In one of my favorite Bill Murray movies “What about Bob?,” a world famous psychiatrist suggests his latest book to a clingy, fearful patient. The book, called “Baby Steps,” helps Bob overcome his fears and, in a ridiculously hilarious way, do many things he never thought he’d do.
Whether we write down our goals every Jan. 1 or not, many students have things we would like to improve about ourselves and our health. Sometimes our goals are like this: I want to eat better. That’s not very specific; how exactly do we go about eating better? Sometimes our goals are a little more precise: I’d like to lose five pounds by spring break. A good goal, but we can’t just will the weight away. We need a plan to get there.
Some of the best advice I have ever come across regarding healthy life changes went like this: Don’t make any changes you can’t live with. In a quest to eat healthier, many people go on crash diets or refuse to eat desserts for a week. By the end, they crave all the things they’ve left behind. These people give in to their cravings, end up ruining the diet and feel defeated.
Chances are, it might be good to take a bit of advice from Bob and practice taking baby steps. Although it might seem obvious, the best way to go about achieving a goal is to break it up into small, achievable bits and take them one at a time.
For example, let’s assume the goal is to lose five pounds in time for spring break. There are about nine weeks until then. Losing half a pound per week is a healthy and reasonable goal. Let’s break it down even further: Half a pound per week is about 1,750 calories. Divide that by seven days, and you have to cut or burn 250 calories per day. We have a specific, reasonable goal broken down into small steps.
Now for the plan: 250 calories isn’t much. It could be cutting out three cookies at dinner or a late night pizza run. It could also be adding an aerobics class or about 30 minutes of jogging on a treadmill at a 10 minute mile pace. Instead of picking just one of these things to do, you can alternate or substitute. One day, have your dessert, but don’t overdo it and make sure to get exercise. The next day, rest, but don’t indulge in midnight pizza.
Once you’ve practiced these behaviors for a month or so, you’ll find that they’re practically a habit. By following these baby steps, you can make a healthy lifestyle both attainable and enjoyable.