A little more than two months ago, I did something that was relatively uncommon for me: I decided to get on the scale at the gym. I’ve been a regular at our local YMCA for almost six years (they offer free child care during workouts!!), but I haven’t often wanted to get on the scale. While I loved the opportunity to nurture the mind-body connection that came with regular workouts, it just wasn’t life affirming to be reminded that my weight hadn’t changed all that much. But this time, I was surprised to discover that I was 5-6 pounds lighter than I expected to be. What’s more, I found myself tantalizingly close to the numbers that I wanted to see on the scale. With that as an incentive, I decided that I was going to make a concerted effort to lose weight for the first time in my life and see if I could eliminate those last five pounds.
I’m pleased to report that last week I met my weight goal. My method was pretty simple: I decided to start keeping a food journal which led to my being very aware of what and how much I was eating. While George’s post earlier this week and the comments on it remind us that there are a lot of great tools for tracking your health and fitness (have you added your favorites yet?), I went relatively low tech and opted to just keep a list of everything I ate in a Google Docs document.
As I’ve reflected on this experience, however, I think I’ve learned more than just something about losing weight. Instead, I’ve come away with five lessons for accomplishing goals, whether they be related to pedagogy, research, writing, or what have you.
- Writing things down helps. It’s a simple thing to write down how much food you’ve eaten (although it becomes less simple if you begin to include portion size). Yet this simple act helped to keep me accountable and to remind me of my goal and to what I was doing to meet it. Having a stated goal for myself and recording the things that I was doing to meet that goal allowed me to be able to easily point to successes—and to days where I was less successful. The latter gave me the chance to remind myself to do better. Keeping a similar list of goals, whether you use a tool like Things or just a bunch of Post-It notes, will help you chart progress on your goal.
- Checking daily on yourself is the best way to succeed. Writing things down helped me keep track of what my goal was and what steps I was taking to achieve it. But I also had to change my habits and start getting on the scale every day. I couldn’t let a day go by without that particular accountability. You might only see small progress—such as writing 200 words—but making a habit out of meeting your goal is how you will achieve it.
- You have to want to achieve the goal more than you want anything else. I like dessert; most people do. But I had to learn that I wouldn’t lose those last five pounds until I wanted to lose the weight more than I wanted to have that third cookie. Until I could make that connection in my mind, nothing was going to change. Similarly, when we are working toward a goal in a classroom, we have to be willing to give up other activities or pursuits so we can have that which we most want.
- I can make do with less than I think I need. The hardest thing about the first weeks of my experience was helping my body learn that I didn’t need as much food as I wanted and that I had been used to eating. When working towards a goal in our work, it’s very easy to want to wait until we have the optimum environment or the particular office supply we most cherish. But in the end, we can get our jobs done without having everything we think we need.
- I can take control of my situation. Without giving you my whole psychohistory, let me just say that body image has always been a vexed issue with me. This experience has taught me that I really do have control over my situation. I can’t change everything, and I probably won’t ever be competing with Megan Timney in a triathlon. But I do have some control. In our lives as academics, we may often feel like we don’t have control over how our manuscripts will be reviewed, over whether or not we receive a grant, and what our class schedule ends up being. But there will be spaces in there where we can exert control. Whether it’s in the classroom or in departmental meetings, find what you can affect and then take charge. Don’t bemoan the status quo—shift it!
What lessons have you learned from accomplishing a goal (big or small) that you’ve set yourself?