This is the third and final repost (with some editing) of three blogs that I wrote in an effort to assist people in moving forward with their behavior change projects. Here on bodyspace that most often has to do with getting back into shape or getting into contest shape. If you have not read them, read the previous two blogs and then come back to this one. Here are the links to them:
Today's blog deals with removing barriers to success, once your goals are set, and the time management plan is in place. Even after doing this, some people will find one or more barriers, real or perceived (excuses?), to prevent them from getting started and reaching their goals. I will address some of the barriers that I've seen in working with others in a therapeutic setting. Perhaps these are some that you've encountered. In order to move toward reaching your goals, it is important to address and eliminate the barriers to success. Some of the barriers addressed here are environmental, financial, mental, relational, and spiritual. This is not an exhaustive list, but those I find to be the most common barriers to success. This is a long blog and you may have to come back to complete it. In fact to get this blog to post, I have to create two separate posts!
When we think about "environment" most of us probably think about our natural world with its increasing levels of various types of pollution, smog, erosion, industrial waste, and other problems. These environmental issues are always important to think about and address. However, we seldom think about "environment" on a smaller scale. One of my graduate classes at Virginia Tech made me intensely aware of the concept of smaller environments (e.g. living spaces) and how they can be "manipulated" or "designed" to induce, eliminate, or change certain types of behaviors. Color, seating arrangements, architectural features, lighting, and other factors can be used, for example, in educational environments to help achieve certain developmental outcomes. I applied much of what I learned to design and manage a successful "non-alcoholic" nightclub while a graduate student at Virginia Tech.
If we can "design" environments to impact human behavior, doesn't it make sense that we need to pay attention to our environments as they influence our behavior and progress toward our goals? Consider a few of the differing types of "space" we inhabit---Human and Personal, for example.
I use the term "human space" to refer to environments where we as humans congregate in groups. To make this more precise, I'm thinking of spaces where the emphasis is more on human interaction and the quality of those interactions. Those of us who have spent any amount of time working in "complex organizations" know that there are "organizational cultures," those written and unwritten rules and norms that govern how people act and work with one another. This determines how one "experiences" or "feels" while in a given organization. Where one is situated within an organization will also impact his or her perception of an organizational culture. There is, however, usually, a consensus as to how a particular "culture" is. Since the type of "humans" in it largely determines the culture, it is important to realize that not all "human spaces" are right for us. This would particularly be true of of those spaces which emphasize negative or counterproductive behavior (e.g. gossip, arguing, toxic, overly competitive, substance abuse, etc.). When we are trying to change behavior, we may often need to change the "human spaces" or our "cultural affiliations." If we don't, they may prove later to be barriers to effective change. As an example, I had a student whose goal was to lose 10 pounds by the end of a 15 week semester. This was a very achievable goal. She developed her goals as they related to diet and exercise. She was NOT, however, prepared for the fact that she would have to change her "human environment." Her friends, who were thin and "loved her as she was," did not see the need for her to lose the weight. Her friends, like most of the students at the university, were fairly well-off financially, and a lot of time was spent socializing in bars and eating out. This was a huge part of her social life. She was very upset one day in class as she reported her progress or lack thereof. Although she wanted to go out and be with her friends, she realized that she could not eat the same food that she had eaten before starting her weight loss plan and expect to lose the 10 pounds. She found that she was pressured to order the high calorie entrees instead of the healthier, lower calorie, lower fat choices. She found that she was pressured to skip the gym to go shopping or on lunch dates. The solution to this problem was simple in theory, but difficult for her to implement. She needed to change her "human environments." She could do this in a number of ways. She could change the environment by communicating to those who were closest to her the importance of her lifestyle change and asking her friends for support. She could reduce the time she spent with this particular group of friends in the spaces that they normally inhabited. She could also, more drastically, simply abandon her current peer group altogether, if they were not amenable to supporting her lifestyle changes. She also had to look at the "spaces and environments" in which she did her socializing. Instead of going to restaurants, bars and other eating establishments, she could encourage her group, or a new group, of friends to meet at bookstores, bowling alleys, cultural events, the gym (perhaps for workouts with her), or other venues.
In summary, in order to change one must help those in your immediate "environment" to get ready for change and to abandon human spaces and "cultures" that are not consistent with the changes one wants to make. It is easier said than done, but may play a major role successfully reaching your goals. Find helpful people, groups, and healthy places that are supportive of your goals. Eliminate those that are not.
Living or Personal Space
What does your house, apartment, or room look like? Is it neat (not necessarily "neat freak" type neat)? Is it cluttered? If the space is cluttered, try to find a way to organize the space (e.g. shelving, storage units, getting rid of unwanted junk, etc.). Living in a cluttered space can, in many instances, sap your energy. In working with clients (mostly teenagers in this case), I've found that they want a clean room but have let the clutter build to such a point that they find it emotionally draining, frustrating, and overwhelming just to "think about" cleaning the room. In the meantime, parents are giving them grief about the clutter, which seems to impact them just knowing that their child's room is "dirty," to use the parents' word.
If nothing else, an uncluttered personal space can assist you in being more efficient and productive. Knowing where things are and having "a place for everything" and having "everything in its place" prevents time lost finding things or even "thinking about having to clean up the space."
Another point---think about other people who might come into or who live in your space. Your clutter could have an impact on them as well. One of the classic college roommate problems is the "neat freak" versus the "slob." The pair may "like" each other, but cannot abide the "overly neat" or "overly sloppy" aspect of his or her roommate's personality. One or the other generally predominates. In this case, the solution is either to split the pair or teach them how to negotiate a happy medium as it relates to keeping the room clean.
To conclude this section, organize your space, get rid of old things that you don't use, buy storage for things that you want to keep, create a space for everything and systematically maintain your space. Get some help (e.g. a good friend, professional organizer, etc.). Once you organize your space, you are less likely to be distracted from accomplishing your larger goals. In fact, one might learn a little discipline by systematically maintaining a clean and orderly personal space. Remember that it doesn't have to be "neat freak" neat, but organized and clutter free. As an example, my bedroom is where I do part of many of my workouts. If my room was sloppy and cluttered and not systematically maintained, I would not be as efficient in completing my workouts.
Times are tough economically. Many of us tie our ability to enjoy and to create change in our lives with our financial status. While finances, or better stated, lack of finances, may prove to be a huge barrier, we often overwhelm ourselves with the "big picture" financially. There may also be a tendency to overestimate the amount of money needed, if any, to start a major change process. Try sitting down and creating some financial goals that will help you to reach your personal change goals. Break these goals down into smaller more achievable sub-goals. Try to realistically assess the cost financially of achieving your goals. Can you get what you need by finding someone you know who can assist you? Do you have skills that could assist you in making more money? Can you purchase any necessary equipment at a thrift or second-hand store. Do you REALLYneed to spend money to reach your goals?
My personal example is instructive here. I REALLY LIKED going to the gym. I got very spoiled at Syracuse University with the free gym membership and later by my Gold's Gym membership. When financial disaster struck, I had to move back home, and lost everything (i.e. furniture, electronics, clothing, self-confidence, etc.), and put my doctorate on hold (LOL! Still on hold! , and generally felt like a huge failure.
Once home in Virginia, I felt sorry for myself, ate and drank like a mad man, became overweight (175 pounds) and was feeling like crap. I knew I needed to work out, but stubbornly held on to the idea of joining a gym. At that time, the nearest gym was 26 miles away and a rather expensive price, considering membership fees, time traveled, and gasoline. I had to really sit down and ask myself if I could realistically get in shape WITHOUT a gym. I KNEW that I could not, after an honest appraisal, afford a gym membership. So, I assessed what I had at the time in terms of exercise equipment---a 20 pound set of dumbbells, an exercise ball, and my bodyweight. I re-framed my situation and turned it into a challenge. I realized that I could more easily buy small bits of equipment by saving bit by bit rather than spending money in gym fees and gas. I researched the web, found exercises for dumbbells, exercise ball, and bodyweight. I developed my first six-week program and began to implement it. I have since added a pair of 30 pound dumbbells, built a pull-up bar in the yard, and been gifted a 20 pound weighted vest and my progress has been very satisfactory (See my "Over 40 Transformation of the Week" article)! The challenge continues to be to find ways to change my body and to continue making progress by tweaking workouts and adding new exercises. As workouts grew stagnant and I continued to search for new bodyweight and other exercises, I came across the Bodybuilding.com website. I toyed for months with the idea of putting up a page. There were so many people with great bodies. "My old butt would probably look ridiculous!" I thought. One crucial element in changing behavior is to take risks (calculated, well-thought out risks). I put the page up with a few pictures and was pleasantly surprised by the support and compliments. This encouraged me to continue pursuing my current style of workouts. This was also an example of changing my "human environment." Although in cyberspace, I had found a group of people with similar goals who were supportive of my efforts to change my body and to get back in shape. This has not cost me one cent! Interestingly enough, a gym opened here in Waverly during the summer of 2011. Although I could walk to it in about 20 minutes, the cost is still expensive! Am I concerned? NO! I LIKE the challenge of what I'm doing and will continue to do so.
When looking at financial barriers to change, sit down and really count the true costs. Once again, I encourage you to break your goals down into very small achievable sub-goals. Assess the costs of achieving each of these sub-goals. You might find that you may not need as much money as you thought. Also in assessing your goals make sure that you carefully consider the time element. Which goals can be put off and, therefore, saved for? Which ones are more immediate and need some funding? Be creative about those goals that you do need money for. Use a hobby or avocation to bring in some extra cash. Barter with friends and/or business associates. Find supportive "rich" relatives or friends LOL who might loan or grant you the money. If in your analysis you find that there are some goals that don't need financing, plan for those goals that might need financing in the future. My next goal is financing a pair of 50 pound dumbbells!