December 30, 2009

Number One Secret to Keeping Fitness Resolutions

This is just a short post today, because we also have a giveaway going on over at our product page. The folks from the website Sparkpeople have a new book out, called The Spark, and we've got 5 copies to give away! So if you're a U.S. resident you want to pop over and check out "The Spark" book giveaway.

But since it's just about time for Official New Years Resolution season, I'd thought I'd kick off our "back to basics" thing here at Cranky Fitness with one of the simplest, most straight-forward, and incredibly effective motivational secrets for achieving your health and fitness goals. The reason I'm writing about something so obvious? It's because it's probably the most frequently forgotten principle of success, and nearly everyone spaces out and blows it off now and then.

So what is this incredible and crucial motivational tool?

Photo: bbaltimore

Yep, that's right:

Break things down into Baby Steps.

Well, gosh, bet you never thought of that before!

But people always say "yeah of course" and then they forget to do it.

I know I do.

Here's what happens. I'll start with a good idea, like: I should drink more water. Or: I'd like to stop slumping so much and sit up straight.

And I like the picture in my head of the end result: a poised and well-hydrated crab, that's great! So I turn it into a goal: "More water and less slumping for Crabby, starting right now!"

Then, perhaps I'll even drink a glass of water and sit up straight for 30 seconds. And that will pretty much be the end of it.

But what I often forget to do is actually break the goal down into baby steps and turn it into a realistic, achievable plan. A plan with specifics and time-frames and accountability and rewards. Like: I will fill up my water bottle and finish it x number of times before lunch and x more times before dinner. And every day I do I'll mark off on the calendar and when I get enough days I get a pretty shiny new water bottle! Or: I will set a reminder on my computer to check my posture every 2 minutes until I start remembering, then every five minutes, etc, until I finally just do it naturally and can have a massage or something similarly wonderful as a reward!

And those are just little goals--I've seen people forget the baby steps with really hard goals, too. They'll say things like "I'm going to run a marathon" or "I'm going to go on a diet and lose 100 pounds," but they never figure out how to plan and prepare and break those months or years of slogging and sacrifice into smaller achievable steps. They try to run 10 miles their first day and end up injured and out of commission for months and they never try running again. Or they try to subsist on nothing but kale and asparagus and non-fat salad dressing, and after 2 days they end up sneaking off for 15,000 calorie potato skin and onion ring binge at TGIFridays.

Our pal Merry was just blogging about this exact same phenomenon over at Sheesh. But unlike many folks, she's actually doing things differently this time, and breaking her running plan down into steps. And the good news: she seems to be well on her way from the couch to a 5K.

Similarly, Kate over at Fabulous at 50, who's already accomplished amazing things, recently wrote a post assessing where she was with her exercise goals, and then figured out where she'd like get to from there. She pondered the various options and was realistic about which exercises she liked and which one she didn't, and even calculated what the chances of success were with each option. Then she put everything together and came up with a Fitness Plan for the New Year.

That kind of thinking is very different from saying "I'm going to lose a bunch of weight and get in shape," with vague pictures in your mind of suddenly eating lots of salads and being magically skinny and running half-marathons before breakfast and never eating sweets again.

The reality? If you never liked to eat tons of salads before, and you haven't been running in years, and you LOVE Oreo cookies and can't go a day without eating half a dozen... it's probably going to take a lot of small, incremental baby steps to get you where you're going.

Also, as Big Girl Bombshell points out, it's going to take patience.

Lots of patience.

Because getting fit and leading a healthy lifestyle is a long-term investment, with long-term rewards. It's totally worth it! But you're probably going to have to get in the habit of thinking in baby-steps and celebrating each victory along the way, no matter how small.

So do you folks generally break big goals into smaller steps, and acknowledge incremental achievements? Or do you think big and just dive right in?


  1. I have mini-goals, but I'm finding, especially after reading your post, that my mini-goals need baby steps.

    I'm the most motivated at night when I'm about to go to sleep (quiet time). Then in the morning I'm on automatic and forget to apply any action.

    Baby step #1: This morning I will take time to myself to plan other baby steps.

  2. Think big. Gusto for the first week. Dive back into old habbits after that.
    Baby steps. Know the concept, but as you said: fail to follow through and actually plan it out! That's my goal this week. Make plans and organize my days so that I'll actually do the things I want to do! lol. How inovative, right?

  3. I find diving in is more effective for me. I tend to get complacent with baby steps.. thinking "OK.. I've accomplished what I set out to do" and conveniently forgetting that there are many more baby steps ahead.

  4. McCrabby, First of all thanks for the shout out. Secondly, as I said over at 10X Club - you were most certainly watching over my shoulder this morning...This has gotten really spooky...

    My post today Resolutions - I;d rather play connect the dots is about making a game out of it and bridging all those baby steps to get to the big bang. My acronym for goals is Good Orderly Action Leading to Success. The tiny, tiny things with think of as no biggee build up in time. Just like the Oreos everyday lead to pounds and inches at the end of the year so can 10 minutes on the Wii every morning lead to pounds and inches.....Lost not gained..

  5. Probably both. With fitness related stuff I dive right in...then realize I've chosen something rather overwhelming and start setting mini-goals. I do have to keep reminding myself there's a bigger goal though. Otherwise I just make the mini steps smaller and smaller.

    With food related goals (drink more water, eat more veggies), I have to just do it all at once. Otherwise my goal to slowly cut back on sugar gets lost in the shuffle. Cold turkey is the only way I can make it.

  6. Great idea for a post, Crabby :)

    I'm so easily distracted by Bright Shiny Things that I need a schedule of some sort that leads to my goal. Kind of like a Drill Sargent, but without the yelling. Can't face yelling /and/ exercise.

  7. I have nothing to add to what you've said, you said it all. My whole blog is based on having a plan and making sure the plan is achievable. When I don't follow my own advice, let's say, I have issues.

    Great post.

  8. Great post, Crabby! I successfully started a wait training program using the baby steps method. Or rather, I used the "one song" method.

    Pick a few favorite songs of the "makes you want to dance" variety, and each day listen to one song and do a different set of weight-training or abs exercises.

    For the first two weeks, it's forbidden to do more than one song per day. Once the habit is established, though, it feels very natural to start doing two songs a day or three.

    Anyone can get motivated for just one song. Anyone can find the time. The most important thing is to act and not just talk about it.

  9. Patience is the big one. If we want to make changes that can last, dramatic ones are not so likely to work. My own experience involved adding 30 minutes of mild cardio a day (every day - I didn't know about rest days & all that) & making sure I didn't change my eating habits at all - in other words, no increase in food even though I was using more calories. That worked for me. I lost about 2 pounds a month for a couple of years & ended up right where I wanted to be. I've been there now for 7 years.

    During those years, though, things have improved in all sorts of ways - I've gotten stronger, improved my eating habits, and finally, ditched my car & now get around almost entirely by bicycle. It's all happened a bit at a time. Eating, for example. First, no more sodas (unless I am on a bicycle century ride & it's hot!), but I still had a lot of lemonade. Then a switch from lemonade to water with fresh lemon juice.

    Making resolutions? To me the key there is not to try to say what I will do tomorrow. If I am not ready to do it today, it probably won't happen.

    In case you are thinking, yeah, might be easy for you...I am a 58- year-old grandmother and cancer survivor. The first time I ran (very, very slowly) for exercise, I was 49.

    More baby steps? I keep meaning to create an id so I can comment here other than under the popular "anonymous" label. Today I have taken that baby step.

    I always look forward to my Cranky Fitness fix!

  10. I like to break things down into smaller bits because I reward myself as each bit is accomplished.
    Currently I do some exercises that call for a max. 21 reps each. I do most of them (there are five different exercises) in segments of seven and rest in between each set. Three sets of seven is one hell of a lot easier to do than one set of 21.

  11. I completely agree with this! My theme song in medical school, other than "Jack and Diane," was a misheard version of Tom Petty's "The Waiting." My version, "Every day is one more yard, you take it by the yard." You don't really think I run a marathon any other way than one step at a time, do you :-)

  12. Well, I kind of dive right in at first, and then figure out that I need to do some step work, so usually some backtracking occurs. But if I don't jump on something when I'm inspired then I usually end up forgetting about it.

  13. Great post! I always forget about taking baby steps and when I jump in head first I always get burnt out and never finish. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. GREAT POST Crabby! The SMART principle! I think people can get overwhelmed & then discouraged if they try to take on too much. Breaking it down into smaller & measurable goals that are achievable & move you forward in a positive manner is the way to go for most.

    Yes, we are all different & some may work better in the jumping in & big goal stuff but I think that is the minority. Weight loss & getting fit is tough stuff & we need to keep ourselves motivated & positive. The SMART principle does that yet it still allows for us to push & challenge ourself.

  15. It's amazing how making ONE small change can make a HUGE difference. Thanks for the reminder!

  16. A great reminder! Baby steps with big projects can be pretty intimidating because there get to be a lot of them. I have to break my big list of baby steps into several short lists (and I only look at one short list at a time) if I want to get anything done!

  17. I love this post and I love the image of a sitting-up-straight, well hydrated crab!
    On the rare occasion I manage to set a big goal, it must scare the crap out of me and cost me $$ to commit to--like a marathon. My inner tightwad keeps me training because I hate to waste the moola.

  18. Baby, I've been told that as a young child my approach to anything was to try it, if I failed wouldn't try it again until I figured out how to succeed the next time. (riding a bike is one example) Of course, I deny this, but you can't argue with parents.

    I think I need to try it this way, give it more than one chance and set little goals.

  19. Well, as a member of procrastinators anonymous (really, I keep meaning to join, honest I do), I have to admit that I just never seem to get around to doing it.

    I do admit that the few times I have done it, it has worked.

  20. I do a long term plan with short term plans that all contribute to reaching the long one. So yeah that sounds like the baby steps thing.

  21. Great post. Especially with big goals, baby steps helps keep me in line. With getting my aching knees in walking shape, if I didn't rejoice after meeting small goals I'd always feel like a failure. Taking baby steps makes bigger resolutions seem less daunting.

  22. I keep setting these ridiculously lofty goals and then the deadline to fulfill them comes, goes, and... nothing. *sigh* If I would have taken baby steps over the two years that I've been trying to lose 30 pounds in 3 weeks (not really three... but...) I could have been at my goal a million times over by now. So I'm absolutely going to take baby steps... and finally get there!

  23. I've always been a large goal with no plan or baby steps type of person. Now that I'm working with a nutritional health counselor, I have intense accountability, bi weekly meetings etc so that's helping to set much smaller goals. When I first started, my goal was to get through ONE day with no after dinner snacking. Actually, I'm still doing that day by day.

    I'm excited about the Perfect 10 challenge because I plan to make my goals measurable, attainable, and lasting.

    Great post!!

  24. I used to jump in and try to accomplish big goals. But now I've learned that maintaining a steady pace is best achieved by baby steps. I can achieve so much more by breaking down my goals into little steps.

  25. I am one of those who can't break things down into baby steps so thanks to things like couch to 5K and other programs I actually get things accomplished (50 pounds down). I sure wish I could figure the steps out but I need my hand held! I now am working on running 10K thanks to baby steps other people have written out.

  26. That motivation poster is amazing!

  27. Great post! I unconsciously stopped slouching while reading it.

  28. This is exactly how to start something new, especially exercise which is often uncomfortable and inconvenient. I really like the idea of marking the calendar with rewards for completing the steps. I have used this with great success working with clients.


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