The Art of Making Change

Resetting Your Wellness Lifestyle


September 2020 Issue
Energy Express by Marilynn Preston

"You're too young to be this out of shape," my friend Diana’s doctor told her.
Diana had a gym in her building, and a husband who would cover
for the kids, and she certainly had the clothes.

Diana set her alarm for 6 a.m. every morning for the first week. She crept out of bed and was on the treadmill by 6:10. Thirty minutes of walking (and checking her mail), followed by a few stretches and some weights, and by 7 a.m., she was back in her apartment, showering for work, fighting off the urge to drink a Diet Pepsi for breakfast.

By the middle of Week Two, Diana was shutting off the alarm and snuggling up with the children's father. No more early morning workouts, and her promises to hit the gym after work withered and died as well. Yesterday, she told me she's given up and feels like a failure.

Yes, she's a failure. And there are millions of you out there struggling with the same issue wondering: What's the best way to make change happen?
I've been a student of behavior change—and a practicing life coach—for years, and as 2020 rounds the corner toward the holidays, I want to assure you it's not too late to reset your intention and experience success.

But you need to understand how change happens, and how to make it happen for you. It's a big subject. Here is my current list of keys to success, subject to change, just like everything else in life:

Your doctor may be pushing you to exercise, or your girlfriend nagging you to quit fried foods, but if you don't want it for yourself, it's not going to happen.
Here's the most important truth to emerge from all the research: You can't change to please someone else. Well, you can, but it won't last. Lasting lifestyle change—moving more, eating smarter, balancing play and work—happens when you are ready, when you are deeply committed, when you decide to take charge of your own health and wellness. Call it your aha! moment, and let's hope it happens before a heart attack or a scary diagnosis.

It may feel good—in the moment—to resolve to lose 30 pounds by Thanksgiving, but it's a crazy and counterproductive goal. A pound a week, maybe two, is plenty to shoot for. Same with athletic pursuits. Be realistic. Better to succeed at running one 10k race than dream of a marathon with no plan or real intention of following through. Small victories fuel big changes. If you are going to set one intention, choose one you are certain you can achieve.

Once you set a realistic goal, attach a reward to it. Write it down in your journal. For example: After five workouts in a row, I will treat myself to a massage ... or a margarita. There are apps and websites for this, too, being one of the best known. You can also place big bets with friends, but it has to be for serious cash so you're highly motivated not to give in.

You are more likely to stick to your goals if you play with others on a similar path. That could mean joining a running club, or a diet club, or finding a training partner. Misery loves company, but so does success.

See failure as feedback. Take it in stride, and don't let it deter you from moving forward—again!—toward your goal. Resiliency is required, so learn to stand up and fall down with grace and courage. Change is hard work, but it doesn't feel like work when you're living the life you want to live. That's what authenticity feels like.

And it's authenticity—being true to your highest values— that makes lasting change more likely.
When you set an intention, you are asking yourself to develop a new habit. Your choice: detox from processed foods; bike to work; walk the stairs next to the escalator.

But new habits take time to take over, more time than you think, if you think about it at all. And if you're not thinking about what's involved in making change happen, then it's no wonder you've not made progress. "I failed before; I've failed again; what am I missing?"

Are you ready to take the off ramp from the wheel of failure? I’m inviting you to hit the reset button and begin again.

In Jeremy Dean's compelling book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don't, and How to Make Any Change Stick, he assures us that new habits can be formed, but how long it takes varies greatly. On average, it takes 66 days for a new habit to take over your life.
Two months or more of everyday attention, writing it down, keeping focused, telling a friend, working with a coach or an "accountability partner."

Why so long? Because neuroscientists know the brain has a mind of its own. It resists change and would rather nap in front of "Duck Dynasty."

When you mindfully decide to let go of an old habit and replace it with something less fried and sugary, something better for your sleep, digestion and overall health, you wake up to a new understanding of what drives your habits.

"Acting without thinking drives our habits," reports Dean. Scientists who study the psychology of self-control are so certain about this remote-control reality we all live in, they have given it a name.
It's called "automaticity," and learning to move through it and act from a place that is more authentic to your personal vision of health and wellness paves the way for successful change.
And so does:

Authentic, long-lasting change happens more often when you first create a visualization, a detailed mental picture of who you are, where you are, what you feel when you see yourself living a healthier, happier life.
"I see myself with my husband, hiking in Florida and camping over night with our grandchildren. I love them to bits and they love being with me. I feel fit, strong and safe ... "
What you value will express itself in your personal wellness vision. Make it specific; make it true. You can make this a DIY project, or recruit a close friend, or consult with a local wellness coach.


Once your wellness vision is created, you have a target to aim for. Next, you'll want to create the small, realistic goals that will get you there: week by week. Change is not linear. Expect setbacks and delays but avoid despair.

In fact, stay very, very positive. That's what all the research shows. Don't focus on what you didn't do; celebrate what you did do. Beating yourself up— the selfie of trash talking—is counterproductive to lasting change.

Keep in mind the 66 days it takes for a new habit to take hold. An exercise habit takes even longer. A recent research study—handpicked by me to prove my point—shows that people who write down a detailed, step-by-step plan are 50 percent more likely to achieve their goals.
 Fifty percent is huge!

Writing down your detailed game plan and keeping track of your accomplishments is what puts you in the moment. That's how we break free from the limitations of "automaticity."
To support the lifestyle change you're making, it helps to write down—every day—three things you're grateful for. Every night, write down three things you did well that day. (Sounds hokey, but it works.)
Now you know a few new things about how change happens. The rest is up to you.

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the
risk it took to blossom.”
-Anais Nin-

Marilynn Preston—healthy lifestyle coach and Emmy-winning producer—is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at and (C) 2020 ENERGY EXPRESS LTD.

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