Hi! I’m Jenna. Welcome to The Spark Wellness Newsletter. I’m a holistic mental wellness coach. I operate at the intersection of mental health, self-care, nutrition and REAL LIFE.
This is what you can expect to receive in my weekly(ish) newsletter:
- Strategies for managing stress and overwhelm
- Evidence-based research and recommendations you can use to take care of your mental wellness
- Recipes and insights that can help you use good mood foods to boost your energy – the best antidote to stress!
Curious? You can also check out my bio and my work here.
⭐️ I'm now active on Instagram @SparkWellnessNutrition. If you're on IG, please follow me and comment on a few posts. It would be lovely to get some comments that aren't spammy or creepy!
How to make sustainable changes
I've been dealing with some health issues over the last six months. For a while, I wasn't eating much, which affected my energy. With less energy, I was less active and spent more time sitting or laying in bed.
I knew that to increase my energy, I would have to eat more, and to increase my appetite, I would have to move more.
I started by putting on my FitBit - just to get an idea of how much I was actually doing each day. In February, my average number of steps per day was less than 2,000.
Ultimately, I wanted to get back to walking 7,000 to 10,000 steps daily. I knew that reaching this goal would require more than just walking to the kitchen and back to my bedroom or from my office to the bathroom. I would have to get outside, probably more than once a day, so I would also benefit from the sunshine and fresh air.
Quick side note: you don't actually need 10,000 steps/day. It is a nice round number to aim for! Research suggests the more active you are the better. In fact, 7,500-8,000 steps/day will give you significant health benefits. If you can walk more than 5,000 steps/day, you're doing better than most people (source).
The Traditional Approach - and Why it Doesn't Work!
Most approaches to goal setting recommend creating a plan to reach your goal. The common approach is to look at the end goal and then plan the steps you need to get there. For example, if I want to be able to run 5K in 5 weeks, I'll increase the distance I run by 1 km each week. For a walking goal, you could either increase a set number of steps weekly (i.e. add 500 steps/week) or a percentage weekly (10% increase each week).
These approaches can make you feel you are failing if you don't meet the constantly increasing goal for each week. After a few weeks of falling behind, many people just abandon the whole plan. You've heard the stats about New Year's Resolutions - most people quit by the end of January. Why bother if you're just going to feel bad about yourself?
These approaches don't leave any flexibility for the realities of life. You know that if you have a sick kid, you're less focused on your daily exercise goals. You also know that when the weather is cold and rainy, you'll be less motivated. And sometimes, your body will be telling you to take a break because you didn't sleep well, you're not feeling well, or you're at a point in your menstrual cycle where rest is more important than movement.
These approaches don't look at where you've come from and the strategies, habits, tools, experiences, beliefs and supports that have got you to this point. They don't look at what's worked for you so far and what successes you can draw on. They only focus on the future, what's in front of you, and where you're going. It is as if you are without a history and a connection to the past and present. You lose your identity and context when you move from your heart and your body into your head.
Setting Goals to That Create Lasting Results
Because I understand the power of small sustainable changes, I decided to increase my step goal by 10% each week. But I didn't set all the weekly goals in advance. Every week, I looked at how many steps I completed the week before, and I increased my actual number of steps by 10%.
This meant that my goal was constantly adapting. If I had a week where I didn't feel well and I was less active, my new goal reflected that slower week. If I had a more active week because I had lots of energy and my body was feeling stronger, my goal increased more quickly. Every step was grounded in the present moment rather than the theoretical future.
Check out the graph below. Who else loves graphs? 😁
You can see that all three lines end up at about the same place after 18 weeks. After one more week, they would all have reached 10,000 steps. The results are all the same - assuming that you stick to the plan. Which plan could you stick with? Which would be most sustainable?
Using my reflective incremental approach, I never felt like I was falling behind. Instead, I was listening to my body and responding to the ups and downs of my life. I knew I was setting a goal to stretch myself a little more, but I also knew that goal was there to challenge me, not overwhelm me.
I set up the system with the expectation that I wouldn't meet my goal every week - you can even see where my step goal decreased some weeks. Each adjustment was grounded in the chaotic, unpredictability of my life.
This approach was a mindset shift from seeing not meeting my goal as failure to seeing it as a normal part of the process.
While my stated goal was to be more active (and walk 7,000 to 10,000 steps each day), the results were that I felt more confident, more willing to trust myself and more in tune with my own body. The number of steps wasn't really important as long as I was feeling better.
Setting Reflective Incremental Goals
With the reflective incremental goal approach, you set a goal looking forward then you create your action plan looking at where you are right now and where you've come from. Instead of focusing on the future, you acknowledge where you've been and what's gotten you to where you are right now. Then, you identify the next step to move you forward.
Reflective Incremental Goal Setting
- Set a goal
- Look at where you are right now (and how you got here) rather than the end goal (this is the reflective part)
- Identify the next small step (this is the incremental part)
- Frequently review and adjust your actions (i.e. go back to step 1)
Women are often too hard on themselves - blame their inner critics and the external messages about what it means to be successful. They are taught to see anything less than 100% as not good enough. Traditional goal setting focuses on the final result and completing each step as it is laid out in the plan. We need to recognize that incremental progress is more realistic and more sustainable (watch for another email all about incremental change!).
The truth is that making changes that will last takes time and repetition. We need to create new habits: new ways of thinking and acting. This requires looking at where we are and what has got us here. Then we need to look forward and plan the next step. Looking to the future to set the plan leaves us ungrounded and unconnected to our current situation.
Reaching the Goal is Not the Goal!
Read that again. Reaching the goal is not the goal. It doesn't really matter if you end up exactly where you envisioned. Perfection is not the goal. Checking off the boxes is not the goal.
Being more active is what I really wanted. Feeling successful and capable is what we all want. Being present and listening to our bodies is the point. Creating a plan that work is an opportunity for reflection and learning. Being flexible and figuring out what works for you is the lesson you'll learn. These are the reasons for setting goals with the reflective incremental approach. The growth and success come from the process, not the end result.
It is easy to get caught up on the plan and timeline instead of focusing on the end result. Go back and look at the graph. The reflective incremental approach doesn't follow a straight line but ends up at the same place - and sometimes it ends up at a different place because you figure out that's where you want to go instead.
So look forward to where you think you want to end up, check where you are right now and then choose your next step. Don't create a complicated plan. Don't set timelines and expectations you can't meet. This will only make you feel like a failure. Be gentle and focus on the power of making small changes that will produce lasting results.
If you want some support in setting reflective incremental goals to create sustainable change, reply to this message. I'd love to help you out.
Take care and be well,
Jenna Kelland (she/her), PhD (Adult Education)
Holistic Mental Wellness Coach
P.S. I have a few spots available for 1-1 coaching clients. Working with me individually will give us the flexibility to focus on your priorities and create a customized plan to reach your goals. Reply to this message if you want to find out more about working together.
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