I’m a big Bill Murray fan. I believe his funniest movie ever is “What About Bob.” In it, he plays the part of an extreme hypochondriac with lots of other issues. His therapist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) tells him to just take “baby steps,” explaining to Bob that in order to get better, he just needs to build on little victories. As you probably know, I’m a strong advocate of health and fitness. I belong to a gym. In fact, I’m at the gym every morning at 5:15 a.m. I don’t really like getting up and going to the gym that early, but I love the feeling of leaving 45 minutes later sweaty and energized. It’s become a habit and it’s ingrained into my very being.
Last year, on January 2, I showed up as usual, sleepy-eyed and only half awake. I looked up and was caught off guard. The place was packed!!! I think to myself, “It’s 5 in the morning, what are all these people doing here? Did I oversleep? I couldn’t have, it is still dark outside.” And then it hit me: they were all well-intentioned people who made a New Years’ resolution and were trying to start the year off right.
Guess what happened next? Well, a week later, there were still a few more people than usual. But within a couple of weeks, it was back to the regulars. What happened? This is my guess: these genuinely well-intentioned people said to themselves, “I need to get into shape. I haven’t exercised in years, but starting in January, I’m going to get up early in the morning. I’m going to go to the gym and exercise for an hour 5-days a week. I’m really going to do it this time.”
But remember, they haven’t exercised in years. They start going to the gym and they’re tired and sore. Willpower gets them through the first week, maybe. Pretty soon, it begins to fade. They begin to notice their other habits that have been displaced by the major change, whether it’s losing an extra hour of sleep, not allowing enough time to get the kids off to school or whatever it may be. They become overwhelmed by the change, and – more often than not – they quit.
So what’s the lesson here? I believe that the chance of success is dramatically increased when you set realistic, short-term goals that you CAN complete. Instead of taking a major leap or trying to overhaul your life in one day, start small. Commit to a small change. If, for example, you want to start exercising in the mornings, start incorporating the new habit in increments. Wake up 10 minutes earlier than normal and walk one time around the block. At the end of the week, congratulate yourself. Then step it up a bit more. Wake up 20 minutes earlier, and add push ups. If you continue this process, at the end of the year, you’re at the gym every morning at 5:15 am and it’s a habit.
Take baby steps, my friends, baby steps…