to improve your posture, you can set your specific goal, and then add one exercise at a time to help you improve your posture. Although the exercises that Dr. Sean Cailteux shared seem simple, they can feel strenuous because, for most of us, they are new ways of moving our bodies. It’s important to not overdo these exercises, but to make small changes that add to our progress. With the Wall Angels, you could start by doing just 30 seconds in the morning. After a week, you can build up to one minute. Then you will continue increasing your time until you can do 3 minutes, twice per day, as recommended.
Making these small changes a little bit at a time makes them manageable and sustainable, and puts the odds in your favor.