Plan Today, Succeed Tomorrow4 Ways to Think Two Steps Ahead
-- By Megan Coatley, Behavior Expert
Athletes do it. Chess players do it. Novelists, successful scientists and even salespeople do it. These days, everyone who wants to make big things happen is planning ahead in order to succeed. What about you? When it comes to planning ahead to reach your goals, are you falling in line or falling behind?
Thinking ahead can help you achieve your goals and, even more importantly, bounce back faster when you’re met with unexpected failures or setbacks.
What can you do today to make sure your health and fitness goals are met tomorrow? Maybe you need to pack a lunch to avoid that daily fast food fix, stock your pantry with healthy snacks so you have something to munch on, make a new bedtime routine so you get all the shut-eye you need, or sleep in your workout clothes so you’ll have no excuse to miss a morning workout.
Thinking "two steps ahead" means utilizing the present to make it easier to achieve your goals in the future. What are you waiting for? Here’s how to do it now, before you waste a few more minutes or lose your motivation altogether.
Think about Your Actions
Take some time to envision yourself reaching your long-term goal, whether it's losing 40 pounds, running a 5K, or reducing your cholesterol. All of these big goals can (and should!) be broken down into specific behaviors that will increase your health and wellness. Losing 40 pounds may involve reducing and tracking your calories while also starting a consistent fitness program. Running a 5K starts with your first step, then requires a plan to slowly build endurance over several weeks. And reducing your cholesterol can happen when you make heart-smart food choices and increase your daily activity.
Taking it a step further, each of these action steps requires a plan or "mini goal" if you're going to achieve it. Maybe you'll aim for a specific number of exercise minutes per week, servings of fruits and vegetables per day, or miles per month. Achieving these goals is easier when you start thinking ahead and formulating a process that fits into your schedule. When you spell out exactly what you’re working on, it will be so much easier to track progress toward your mini-goals and stay on course toward your bigger goals.
Head Off Potential Hurdles: Prepare Your Plan B
You’ve planned to exercise three times a week and you're sticking with your program really well. Your workout wardrobe is freshly laundered. You’ve commandeered a babysitter during your evening runs. Best of all, you've scheduled your exercise sessions like appointments in your calendar. You're doing great.
But all of a sudden, a giant work project is dropped in your lap and you realize you’ll need to work from home every night this week to meet the deadline. Sound familiar?
Whether it's a nasty flu virus, a change in your partner’s work schedule, or a car in the shop, there will always be obnoxious and unexpected hurdles that can spring up and ruin your best laid plans. You can either wait for them to derail you or you can think ahead about all the possible scenarios that might get in the way of your goals—and plan how to tackle them in advance.
As soon as you’ve set mini goals for the week and put your commitments on the calendar, the next thing you should focus on is finding room for flexibility. Maybe you can pencil in a morning workout on the weekend as a backup plan, or make a list of healthy take-out options in case you find yourself in a dinnertime crunch. And if you have trouble resisting those donuts in the office break room, you’d better be sure to pack nutritious and delicious mid-morning snacks in your bag. Having a plan B in place before you need it means you're thinking strategically and will be more likely to stay on track.
Commit...and Don’t Quit
Committing to any lifestyle change takes time and continued effort. If you’re having trouble implementing your strategic plan (and plan B's), here are some strategies that will help you sidestep obstacles that may arise.
Make your commitments public so that everyone around you knows the goals you’re working toward. If your boss, partner and friends have all heard you profess your plan, they’ll be more likely to support you (or at least they’ll know what you’re up to)--and you'll be more likely to stick with it to save face.
Engage your friends and family in some friendly fitness activities. Get your colleagues involved in an exercise challenge, start a walking club after work, or put together a neighborhood gardening group. If you can encourage others to join your wellness quest, you’ll be more likely to remember your commitments. Plus, you may even plant the seeds for others’ health and fitness success.
- Keep track of your achievements. Sometimes, when you’re working hard to fit healthy habits into your schedule, it can feel like the rest of the world is against you. Seeing the progress you make toward your own goals will help you notice change and stay true to your healthy self—even in the event that you mess up. Log your workouts online, track your calories and H2O intake, and draw smiley faces on your calendar when you finish each yoga class. Keeping track will remind you how far you've come, which can help you keep the faith when life gets in the way of your best intentions.
Even after you’ve set benchmarks for success, put a halt on potential hurdles, and prepared a plan B, you can still be sure that the road to health and fitness won’t always be smooth and straight. A storm will sweep in overnight and ruin your morning run. That family road trip will be wrought with tempting treats at truck stops. Though these problems may seem counterproductive, getting familiar with failure can be helpful in its own way. When you experience a succession of small setbacks or changes in course, it helps you hone your skills at dealing with issues that are outside of your control.
Even the greatest athletes and strategic planners in the world fail—sometimes badly and sometimes publicly. But those who are great don't let failure define them or stop them. They set goals, plan ahead to avoid or minimize mishaps, and get back up and keep going when things don't go according to plan. They roll with the punches—and you can, too!