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The “headlight” method for achieving healthy change

Soon after beginning my health counseling work, I noticed that, for many women, setting goals and dreaming big (especially with health goals) was laced with feelings of inadequacy and doubt from past failures.

Every time that they pumped themselves up to reach a goal but didn’t succeed, a little part of them began to doubt their own ability to actual make positive changes.  The disappointments left them feeling overwhelmed and defeated.

It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place.   We want to experience healthy, positive changes and set big goals and visions for our life, but feel afraid of repeating the same failed attempts and disappointment again, so we shrink down and temper our dreams.

In my experience, these three core issues need to be addressed in order for real success to happen when we set big, juicy, delicious goals for our life.

1. Dream big, but step small

Goals of major change must be paired with small, steady steps of action. It’s having both a macro and micro view of the course.

Photo by Rodger Price

Imagine you’re heading out for a long drive at night to get to a town a few states away.  The first part of the process is knowing where you want to end up. It’s the piece of information you’ll use when you make every other decision along the journey.

But, like driving a car at night, it’s also imperative to focus on the road right before you, just a stretch long enough for the headlights to illuminate.  That stretch is where the action is taking place and where your detailed plan should come in.

Destinations are like big dreams and goals — the stretch of road the headlight illuminates is where practical detailed plans of action need to take over. You need both to succeed.

2. Consult your head, body and heart

Our mind is where our willpower stems from, it rationally approaches change and decides the best route to get there.

The problem is that our brilliant body and wise heart have important information to share.   If our plans to achieve our goals involve only our heads, but we don’t check in with our heart and body…we’ll be setting ourselves up for failure.  Working against our nature never succeeds.

Here’s an example.

Our minds might tell us that it’s a good idea to restrict our fat intake and start a low fat diet in order to lose weight.  But our body may have very different idea on how it needs to be nourished. If you try to work against your body’s natural needs, than before you know it, you’ll be hitting the bottom of a Ben and Jerry’s pint in the middle of the night.

Learning the language of your body is key to creating a plan that gets you where you want to be.

3. Let synergy take Its course

This is the final component of goal achieving that really works.

Photo by Fauxto Digit

It’s almost impossible to create a detailed plan to achieve major change in your life from start to finish.

And here is why.

As soon as one part of your life is lifted; it automatically lifts other areas. You can’t elevate one part of yourself without elevating all of who you are.

It is hard to predict all the ways positive change will impact your life.

Here is a simple, but powerful example from a women I worked with in the past.

When we began our coaching together, one of her small steps was to bring in more home-cooked healthy meals into her week. She had gotten into the pattern of ordering out most nights of the week and knew this was making her feel bloated and down.

Once she began learning skills to cook meals that tasted great and were streamlined to save time in the kitchen, she was eating home-cooked meals almost every night.

But the impact went far past that.

She reported that her creativity was being ignited as she experimented with cooking beautiful and delicious meals at night.    Her finances (as well as the underlying stress she was feeling because of the financial strain) had improved. Finally, her relationship with her husband was deepening because of their quality time at dinner.

She was in a totally different place than she could have imagined, simply by taking one small step along the way. Making concrete plans too far in advance would have been a waste of time.

Allowing each small step to blossom fully, and then reassess before making your next small step capitalizes on the power of synergy and the interconnectedness of our lives.

P.S.:  If you’re at a place where dreaming big for your health and well being brings up feelings of doubt, insecurity or overwhelm, I’d love for you to check out the Designed for Wellness course I’m teaching which begins this Saturday.  There are only two days left to register.

The program takes you through a process where you are supported, encouraged, educated and led, step by step, toward knowing yourself and feeling your best by creating strategies for achieving your goals in a way that works with your life.}

Have you ever felt the hesitation of starting new goals because of fear of failure?   What ways worked for you in the past for achieving major aspirations in your life?

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  1. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    I can completely relate to the woman that you coached. I started cooking recently (really cooking, not just microwaving things) and it’s been amazing how it’s changed things. I’m saving money and am being aware of the ingredients that I buy and use. Also, my husband and I have started having sit down meals instead of just eating in front of the TV and it’s enriched our relationship. It really is true – making small steps like that can totally change one’s outlook and perspective!

  2. Lisa

    That’s awesome to hear, Tabitha– sounds exactly like what my client experienced too. I can really attest in my own life that small, simple steps can produce powerful changes- and when I hear from others about their experiences it totally juices me up! Yay for you!

  3. Emily

    Thanks for this…I’ve been wanting to make a lot of big changes lately and not sure where to start. I think I need to just start with one thing at a time: eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, or taking a walk in the mornings, and gradually work up to my goals.

    • Lisa

      Hi Emily,

      Very wise- One thing at a time has a lot of benefits!

  4. maegan

    I love “dream big, but step small”. So often I dream big and plunge in without a plan. This just leads to frustration and a sense of defeat. We are often our own worst enemies.

  5. Alissa

    Ah yes, my big dream right now is to run that half marathon in 6 more weeks. It was a daunting goal at first until I set some small steps – participated in a 5K group training class last spring. Found a half-marathon program that I could manage into my current schedule. Now, when I start to feel overwhelmed at the thought of running 13 miles, I remind myself that I DON’T have to run 13 miles today. TODAY, I only need to run 3 miles. Saturday I need to run 8, which itself was a crazy thought 8 weeks ago, but since I ran 6.5 last week, 8 isn’t sounding too crazy.

    And, the wider effects are certainly evident – I feel better about my body, my husband is expressing support for my efforts (and I’m doing the same for him as he trains for his big bike ride next month), I’m taking time for myself, etc, etc.

    • Lisa

      Alissa– Great job on your marathon training! It is amazing how we’ll totally overwhelm ourselves in our heads before we ever get started.

      Amazing how supporting each other in a marriage toward goals brings you so much closer. I can remember how incredible it felt when I was training for my first triathlon how much my husband supported me and encouraged me. It’s a neat experience that really deepens a marriage, I think.

  6. Kristin

    Yes, I’m finding the repetition of daily yoga is almost like magic. The poses that seemed impossible two months ago are now attainable, just by stretching myself a teeny bit more each day. I’ve stopped saying “I’ll never be able to do that pose” because I know better! And while dragging my tired body out of bed mid summer was a slog, now – I can’t believe I’m saying this – I actually look forward to getting up extra early before the kiddos so I don’t miss my moment. Crazy but true!

  7. Caroline Starr Rose

    I’ve never heard EL Doctorow’s headlight analogy applied to health. It works really well! Thanks for this.

  8. Jenna

    Along with taking small steps to achieve a big dream I would add, find a group of cheerleaders, who will support and encourage you through every mini milestone!

  9. Amy

    Thanks for this post Lisa! I love this quote: “We greatly overestimate what we can do in a year and greatly underestimate what is possible for us in five years”. Peter Drucker” This quote speaks to me about “Dream Big, but step small”. In “Strategic coaching” that I do with women I encourage them to have a 90 Day “Action Plan” with just three to five goals. Looking at just a few things to accomplish is sometimes so much more “doable”. Thanks for your wisdom shared so eloquently!

  10. Amanda Darlack

    I’ve never heard of the “Headlight” method before but LOVE the analogy and will use it with my own clients. I am a Professional Organizer and have noticed the same thing with my clients as you have with yours: past failures prevent positive expectations. That’s why it’s so important to start small and enjoy the victories. I write more about this in my blog:

    Thanks for the great post, Lisa!

  11. renee @ FIMBY

    First things first and One step at a time. These are two guiding principles I use.

    I have found especially that diet, the food we eat actually becomes who we are at a cellular level, has a lot power to change many situations for the better. Like the example you gave.

    I have big life dreams right now also. Having worked as a family for years on overall health and well being and positive life habits every day and every week we are able to move on to bigger things. It’s very exciting. I think wellness of mind, body and spirit is so important and it’s really the foundation for so much other life enhancing goals and dreams that can happen after you’ve got that base built.

  12. Lisa

    Great article! I found myself facing some big decisions last March, either continue to spend 60 hours a week at a high stress job that used me up and left me in shambles when I did have some precious time with my husband and three children, or take a leap of faith and decide enough is enough, I’m going to take a gamble and do something that feeds my soul and allows me to be a better mom. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but at least I changed a negative situation and gave it a try. 🙂

  13. KDL

    I need to think about this. I definitely need to change something. I simply can’t do everything that is on my plate right now…as a mom of young kids it seems hard to commit to personal changes because what I can do each day depends a great deal on what my kids do (or don’t do). For instance I hoped to make some progress on desk projects today, but instead find myself trapped on the laptop, trying to supervise naptime which one child is refusing to accept while the other succumbed. Soon my desk window will evaporate because it will be time to go get my older child from school. Then I will have two probably over-tired and cranky kids, plus one with lots of energy post-nap…meanwhile my goals for the day will get shoved to post-kid-bedtime, and another late night will ensue. We are in transition right now with new schools starting, etc. so I’m trying not to freak out about all of this or make any big changes too soon before I understand the flow of our days better, but it would be nice to find even one small step in the right direction. Your class sounded really good – but a bit out of reach for me at the moment – both time and money-wise. I am following here and hoping to pick up some ideas that way. I do like this idea of picking a goal and moving that direction based on what is immediately before me…and maybe I just need to start with what the goal is. I guess that would at least get me out of survival mode, which I feel like we’ve been in for almost 3 years now. Sorry to ramble…just had to air this out a bit.

  14. mamaTAVE

    I like the idea of allowing each step to blossom fully and then reassess your plan/goal. This is where I get stuck… I have no problem with the big vision; it’s the little steps that I stumble on, as I tend to plan it all out at the beginning and then “stall” when things aren’t following the plan.
    Thank you for these ideas!

  15. Jeri Graybill

    I usually think of this as “eating an elephant one bite at a time”, but really like the Headlights analogy.

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