The Smallest Step

Like many people, the need to take more exercise is a recurring theme for me. I have repeatedly set goals to do the ‘right’ thing – exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 times a week. And not once have I achieved this. Yes that is right ladies and gentlemen, not one single week. So now, when I resolve to take more exercise, my mind has a field day: ‘Yeh right. You won’t do that. It will be just like all the other times’. 

Russ Harris helped me with this at his Happiness Trap workshop. When he spoke about goal setting, he said:

  1. How does this issue relate to what is important to you? For me it is about wanting to do my best to continue to be a healthy partner, mother, friend, hopefully even a sprightly grandmother.
  2. This issue will likely keep turning up in your life. You will get older and wiser and sometime in the next 5 years you will notice that you have fallen back into your old self-defeating patterns … and again in 10 years…. and again in 15 years. Can you feel compassion for that future you? I found acknowledging that this issue keeps on turning up oddly reassuring. I do hope that in the future I will treat myself with compassion – beating myself up certainly hasn’t helped.
  3. Decide on a very small action you could take that would move you towards your value. I decided I would run up and down the stairs in my house twice a week.
  4. What thoughts, feelings, memories and urges are likely to turn up as you take that action?  Are you willing to experience them in the service of that value? Well if you put it like that…

And here I am not only running up my stairs but also standing at my laptop and meeting friends for a walk rather than a coffee.

In terms of behavioural change, Russ did some important things here. He:

  • Linked the behaviour change to values. This builds motivation.
  • Suggested that lapses are to be expected – and that the best way to deal with them is with self-compassion.
  • Encouraged some acceptance of the unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations that are likely to arise. Acceptance of unpleasant internal experiences (thoughts, feelings etc.) is associated with a tendency to persist in the face of difficulty.
  • Encouraged focussing on taking one small step forwards. Taking even a small action towards achieving a goal, builds motivation for more action.

When you are next working towards changing your own behaviour or perhaps coaching a member of your team to improve some aspect of their work – remember to work out how the action links to values, make the first step very small and respond to lapses with compassion.


About Rachel Collis

Rachel gained 15 years experience as a psychiatrist before moving into management consulting in 2001. She now lectures on the Executive MBA program at QUT and provides executive coaching, facilitation and workshops to organisations around Australia. To learn more, visit - http://rachelcollis.com.au/
This entry was posted in Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), Fitness, Health, Stress and resilience. Bookmark the permalink.

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