3 steps toward lasting change in 2016

I just had my left ankle replaced. Yes, ankle. With the marvels of modern medicine, this, too, is possible. After decades of mounting pain and limited mobility as the result of a winter accident, I’m going to be a new man in 2016. I’ll be walking better and longer. As a result, I’ll have more energy. Maybe now I’ll finish the Appalachian Trail … maybe even the Pacific Crest. I’ll take more trips. Maybe I’ll even be better looking….

“Whoa cowboy!” my inner rational voice tells me. Those things may happen, but there’s a few steps before all that, such as preventing clots and infection while I’m immobile, getting the cast off, rebuilding mobility and strength with rehab … lots of rehab…

The Resolution Dilemma

And so it is, my friends, with any change you might be contemplating for 2016. Please forget the classic New Year’s resolution — the ones that go for the gusto … “no pain, no gain,” and “go for the gold” type of lifestyle changes that you and everybody else have tried before and failed miserably at. It’s noble to want to be better. I applaud it. And it can happen … but not the way you think.

There is one slogan I want you to adopt: no fear. That’s a good one because the reason we fail at the typical New Year’s resolution is because, as a species that evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we, like our ancestors, are internally wired to respond to large change, whether extrinsic or self-induced, with a fear-like response that prevents us from bringing all the needed abilities we have to bear on our effort to change. We fail because we present ourselves with large, usually impractical (if not impossible) change within a particular, unrealistic time frame. Small steps essentially do an end run on the fear response, and we can move ahead with all our success cylinders firing.

Our New Change Hero

I give you the venerable tortoise, who very un-dramatically takes small, consistent steps toward a goal that may be a long way and a long time away. I also give you kaizen, a Japanese approach to change that’s based on small steps — in fact, the smallest step possible toward larger goals. Dr. Robert Maurer, in his powerful book, “One Small Step Can Save Your Life,” tells of a process that sounds ridiculously simple and even laughable to we overachieving Americans, but which is exponentially more successful with lifestyle change.

So, my end-of-year-and-new-beginnings brothers and sisters, let’s be better in 2016. Let’s move toward lifestyles that will keep us healthier as we age, improve the quality of our lives and make us feel confident we are more in control of our well-being. But let’s do it as the tortoise does — the kaizen way. Here are three simple tips:

Three Tips to Bring Successful Change to 2016

1. Do your internal homework. Ask yourself — and answer clearly — why and what you want to change. If that’s not clear, there’s no way you’re going to stay the course. You will be lured off course by the first miracle claim, or too-good-to-be-true “guaranteed” result.

2. Then, here’s the big adjustment to your classic way of approaching change … Ask yourself, “What is the smallest thing I can do to begin this change?” Now make that your goal for now. Not the big goal. Just this small first step. For example, “I’m going to stand during TV commercials,” vs. “I’m going to run five miles every day.” Imagine yourself doing that small thing. This begins to program your brain for success.

3. When you achieve the small goal, set the next smallest goal and work toward that. If you fail to meet a goal, step back and make the goal even smaller by doing less or giving yourself more time. Forget the self-loathing or picture of a pig on the refrigerator response. You shot too high. Modify it, and push ahead. This way, you cannot fail. And all the while you’ll be developing confidence and competence muscles which will make you the Rocky of 2016 and beyond.


Aren’t you better off having multiple small successes over a longer period than one short colossal failure? Really, the tortoise brings it! Maybe slower, but he does bring it!

So, I’m going to tortoise my way into 2016 toward a more mobile, pain-free, healthier me. And, I’m still holding out that I’m going to be more handsome, too…

All the best for 2016, dear readers.

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3 Steps Toward Lasting Change in 2016 originally appeared on usnews.com

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