Building healthier choices into your life can be a daunting task. There’s exercising every day, getting enough sleep every day, feeding your family right every day. None of these goals are easy to achieve, and particularly are hard to implement every single day. Because we phrase our goals in this way, it can be difficult to even imagining incorporating these practices into our current routine.
In chemistry, in our bodies, and in our lives, every action needs activation energy. Activation energy is a term used in chemistry for the really high amount of energy that chemical reactions need to get started. After the activation energy is reached, similar to pushing a rock up a hill, the reaction tumbles forward, and your energy to remain in that state plateaus at a normal, stable level. In chemistry, requiring high activation energy is a matter of protection! You don’t want things firing off all the time, making molecules, breaking apart, disrupting the balance. There has to be a clear and strong call to action before the infantry in your body get moving.
When it comes to the decisions we make every day, that high activation energy can stop us from taking the first step towards reaching our lifestyle goals.
Having energy takes work, and the amount of energy needed to overcome that first mountain looks huge. The good news, is that a really strong call to action, whether it’s because we want to lower our stress levels, avoid certain health risk factors, or take better care of our bodies and our families, can help us overcome that energy needed, because we know that the other side (the stable energy, healthy state) is worth it.
That strong call to action is what makes it possible to overcome the high activation energy, but it is still challenging. What do I do when the mountain of energy needed seems just too high? I rephrase my goals to an actionable, attainable first step.
For example, let’s say my goal is to run three times per week for a half hour….
WOW. THREE TIMES. PER WEEK. FOR A HALF HOUR!? My brain automatically spins into what I’m giving up, what time I don’t have to do this, how hot it is outside, and my heart starts pounding.
But remember that activation energy? You just need the first step. That’s the hardest part. So I rephrase the goal (ehem):
My goal is to put on my running shoes and stand outside three times per week.
So, my brain says, “okay…a little annoying, but I can take a 5 minute break to do that…”. But, once I go stand outside, my brain says: ” I might as well go around the block”. And then “I might as well go around the block twice” and then “Well I’ve been running for 20 minutes…I might as well make it 30!”.
I know, sounds crazy that you can go from “standing outside” to “running for a half hour”, but it’s true!! So often, we don’t make the healthy choices we want to make because our brain is telling us that it’s too much trouble or it isn’t going to be fun. But once you actually get going, you remember those awesome reasons you have for actually implementing the healthy habit, and you have the energy to keep on going. Getting over that first step activation energy is finding the one teensy step that will probably eliminate a lot of the worries and concerns your brain has come up with for why you can’t reach your goals.
To me, the goals on the right are fun, easy, and feasible. By naming a specific action that requires relatively low energy, rather than a nebulous, high energy goal, taking that first step up the mountain is so much easier, and you have the power to achieve huge health changes.
I’d love to hear how you rephrase some of your healthy goals. Does this method help you see your goals in a new way?