4.28.2009

Micro-Goals for Motivation Success


We all know that exercise can help us feel good, but that first step can be a challenge even for people in the best of health. It’s even harder when you carry the burden of obesity, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue. These conditions sap your strength, crush your motivation, and turn your thoughts pessimistic.

But micro-goals can help you outsmart those symptoms. I used this particular set of micro-goals to start walking when I was sick and depressed. Perhaps they’ll inspire you to take your first steps.

Micro-Goals for Exercising

You can use the micro-goal approach however you like, but I experienced dramatic results with walking. Experts may say you should get 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, but to me that sounds like a massive commitment. Sometimes I struggle to motivate myself to spend 5 minutes unloading the dishwasher, much less getting dressed in workout gear to sweat, huff, and puff for 30 minutes.

So when my doctor recommended walking to ease my depression, I wanted to try it but I couldn’t imagine pulling off the daily exercise. Then a physical therapist advised me to start with 5 minutes per day. His advice sounded realistic. Do-able.

I won’t lie—those first few days were miserable and hard. But soon it got better, and so did I. It all started with that first micro-goal: 5 minutes of walking. Here are some of the micro-goal strategies that worked for me:

Put One Foot on the Floor

With depression, even getting out of bed or off the couch can seem like too much. If getting up is a challenge, don’t even think about exercise. Instead, think of the smallest possible first step: putting one foot on the floor. That tiny movement can jump-start your momentum.

Get into Gear

Literally: put on your walking clothes and shoes. Do it first thing when you wake up or get home from work. This strategy prepares you to take advantage of the slightest hint of motivation when it strikes. If motivation doesn’t come, that’s okay. But if it does, you’re ready.

Feel Terrible… and Do It Anyway

It sounds simplistic, but this mental trick lies at the heart of motivation success. Exercise novices can’t fake the feeling of energy and eagerness that comes naturally to advanced fitness enthusiasts. So go ahead and acknowledge that you feel awful and don’t want to walk; I sometimes say it out loud in an exaggerated, whiny voice: “I don’t WANT to go out!” Saying it aloud makes a thought real, and thus less powerful; and the whiny tone helps me recognize my stubbornness while the silliness factor helps me laugh at myself.

Once you let go of your resistance to negative thoughts and accept that you feel terrible and unmotivated, those thoughts
become less powerful and overwhelming. As long as your physician gives you the okay, it can’t hurt to walk out that door despite whatever excuses your body and mind throw at you.

Remember: It’s Only Five Minutes

Don’t worry about long-term commitment or some “30-minutes-a-day” nonsense. A short walk to the end of the street and back was the perfect start for me because I could remind yourself that it was only five minutes—and I could even see my destination from the front door. If that still sounds overwhelming, your first walk objective could be walking for one minute around your living room. Whatever your comfort level, make your first goal one that you can accomplish.

Celebrate Success

One way to transform depression’s negative thought patterns is to increase positive thinking. When you accomplish any of these steps—even just getting one foot on the floor—praise yourself for that effort and achievement! It’s easy to get in the habit of discounting our accomplishments. We think “it’s no big deal,” or “I should’ve/could’ve done it sooner/longer/better.” Banish these kinds of thoughts. You must be your own best advocate. Instead, try thoughts like, “I got moving… that’s a great start” or simply: “I’m awesome.”

Step by Step

Walking is an ideal place to start when it comes to exercise. It’s something almost anyone can do. It requires nothing other than mobility, comfortable shoes, and stepping out the door. Plus, somehow “taking a walk” sounds more mundane and convenient than “exercise” or “working out.” While it’s just a matter of terminology, every little bit of psychological edge helps.

Motivation to Momentum

With micro-goals, don’t even worry about long-term commitment or how you’ll work up to longer, more frequent sessions. Those things will take care of themselves when the time comes. Just use micro-goals to break the process down into the smallest possible increments. Tiny steps get you moving; then you can build momentum from that initial success.

Try these strategies to achieve the hardest part: getting started. Realize micro-goals with small, manageable steps. And as you build momentum, strength, and stamina you’ll be on your way to better physical and mental health. For now, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other.



1 comment:

Sharon and Mike Williams said...

As usual you give good advice in a succinct and non-preachy style. Thanks!