One Thing at a Time: How to Reach Big Goals with Small Steps

One Thing at a Time: How to Reach Big Goals with Small Steps

As I shuffled down the aisle, my backpack dug deep into my shoulder and pain shot up my lower back. “It didn’t used to feel like this,” I thought to myself as I took an end seat on the plane. It was when I sat down that the reality of my situation hit me completely. My sides brushed against the armrests, the seat belt was tight on the loosest setting, and I knew I would spend the next four hours leaning to the side so I wouldn’t touch the stranger sitting next to me because I didn’t fit.

The weight snuck up on me, again. Having lost 80 pounds in college, over the years my good habits slowly fell back into the old routine that I knew so well. My gym membership expired, takeout was more common than home-cooked, but more subtly, I stopped taking photos, I stopped looking in the mirror, I donated the clothes that no longer fit, I accepted the chronic pain, the chronic sadness, and stopped trying to change any of it.

That trip changed me, though. It was a wake up call I wasn’t expecting but desperately needed. But it was also a trip of struggle, embarrassment, and anger that I was obese, again, but this time I needed to lose 90 pounds. The day I got back home was the day I started. Day one. Again. Over the years I tried to get the weight off as it slowly crawled back on, but nothing stuck and nothing worked. But this time was going to be different because it had to be.

This blog post describes how I got started. When it got hard, I didn’t quit. When I hit a plateau, I didn’t relent. Through the process, I found a love of fitness, a love for health, and a passion for helping others fight their way out of hopelessness when the weight feels like it’s smothering us.

As I write this today, I am 90 pounds down, healthy, and never gaining that weight back again.

I did it. I’m doing it. So can you.

Step One: Start With S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Goal setting is the pinnacle of successful behavior and lifestyle changes. S.M.A.R.T. stands for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Goals should be clear and easy to understand, trackable, realistic, meaningful to you, and have a start and end point. For me, my initial goal was to lose weight and improve my health. To rephrase this using the S.M.A.R.T. method, my goal would sound like, “I am going to lose 90 pounds in 360 days by starting with cardio three days a week and resistance training for 2 days. I will meal prep on Sundays and challenge myself to eat at least 3 fruits and vegetables a day. I will track all my calories (this worked for me, it’s not for everyone). When I reach these goals, I will make new ones.” Include long and short term goals so you have many small victories along the way. I purchased a basket full of Target clearance apparel in every size from 1XL to small so I slowly had a new trickle of clothes as I lost weight. I set a goal to run my first ever 5k. I hired a personal trainer before I became one to educate me and inspire me. Whatever motivates you, make it a goal, work for it, then make the next one.

Step Two: Take Inventory

Before we know where we are going, we need to know where we are. This requires confronting habits and behaviors many of us don’t want to look at. For some people, this might mean making a food diary, seeing how many hours in a day are spent scrolling social media, accepting that certain movements are harder than they used to be, or having an honest look in the mirror. This is the first big leap towards improving your health and reaching your goals. Take inventory of where you are with an open mind and judgment free perspective. This is not about shaming, putting down, or guilting ourselves into change. This step is about acceptance, truth, and preparation for what’s to come. Take photos of your body and don’t look at them again for several weeks. Take body measurements of your arms, chest, waist, hips, glutes, and thighs. Record your starting weights in the gym, running time, or other markers of fitness and endurance. Day-to-day the changes are near impossible to see. But in 6 months from now, you’ll be glad you did.

Step Three: Know Your Why

This is where knowing your “why” becomes so important. Most diets fail. Gym membership drops off in February. Real life happens. We have all been there. So how do you keep going when motivation dies, holidays and birthdays interrupt perfect streaks, an injury pops up, or you just get tired of the grind and slow results? You remember why you started. You go back to your piece of paper you wrote at the beginning and you read who you’re doing this for. You recall back to when you couldn’t walk up the stairs without huffing and puffing but now you’re training for a half marathon (me!). You look at your progress pictures you took on day one and compare them to where you are at month three, six, nine, and twelve. This is where some tough love has to come into play and you must learn what it means to push yourself. You won’t always feel like working out, keeping a calorie deficit, or skipping an extra helping. It’s in these moments that you have to dig deep because who you are becoming is so much more important than what you are feeling in the moment. You must learn the difference between hunger and cravings, needing a day off and needing to do it tired, and the old you fighting against the new you. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Remember your why and don’t stop when motivation dips.

Step Four: Go Back To The Basics

High carb, low carb, no carb. Liquid diet, smoothie diet, detox diet. Keto, intermittent fasting, Mediterranean, DASH. I could go on forever with different diets. The same is true for exercise. Muscle confusion, high reps-low weight, low reps-high weight, no days off, cardio cuts.

There is a lot of noise out there when it comes to what you should do, how you should do it, and why this is the “ultimate plan.” That is why as a trainer I’m so big on going back to the basics and taking a research-based approach to nutrition and exercise. The American Council on Exercise recommends a total of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio, 2 days of strength training, and 2-3 days of flexibility training. This sounds like a lot, but it is an achievable goal to work towards. If you want help designing a program that works for your schedule, contact us at MJ Fit and we will help you get the ball rolling on your fitness goals!

When it comes to nutrition, I always recommend the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is developed by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides advice on what to eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health, and prevent disease. More information can be found on their website. Their PDF booklet goes into detail about MyPlate recommendations and how to get started eating better for better health.

My advice is to worry less about what your diet is called, what plan you’re going to follow, or what you are going to cut out, restrict, or never eat again. Instead, focus on being healiter, making fresher choices, and fueling your body with the best ingredients you can find.

Step Five: Add, Swap, Or Remove One Thing At A Time

Add in fresh fruit and vegetables, swap 80/20 ground beef to 93/7, try olive oil instead of butter, reduce empty calories like soda, daily desserts, and alcohol. Remove smoking, trans fats, and limiting beliefs about what foods you will or won’t eat. Come up with regular challenges for yourself that motivate you to get outside of your comfort zone and eat many different things. Next time you go grocery shopping, pick up 3 new vegetables you’ve never tried before and find healthy recipes for them. Drink half of your soda and throw the rest out. Smoke one less cigarette today. Whatever your goals are about, add, swap, or remove one thing at a time. Then tomorrow, do it again. Make this your new habit of always striving and moving towards the direction of a healthier, stronger tomorrow by taking it one small change at a time.

Step Six: Compound Changes

Add, swap, or remove transformed the way I thought about and approached my weight loss and strength gain journey. When I started, I struggled to walk a 5k, let alone run it. But I could walk a mile so I did that until I could walk two. Before long, I was able to walk, jog, and kind of run a 5k. A year later, running has become a passion of mine and a 5k is my warm up. Keep moving your benchmark, little by little. Your body will adapt to the demands you place on it (Wolff’s Law). This is why we increase weights, distances, speed, and ability. Increase by 5% each week and keep compounding your add, swap, or remove adjustments in the kitchen and gym.

Step Seven: Fight Like Hell

Then keep doing it. Day after day. Week after week. That big goal of yours will take a long time to reach, longer than most of us want it to. The key is consistency and self-discipline. These skills improve with practice. Notice I did not day will power. If you have an overly indulgent meal, don’t wait for Monday morning to start fresh. Shake it off and start again right then and there. If you forgot to brush your teeth on Saturday morning, you probably wouldn’t throw in the towel, tell yourself that you’re a failure and it never works for you, and clean teeth isn’t an achievable reality. No, you would hopefully brush your teeth that night or find some floss. Eating healthy and working out, with time, can become a natural instinct just like dental hygiene. Exercise is such a huge part of my life but I remember when the thought used to fill me with dread. Remember that you are capable of change, this takes hard work, but it is absolutely worth it.

If there is one takeaway I wish I could give anyone reading this, it would be that it is possible. Have a plan, focus on health and strength, and take it one step at a time. The gym can be intimidating and starting a weight loss journey is not for the weak of heart. But, it is possible and you can do it. I’ve been there myself and I’m a trainer today because I know how hard it is. Want help with your journey? Reach out and let’s do this together.