Have you ever struggled with making lasting, positive change to your behavior? It seems like most people have a hard time with that. We stop eating vegetables and go back to our old eating habits, drop our latest exercise routine after a month, or put off the important next steps in our education.
I’ve inadvertently found a method to support lasting behavior change. I call it “What’s Worked Before?”
It started on a bleak January day when I wrote a draft of this blog to avoid an overwhelming project. I was in charge of a complicated website redesign that was due in three months, but I was stuck in a crushing amount of decisions.
To get my mind off my worry, I wrote about exercising consistently. It was refreshing to work on something that felt simple. However, as I finished my encouraging exercise blog, I felt like a fraud. How could I give advice about positive behavior change when I couldn’t even motivate myself to complete a high profile project?
Then a question popped into my head: “What’s worked before?” Newly energized, I took the main points from what motivated me to keep on exercising and applied them to the seemingly insurmountable challenge of the website redesign. Those main points fell into five categories:
I’ve been exercising on my lunch break for years, but this consistent routine didn’t happen overnight. When I first started, I asked friends and family to check on if I was following through with my exercise. Their ongoing encouragement inspired me to make fitness a priority.
The phrase “You have to name it to tame it” fits well here. At first, my barrier to exercise was simply not having comfortable workout clothes available at work. A quick trip to the clearance rack at the sporting goods store removed that barrier. My concern about taking my lunch break to walk or run was put to rest after reading a study that said that people who exercise regularly typically perform better at work.
- Inspiring Pictures
A picture of a smiling, fit, 84 year old woman who ran the New York marathon 24 years in a row (starting at age 60!) hangs by my office workout clothes. That motivates me to run, whether it’s below freezing or close to 90 degrees.
- Odd Tricks
An upbeat song motivates me to change into my workout gear, especially now that I associate it with exercise. Also, saying firmly to myself, “Take off your shoes” gets me moving even when a workout seems impossible. Once my work shoes are off, I automatically put on my running shoes.
- Linking to Values
Working out is crucial for me because it connects with my core values, like avoiding the heart disease that runs in my family and being healthy for my kids for a long time. Exercise also helps me to be a calmer parent and spouse.
Next, I filled in ideas specifically for the website redesign in each of the five main points from the “What’s Worked Before” list above. For example, when trying to link the website redesign to my values, I realized that the website wasn’t just another difficult project. Completing the website connected with my values of being a dependable worker, creating resources that improve our customers’ lives, and honoring commitments.
It was a great relief to see my completed list of “What’s Worked Before” for the website project. The list gave me a clearer path and made the project seem like a manageable challenge. I pulled out the list at the start of each work day and anytime that I started feeling worried or distracted about getting the website done. By the end of the project, that list was tattered and worn!
What was the end result? Thankfully, the newly designed website was finished on time and received positive feedback. Now that I have a new position here, I’m creating a “What’s Worked Before” list for my new role.
I realize my list may not work for everyone. However, my guess is that when you look back on your own successes, you’ll see an approach to problem-solving that works well for you. What are the key parts or themes of your past successes? How can you apply them to new, unique challenges and experience the thrill of achieving your goals?
It’s worked before. You can do it again.
Tammy S. joined Empathia (then NEAS) in 1994. As Client Success Specialist, she works to deliver ongoing support and guidance around business strategy, from prospect through customer. In her previous role as Product Specialist, she oversaw all of our work/life and wellness vendor partners, coordinated the client website, and assisted in connecting customers with the best services for their needs. Other prior positions at Empathia include Account Executive, Consultation Specialist, and EAP Counselor. Tammy has a Bachelors in Psychology and is a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP), as well as a certified wellness coach.