Making positive changes is so exciting in the beginning stages, but it can quickly become overwhelming for any number of reasons.
First, it could be difficult to know exactly what action to take. Just do a google search for "how to XYZ" and you'll find what to do, what not to do, and then someone else will tell you to do the exact opposite! There's so many different thoughts and ideas from experts about what is the "right way" to approach something that analysis paralysis can take over. When we have too many options, we usually end up doing nothing for fear of doing the wrong thing. Confusion has a tendency to stop us in our tracks.
Truth: God is not a God of confusion, chaos, or disorder. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Another issue is getting past the idea that you have to take the "perfect" action. The truth is that it doesn't exist. The "all or nothing" mindset usually results in nothing because we are forever delaying the action until the perfect opportunity and/or the perfect avenue present themselves. Spoiler alert: the stars rarely align! The best time to take action is now. The best approach is to offer yourself grace in the process and avoid being so critical of yourself.
Truth: God has not called us to be perfect, but to pursue holiness. (1 Peter 1:15-16)
It can also be difficult to maintain an objective perspective when you are the one going through the process. We always want change to happen more quickly than it does. A lot of times we will try something and give up without fully investing long enough in the change process to see if what we do will actually makes a difference. Try not to become impatient and jump to the next latest and greatest trend before you give your current process a fair try. Besides, the tried and true methods are much more reliable than any quick fix you come across. You know the saying—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Still, it can be difficult not to become emotional and to succumb to those emotions, because there are such strong desires behind why you want to achieve your goals. For some of us, we start to beat ourselves up thinking it will help us to succeed. In realty, negative emotions like guilt, shame, and self-deprecation don't serve us well. Despite what you may think, beating yourself up won't motivate you. It actually perpetuate a yo-yo or rebound type cycle. If you can remove the self-judgment and emotion from the situation and really get to work from an objective standpoint, it can make it so much easier to sort through all these things.
Truth: God does not intend for us to be fearful. He intends for us to be loving, full of wisdom, and to have good judgement. (2 Timothy 1:7)
My recommendation is to treat the situation like a clinical trial, and understand that it is more like being in a life-long learning mode. This removes the urgency and the perception that trying one thing that isn't successful means you have failed entirely. There's so many different things in life which require constant recalculation and pivot points before we find something that works, and our health journey is no different.
I mentioned before how Google (and every expert you talk to) will have no shortage of information and recommendations. The problem is never about a lack of knowledge. If we were able to follow a specific step-by-step protocol, then everyone would be successful with their goals, but this is just not the case. Everyone has a unique set of circumstances which means that things might need to be approached a little differently from one person to the next in order to achieve the desired outcome. What works for you is not necessarily what will work for someone else and vice versa. The alternative is like expecting that someone else's favorite outfit will fit well and flatter you. No matter how great it looks on them, or how much you adore it too, you would never expect that it would work well for you! Just think how lovely it will feel to find what fits well for you, doesn't make you uncomfortable doing it, and allows for you to maintain it with relative ease once you have all the pieces put together!
With all this in mind, I've come up with a method that makes it easier to run through this process of figuring what works well for you without getting overwhelmed and giving up before you have a chance actually work through things. Yes you will need to roll your sleeves up and figure things out, but it will be worth it.
Also, you won't know that something is sustainable for you until you get your feet wet so to speak and actually try it. If it works well for you, but you're miserable doing it, then you won't be able to maintain it long term. If it works well for you, but you don't get good results from it, then you might want to think about adjusting to a different avenue to reach your goals.
With the O.A.T.S. method, you will start with any particular area that you're trying to go to work on improving.
First, just go into observer mode for a bit. Just like a science researcher starts with the problem and will analyze it from all angles in order to see what step to take first to try to solve the problem, so you will want to approach your situation. Don't judge it—remove any labels from things as being "good" or "bad." Just try to see things objectively and gather pieces of information. If you find it difficult not to get discouraged or down about yourself, it can be helpful to treat the process as if it was someone else you are assessing. Then you are able to give much more grace and detach from the emotional parts of everything. In your observations, think of places that you can go to work on. By this, I mean that you will want to find some area that you could take action steps in order to test for different outcome.
Next, make adjustments. Come up with an action plan based on the observations you made. Find a way to make a small change with a specific idea of what that looks like and the action steps needed to implement it. The more clear and specific, the better. It is hard to act when we don't have clarity. Remember, this isn't clarity in the final outcome. Just on the actual action step of your adjustment.
Give yourself enough time trying the adjustments that you came up with that you will be able to see what happens. Allow yourself enough time to get feedback on how the process works for you (if it fits into your life realistically, if you enjoy it or not, and if it's getting your results or not). Give yourself long enough to collect enough data so that you can start again in observer mode for as long as is needed to figure things out. You may have to repeat the process several times to find what works.
So, in the meantime, the cycle continues in a feed-forward loop, ideally allowing you for consistent gradual improvement. Observe, adjust, trial, repeat until you find clarity on what works—success!
Once you understand what works well for you, then you continue to follow the habits that allow for success. The longer you practice them, the more ingrained they become, which streamlines your process! Behavior changes take about 21 days, even with as little as 7 minutes a day spent practicing them. It takes about 63 days for the behavior to become a new habit. Keep in mind that your new habits are still fragile, even at that point, so guard them well.
You will still want to check in with yourself every so often by starting back in observer mode. You may have to revisit and revise things that were working well for you at one time, but now do not. Seasons of life change and your strategies for success will too.
Here is an example of the process from start to finish based off of my experience with my exercise plan:
When I first started weight training, I loved to do my morning workouts at the YMCA. It kept me accountable to see the same people every day and I enjoyed the variety of equipment. After a job change, my commute time doubled from what what I was used to, and I was forced to revisit my process.
I observed what I enjoyed (the atmosphere of the gym and the type of things I was able to do there—weights, machines, indoor track, and group classes). I also looked at what my schedule was like and noted the only time I could go was after work.
I adjusted by moving my workouts to a different time in order to keep the same type of training routine.
I did a trial by doing my workouts in the evening for a few weeks to see how it went.
Then I went back in to observer mode. I noted that I was so tired by the time I got off of work that it just wasn't realistic and my workouts were dragging to the point that I didn't even enjoy them. Besides that, the gym was so crowded that the only equipment I could really get to without having to wait was a limited amount of free weights, and I already had that at home!
I decided to try adjust again by doing home workouts with the equipment that I collected over the years. I found that I could do almost everything I needed to with some minor modifications. That solved the weight training problem. I really wasn't using the classes often enough to miss them and I could run through our neighborhood when the weather was nice to replace the indoor track.
This time I stuck with it for several months as a trial because, besides being realistic, I wanted to make sure it was also effective for making progress. I wanted to make sure of both before I invested in more equipment which I knew I would need if the change was going to be long-term. After that trial period, I noted that I saw consistent progress, so I knew it was effective. I also enjoyed it and didn't miss the classes. It fit easily into my schedule which made it realistic and sustainable. Success!
Once I knew the process was a success and that I would be able to sustain it, I invested in a bit more equipment to get what I needed in order to do even more from home. I added things little by little with the money I would have used for my gym membership. Working out form home has continued to work well for me. I see results and I enjoy the convenience. It fits into my schedule. It is now my new habit. I don't need to do much more other then check in every so often with an observer mentality. If in the future I thought about changing my type of training program, like training for a marathon or adding in Yoga, then this would be an example of when I might need to re-evaluate with O.A.T.S. by starting again in observer mode.
I hope that this has been helpful for you! Let me know if you have any questions. Also, if you are interested in learning more about making healthy living a sustainable lifestyle, be sure to join us for the next Dashing Dish Stronger Together Challenge, as this is just a little peek into the type of things we cover!