In past blogs I’ve written about the recognizable pattern to behavior change including five stages:

  • Pre-contemplation (I’m not even thinking about changing a behavior),
  • Contemplation (I probably should change this behavior),
  • Preparation (I’m gathering information about making the change),
  • Action (I’m taking steps to change), and
  • Maintenance (I’ve changed the behavior for the better).

Two of these stages of change – contemplation and preparation – largely feed the multi-billion-dollar infomercial industry hawking nutritional supplements, fitness equipment, and miracle instant-life-enhancers as people dance between the two stages but find themselves unable to move into sustained action.

Plans and Positive Health Habits

Why is it so persistently difficult to move into action and maintenance when trying to change a behavior or adopt a new healthy habit – even when we have the desire?

I’ve talked about changing attitudes and expectations around aging and wellness, and about creating a vitality plan and making regular vitality deposits. But I think there is something else working under the surface to derail positive change.

Goals vs “Shoulds”

Perhaps when we have a goal in mind – get stronger, lose 15 pounds, get more organized, clear out clutter – it often becomes a chore on our long list of “should.” My friend Chris often says, “Stop “shoulding” all over yourself.”It always brings a laugh, but it also merits some thought.

When a goal sits in the should category, there’s very little chance that you’ll feel committed to the steps necessary to accomplish that goal. In fact, it’s more likely that it becomes demoralizing rather than motivating.

For example, many women are in a perpetual state of “I should lose 15 pounds.” Have you ever heard the phrase“You wouldn’t weigh as much if you got off your own back”? Another one of Chris’s favorite sayings!

I’m not advocating for giving up on self-improvement, but when self-improvement is so continuously difficult to accomplish that it mocks you at every turn, then perhaps it’s time to step back and look at your persistent list of shoulds.

Free-Writing for Insights

Consider writing each should at the top of a page – a separate page for each one! Then write down why this item is on your list. Don’t spend too much time crafting the reasons but instead just free-write words and phrases that relate to why this item is on your list.

Next, free-write why you think it’s been so difficult to accomplish this particular goal. When you make attempts to achieve this goal, how long does the effort usually last? What has stopped you in the past? What stops you from just erasing it from your “list” altogether?

Again, don’t try to make it pretty or lyrical, just write words and phrases that reveal motivations for this goal and barriers to making it happen.

Now consider how you would feel and free-write about:

  • what would change in your life if you accomplished this goal,
  • what would change in your life if you didn’t accomplish this goal, and
  • what would change in your life if you simply erased it from your list completely.

This process can help you identify what things on your persistent self-improvement list are actually goals that you want to pursue and which ones simply landed there by default as a should.

A Deliberate Shift

Consider whittling down your list to things that truly matter. Look at your free-writing for clues and pay close attention to how you feel about a particular goal and about specific actions that would take you towards that goal.

Does it feel like a chore? Do the actions feel forced? Change is often uncomfortable and certainly more difficult than just staying the same, but is there a way to bring joy to the process?

Without a sense of joy and opportunities for fun somewhere along the path, goals can stall permanently. Perhaps you can engage a friend to work together towards a goal or turn it into a game with children or grandchildren.

Take time to celebrate the things you love about yourself right now – today –so you can start any type of change from a position of strength. Plan for joy and fun as you take small steps towards your goals. Life is far too short, and joy far too important, to squander on shoulds.

Visit the Ignite Personal Vitality and the Articles & Resources tabs at www.kayvannorman.com to download free articles and other resources to support positive lifestyle changes.

What’s on your persistent self-improvement list? Are there any shoulds on the list? If so, why are they there, and should they stay or go? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please join the conversation!

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