You know the story of Goldilocks, . Right?
A little girl gets lost in the forest, and stumbles upon a house where 3 bears live, but aren’t currently inside. As she wanders through the house, trying out things that belong to the bears, everything that belongs to the Papa Bear is too big; everything that belongs to the Baby Bear is too small; but everything that belongs to the Momma Bear is just right, fits like a glove, and feels good.
We can apply the Goldilocks story to our health habits and that can predict whether we’ll have success with the new habits that we decide to adopt. Will they be long term habits that feel like your favorite jeans? or will they soon get discarded like that Snuggie that your cousin gave you for Christmas?
See, when we set out to create new habits for ourselves, we want to go towards that sweet spot: stretching juuuuuuust enough so that it’s challenging, but not so much that it’s overwhelming and unsustainable.
Far too often, we set out to make dramatic changes to our routines. And when we commit to these new behaviors, they don’t seem like they’re that out of the ordinary because we base the difficulty off of something that we used to do: “I used to run 3 times a week for 1/2 hour. It seems reasonable, so I’m going to restart that same habit.”
Or that someone who is similar to us is doing: “My friend Mary changed to a vegan diet & is loving it. She said it was easy for her, and she’s a hot mess, so it will probably be easy for me too!”
But if we aren’t able to sustain these changes, it might not be the case that the end goal is too lofty, but maybe the step that we’ve decided to take is too ambitious from where we currently are – our current circumstances, abilities, and lifestyle.
If we used to run 3 times per week, but haven’t done that in a year, we should take a step back, and start more slowly. A lot can change in our lives in a year: schedules, weight, conditioning, personal circumstances and commitments, and so much more that make doing what we used to do unsustainable.
Setting out on behavior goals in this instance is kinda like the Papa Bear – they’re too big, too uncomfortable, & we can feel like we’re getting lost in them. It can be too overwhelming, so we decide to quit.
On the flipside of that, there’s the Baby Bear behavior goals.
You’ve heard me talk about taking small, steps. Things that are easily doable – and believe me when I say that it’s a great strategy. But we also need to feel like we’re making progress. That we’re getting uncomfortable every day for some kind of pay-off. We need to receive some sort of positive affirmation that our behavior is paying off, and putting us in the right direction. It’s not enough to know – we need to feel it.
So, if the behavior goals that we create for ourselves are too small, we might not get that positive confirmation, and therefore again, we’re likely to give up.
When we set out on making changes, we want to go towards that sweet spot: the Momma Bear habits: those habits that stretch us juuust enough, but aren’t so uncomfortable that they make us want to stop.
And as much as I love leaning in to habits, and make them easy to sustain, we need to do things that are challenging, that allow us to stretch & grow as people, and that also noticeably contribute to what our end goal is: more energy, better sleep, feeling better, fewer cravings, or better weight.
Like my client Sarah. Sarah wanted to feel like she felt 20 years ago when she was cycling with her husband. She was in the best shape of her life. But with an injury, and life getting in the way, so did her cycling. She set a goal to get back on the bike 3x per week for 30 minutes, and then a longer ride on the weekend.
Seems doable. Right?
But after 2 weeks, it was too much. She was sore. The 30 minutes of riding actually took longer because of the preparation and getting to a safe location. She was ready to give up. And if we weren’t working together, she probably would have.
We came up with a plan that worked better. That eased her into it, took her schedule into consideration, and even though she isn’t on her bike 4x per week, she IS exercising. She’s happy, she feels better, and she feels like she’s on the road to getting back to where she was 20 years ago (in a 50 year old’s body 😉
So – how do you know what to do?
I probably err on the side of Baby Bear.
1) Honor where you are: It doesn’t matter if you used to do this habit with ease when you were 20, 5 years ago, or 6 months. Acknowledge that your life is different now, and that you might have different challenges than you did before.
2) Make it easy: Set out to do behaviors that are so super simple that you can’t NOT succeed. This does 2 things: It gets us started, but more importantly, it starts to create trust in ourselves. Far too often, we make commitments to ourselves, and we don’t honor them. THIS IS NOT OKAY. We need to have self-integrity. Self-Integrity is doing what we say we’re going to do. If you’re someone who honors commitments to others but not yourself, you’re out of self-integrity & this is step of making it easy will be CRUCIAL for you.
3) Pivot – Don’t Quit: If you don’t succeed – that doesn’t mean anything other than it didn’t work out. Instead of just giving up (on yourself), ask & get curious. Ask why. Why didn’t it work? And then adjust – size the goal down a notch, make a better plan, ask for support – whatever it is that you see got in your way, adjust it & try again.