Have you ever wanted to make a change in your life at some point or another? Did you want to be healthier? Did you want to be more motivated in your career?. Did you want to be better parent or spouse or friend? Did you want to find ways to be happier?

Everyone has wanted to make a change. We get motivated or inspired into making change. Sometimes we even feel pressured to make a change according to the “in” pop culture fad – “Celebrity Mothers Who Lose The Baby Weight in One Month!” or “Top Five Musts For Your Relationship to Succeed!” or “How To Make $1 Million by Age 40!”

But often, what begins as one simple change often snowballs into a large-scale, overwhelming “project”.  We  often end up identifying all of the areas in our life we want to improve and make big plans about doing it ALL AT ONCE. Now, I’m certainly an advocate for change, but I’m an advocate for manageable change.

A friend came to me recently, having spent time reading blogs about improving health. She was excited and ready to go so I asked what she wanted to do. Her plan for herself went something like this:

“I need to exercise. I really need to be at the gym everyday – I’ve been such a slacker! I need to stop eating all this bad food and just eat salads – no more candy, no more bread – I just can’t have carbs anymore. I swear I’m going to be super, totally healthy!”

Her enthusiasm was contagious and I was happy for her, but a red flag also went up. While her desire to improve her health is commendable, the key to real change is to make manageable change.

For example, let’s say my friend decided that come Monday, she would:

Every morning, wake up at 5:30am and go to the gym before work.
Always eat only healthy salads for lunches and dinners.
Never eat bread or other baked goods, desserts, or candy.

What do you think would happen? Every morning? Always? Never? Those words alone are red flags (always and never are very rarely part of reality).

Sure, my friend could start that up on Monday morning. However, after a few days, I suspect she could not keep all of it up. She would feel like she failed, and possibly abandon ship on her entire health improvement plan.

So, what is  manageable change?  Manageable change  is the practice of setting a series of small goals for yourself that you can realistically achieve. As you attain each small goal, you’ll feel successful and motivated to move to the next goal. 

It’s important to evaluate your individual situation. Think about what you can realistically fit into your life without giving up everything you’re used to. I recommend spreading out the changes so you’re not trying to do everything at once.  Remember, set small goals for manageable change!

In the example of my friend, a more manageable set of changes, spread out over time, could be:

  • Commit to exercising three times each week. The “when and where” may change from week to week, but it’s ideal to have your exercise schedule for the week  planned ahead of time to ensure you fit it in.
  • Start eating salads for lunch – but begin by doing so 1-2 per week. After you get comfortable with this, then try for 3-4 times each week.
  • Instead of giving up all carbs, try replacing some of the unhealthy foods with whole grains. Let yourself have a burger or ice cream cone from time to time!

What kind of change would you like to make in your life? How could you make it feel more manageable? Are there smaller goals you could set for yourself to work towards your bigger goal?

Whenever you’re making change in your life, whether big or small, you will have missteps and there will be times that you feel like you didn’t accomplish what you wanted. When this happens, take a step back to learn from these experiences but then move forward.

Remember to congratulate yourself on the successes you have achieved, even if they seem small – those successes are what will keep you moving forward!

Please note that the Toolbox articles are meant to be informative and are not a replacement for therapy.

Making Change Manageable

Supporting your journey to a healthier, happier you
Sara Frawley, LMHC