No matter what your goals are for the New Year, consistency – not willpower, is the name of the game.  

“Doing it all at once” is at odds with consistency

I don’t know about you, but whenever I make an exhaustive list of all the things I want to achieve in the next … (insert unattainable timeline here), I immediately feel overwhelmed and defeated. Where to begin, which goal, and how to start? 

We’re much more likely to succeed in any given task (no matter how small or apparently insignificant) if it can be done reliably every single day no matter what. In fact, the likelihood of success decreases with each additional item on our to-do list, so don’t try to do it all at once! 

From goal to action

For a greater chance of success, focus on one thing – one task, action, or change at a time. But how do we identify that one thing that will bring us closer to our goals?

To be successful, we need to be strategic. Work smarter, not harder, right? Strategic actions are simple, small, and therefore, easy to repeat over and over again. More importantly, a successful action plan must take into account the 4Ps: personal preferences, practical circumstances, psychology (how you handle stress), and physiology (your health status). In other words, the best approach is the one we create for ourselves based on our own needs. Cookie-cutter programs don’t work for most people because they lack this crucial element of individualization.

Here is a “rinse and repeat” approach to help you identify that one thing that will bring you closer to our goals this new year.

Limiting powers and superpowers

Limiting factors work against you. Superpowers are the advantages you have that can be leveraged against your limiting factors, helping you work through your obstacles and blocks. In some cases, these superpowers can be things that are already working in your favor (ie. you are already hitting the gym 2-3x per week). 

Building your own action plan

  1. Identify your limiting factors. When thinking about your top goal, what is blocking you? What obstacles do you anticipate getting in the way?
  2. What are your superpowers? What are you naturally good at? Maybe it’s planning or organizing, or a positive mindset. These superpowers are advantages unique to you, and might help you work through your limiting factors. This also includes the things you are currently doing that are working for you. So make sure you highlight those bright spots in your life!

Let’s go through an example because this can be a tricky exercise for many of us.

Step 1. Identify your limiting factors

Let’s say you want to lose body fat, and you struggle with hunger and cravings. Eventhough fat loss is the end goal, we can’t control how much fat we lose. For most of us, getting hunger and cravings in check is within our control AND it relates to the larger goal of fat loss because eating too much contributes to fat gain. 

Going back to our example, let’s say you don’t typically eat breakfast, and you graze all day instead of eating meals. By evening, you’re ravenous. Your willpower is drained, and you can’t resist the snack cupboard. In this case, “hunger and craving control” is a skill that you may want to develop.

What things could you do to prevent this from happening tomorrow night? Here are some practices to support this skill based on my personal work with clients:

  • Eat slowly and mindfully
  • Recognize hunger and cravings cues
  • Normalize and routinize eating habits

Given the additional information that I shared about my hypothetical client, one particular practice stands out. Can you guess which one? Read on to find out.

Step 2. What are your superpowers?

Let’s say that you’re good at planning and you’re very organized. How might you put your strengths to use to normalize and routinize eating habits?

  • Plan an eating/fasting window to reduce “graze time” at night. Within one hour of waking, you eat your first meal. Four hours before bedtime, you eat your last meal. If desired, this window could be shifted or expanded on weekends to accomodate a social event.
  • Meal planning and prepping so that it’s quick and easy to start your day with a protein smoothie.

It’s often the preparation that causes people to quit.

If you practice this 2-step approach for building action plans, you can successfully leverage your strengths and superpowers to manage or reduce the impact of your limiting factors, while also reducing the friction caused by forming new habits.

A couple of reminders

  1. Focus on one thing – one task, action, or change at a time. When that one thing becomes easy (too easy), move on to the next task. Repeat this process to identify your next task.
  2. Perfection is not required here. This is just a structure or a starting point to help you build your plan. 

Accountability and support

When you’re feeling confident and ready to get started with the plan, consider what you’ll do for support and accountability. Who will you check in with, how often, and what can they help with? That’s where a health coach or accountability buddy may come in handy.

Assess, investigate and modify 

Don’t be afraid to modify the plan if it’s not working. Check-in with yourself every week or two and consider if you’re progressing towards your goal. If you are, keep up the great work. If not, modify and adjust, then carry on. Gather data about how well your plan is working, and tailor it accordingly. Gathering data about progress can be as simple as choosing and tracking a single subjective and objective metric that is important to YOU, such as your hunger levels throughout the day (subjective), and your weight (objective) or how your clothes fit and feel on your body (both subjective and objective).

Sustainable fat loss takes time and practice

There is actually a variety of behavior changes involved in developing any new skill. This isn’t easy stuff! Don’t get trapped in all-or-none thinking or perfectionism when building your action plan. Ideally, the actions that matter most should also be the actions that are easiest to do. Easy = more reps. Consistency is the name of the game. The more times your repeat a given behavior, the easier it becomes. New habits are formed from long-term consistency, not one-off perfect actions. As Bruce Lee once said, “long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.”

Lastly, remember to celebrate every small victory, no matter how apparently insignificant. The more you reinforce daily wins and accomplishments, the more motivated you’ll feel. 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash