Help me help myself!
August 19, 2005 1:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I become the person I know I should be?

I'm a married, attractive, moderately successful woman who desperately wants to be a certain kind of person. And while cerebrally, I know how to be that person, some part of me can't seem to get motivated. I'm turning 30 at the end of this year and I'd love my gift to myself to be overcoming these stupid obstacles that have held me back all my life.

The things I *want* to do include: losing weight (I've gained about 60 pounds since getting married 3 years ago), getting in shape so I experience a sense of both accomplishment and athletic ability, start taking care of my acne-prone skin (startlingly, I was never raised to wash my face before bed and instead have relied on makeup), and just be more of a "get up and go" person rather than a "lie on the couch and watch TV" person.

As mentioned, I know the simple answers are to eat less, exercise more, practice good hygiene, turn off the TV, get some hobbies. I've read a ton of books geared toward self-improvement, taken (and fooled everyone by seemingly succeeding at) self-improvement workshops and seminars, etc. Yet it just seems that part of me -- which happens to be the strongest part of me, even -- is holding myself back, and I hate it. Any suggestions from the reformed lazy folks, the no-longer-underachievers, would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This is what I tell myself:

That person in my head, my ideal me, is a person who does this task. If I want to be that person, all I have to do is this one task, this one time, right now. By virtue of the fact that my ideal person does this, by doing this I instantly become my ideal person.

Now, the trick is to do this in every single situation. It'll take time to break old habits and form new ones, but remember that becoming your ideal is undertaking a series of infinitely many tiny, simple decisions.

Still working on it...
posted by plexiwatt at 1:17 PM on August 19, 2005

Never stop trying.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 1:17 PM on August 19, 2005

I also always view myself in the third person to accomplish tasks, like "if I was looking at myself from outside, what is the best possible thing that person should do?" It sort of takes the emotional part out, because no one feels like going out, no one feels like going to the gym, but viewing yourself through the eyes of like a third party life assistant, better paths, for me, become clearer.

And if you are 60 pounds overweight in only three years you may want to really think about the motivations behind that.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2005

Just realize that progress is progress, that any small step is a step towards your goal. It makes it easier to do tasks that seem small and pointless but contribute towards your objective.
posted by mr.dan at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2005

I think you should start small. You have a lot of things you want to deal with, but you're gonna drive yourself crazy if you try to do everything at once. Maybe you could start giving up a few problem foods- soda or chips or whatever- or trying to wash your face with a medicated wash once a day or trying to go to one social event a month. Any step in the right direction is a good start :-D
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've been where you are, and you really just have to make a schedule and stick to it - be it a food schedule/diet, workout schedule, etc. The bad part is that no one can say anything that will motivate you to do this. Something just has to click inside you - for me it was when my mom started a diet. When I saw her lose 5lbs in a week, it motivated me to do it too.

You sound a lot like I did, and for me the thing that was holding me back was fear of failure. Once I dieted and started losing weight, however, I had the motivation to try all kinds of other things, like working out and taking better care of myself in general. I even stopped biting my nails because it was yet another thing that was making me unattractive! Just take one thing at a time and remember that nothing happens overnight.
posted by gatorae at 1:31 PM on August 19, 2005

Yes, I think ThePinkSuperhero is right -- by listing everything you want to do, and by reading tons of self-help books, you're overwhelming yourself so you can't do anything. For next week, pick one small thing, very small, and do it. "I will take a 15-minute walk once" or "I will wash my face at night once." Don't worry about the big picture. When I started exercising, the best advice I got was, "don't commit yourself to 3 times a week or every other day or something like that -- when you're just starting out, just commit yourself to 10 workouts period, regardless of how long it takes you to get them in." That subtle change in expectations made all the difference.
posted by JanetLand at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2005

Many people don't make serious efforts at self-improvement because inaction is comfortable and risk-free.

When you look at the things you've excelled at, can you identify what factors inspired you to do better in those tasks? If so, you may be able to create analogous situations for more mundane tasks that could help you stick with it.
posted by mosch at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2005

Questions like this seem to often be more about trying to get someone to give you an easy answer online than about actual improvement. You may think you've made a start by posting this, but you haven't. You're sitting at your computer waiting for an answer that will make this goal of yours an easy one. There are _no_ easy answers, it all comes down to a decision--your decision. You simply need to force yourself to get up and exercise. It will be incredibly hard at first, but it will become easier if you can continue to do it. Right now it's you vs. your body and your body is winning. Your life will not change until you decide that you want it to change. No amount of pills, exercise tapes or messages posted online will make an ounce of difference until you take things into your own hands and take control. What's stopping you?

You're a better, smarter, more powerful person than 99% of the fat, lazy slobs you see walking around every day. Why not make that visible? Come'on, Get up! Right now, go running, do pushups, do something!!

Sorry if this came off as mean spirited--I'm trying to help.
posted by null terminated at 1:38 PM on August 19, 2005

If you've "succeeded" at self-improvement workshops and seminars, that means that you've shown up to their scheduled meetings and gotten the assignments done, right?

So, maybe your best motivation is some sort of class or organized setup where you can interact with others and get feedback. So, for hobbies, just sign up for any once-a-week class that will have assignments -- suddenly, you'll be turning off the tv to do your French homework or to make a watercolor. That's two birds right there. And there's no shame in having your hobby be "taking classes".

For losing weight, you could take a class (e.g. karate), or join a goal-based group like Weight Watchers. If the motivation to do something so self-directed is lacking, what about just paying for a system that does all the directing for you -- like Jennie Craig. Just pay the money, eat the food in the box, and stop thinking about it. The weight will come off in the background while you're busy with your French homework. What's great about just paying for it is that it's a firm commitment right there; it's harder to weasel out of than a promise-to-self to only eat fruit and to teach yourself a hobby from a book, alone at the kitchen table... AND, by doing both at once (the weightloss and the hobby), you don't have to focus too hard on the weightloss because you'll be busy (and rewarded by) the hobby.

Maybe it sounds expensive? Well, you won't have to take classes or pay for Jennie Craig for the rest of your life (at 10 pounds a month, it would only take 6 months). And, once you get to the happier place where you are more the person you want to be, you'll find other ways to maintain it. The lighter you might decide to take up yoga, for instance. Or feel more energetic about repainting the livingroom, or doing a bicycle ride.

If you can't afford to do all of it at once, just pick the most important thing, the thing that will make you feel better even if you do nothing else (e.g. 'I'd rather be a thin tv-watcher than an overweight French speaker,') and do that one. The other aspects will become easier to work on with the boost that comes from accomplishing the first one.
posted by xo at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2005

Speaking as a reformed fattie... the hardest part is getting momentum. Once you have momentum, it becomes easy to realize that you feel better when you're living well.
posted by mosch at 1:43 PM on August 19, 2005

I'll second or third taking small steps. I think too often, we see only the end-solution to the bigger problem. For instance, you see a problem with weight so maybe all you're seeing is the end result of loosing that 60 pounds. While that is a rad goal, you can't get there without first loosing one pound, then two pounds, and so forth. Similarly, to loose that weight, it's not going to come by instantly perfecting the newest fad diet or being able to run 10 miles without keeling over. Instead, take some small stops. For exercise, begin by doing what is manageable, and above all else, is not going to demoralize yourself. If you set an unreasonable goal of running 5 miles without stopping within the first week, you'll most likely be morally devastated after that first week. Instead, gradually increase how far you can go (I'm relating this to exercise, but baby-steps go for anything).

Also, I personally suck at self-motivation. The biggest helper? Somebody out there to push me. I ran cross country in HS namely because it was with others- no way in hell I'm going to run that much solo! Maybe get your wife involved to help you (or entice you with special gifts if you succeed in your gradual goals) or find a friend to team up with. Outside support goes a long ways!!!
posted by jmd82 at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2005

There's a meme sweeping some of the Internet right now called Simpleology. It's free, and I'm giving it a try. It's mostly common-sense but provides some really cool insights into goal setting, etc. The intro video almost reeks of Scientology techniques, but after that it's all just simple, good advice.
posted by wackybrit at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2005

I also agree with ThePinkSuperhero. One thing at a time. Take your larger goals, and break them into smaller, more achievable goals. You have listed some very admirable goals, but they are big goals that will take a lot of time and effort to accomplish.

What I do is pick one or two small things a year that will help me achieve my larger goals. By focusing on one or two small goals a year, I can concentrate on doing them well and making them an ingrained part of my daily routine. That way when I set new goals for next year, I'm not likely to stop doing what I've been doing this year.

This year, my goals have been to eat better and exercise more. Notice I didn't say "go on a diet and exercise 5 days a week". I find it works better for me to have relative goals. Up until this point in my life, I have not been much of an exerciser. So, in order to accomplish my "exercise more" goal, all I have to do is exercise once or twice a week, or even a month. It won't turn me into a body builder, but it's a small thing that I can do that is an improvement over what I have been doing. It also prevents me from throwing the entire goal out if I miss a day or a week. Same thing with "eat better" -- all I have to do is eat more veggies and less junk than I did last year.

Having smaller, relative goals like this helps me to feel like I'm accomplishing something and making progress, instead of endlessly struggling toward the huge goal of being a healthier person.
posted by geeky at 1:50 PM on August 19, 2005

It really is that you have to make a decision to just do it. Note: I don't mean try to do it all at once. That's just setting yourself up for frustration and failure. But you do have to start somewhere. Take a walk once a week. Will this help you see a visible weight loss right away? No. But you've done something. Last week you were a person who didn't go out walking. This week you are a person who has spent some part of her time being active. I think it's all about giving yourself credit for the changes you've made. Even the small ones.

Of course, the hard part about this is if you get into a comfort zone where you're doing a little more than you were before, but not enough to put you on a path to your goal. Sometimes it might help to have an outside person to check in with, like a life coach. But no amount of encouragement or strategy will help you reach your goals if you're not sincerely committed to putting forth the effort and making changes.
posted by MsMolly at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2005

Hmm...TJH might be on to something with that second comment. I myself managed to put on thirty pounds over the past year, and I definitely think there was something more at work there than a massive failure of motivations. (Before that, I'd managed to chip more than 40 pounds off, very gradually, over several years by doing all that sensible habit-changing stuff.) Fat, after all, is a great way to hide in plain sight--for me, anyway. So digging into that has been interesting, to say the least.

Oh, and what plexiwatt and many others have said. It's all about the baby steps, which is both entirely true and fairly frustrating.

A few practical ideas that have worked for this reforming slackaholic:

Ditch soda for flavored sparkling water, or club soda with citrus wedge. The colder the better.

If you've got a PS2 or Xbox in the house...Dance Dance Revolution! So dorky it's fun, and so fun it's easy to work up a sweat. Or if you live within walking distance of the post office/grocery store/someplace else you go on a regular basis, try that once or twice a week. It's easier for me to get up and go out walking if there's a point to it, y'know?

Witch hazel and tea tree oil, or failing that, a visit to your nearest Clinique counter. I stick with the witch hazel n' tea tree--it's less hassle than a multi-step skin care regimen.
posted by Vervain at 1:53 PM on August 19, 2005

I'll get this out of the way at the outset: Are you depressed? By which I mean, do you experience low mood that goes along with the other symptoms that you outlined? If so, therapy does wonders.

There, ok, the good news is, you know the answer to your own question; the bad news is, you know the answer. There is, unfortunately, nothing to it but to do it. I would avoid using introspection and attempts at general life changes right now, because they might tempt you to put off actually doing something. Just from what you wrote about, I would say that losing weight would probably go a long way toward helping you feel better. It will give you more energy, may clear up your skin, will certainly make you feel more fit, and will (duh) make you weigh less.

I think the best way to lose weight is a moderate reduction in calories along with a big increase in activity. My current Rx for exercise is to 1) find something you enjoy doing (or find a way to enjoy doing something you don't really like, for instance, audio books make walking almost fun;) 2) pick a future goal tied to the activity toward which you will work; 3) pick intermediate points at which you will reward yourself with specified rewards.

One is self-explanatory. I think two is pretty much the key for me, and I hype it a lot. For me, running is the thing I do, races are the goals I pick. When I am not racing (a verb I use loosely) I let myself slack off on my running, and I gain weight as a result. When I have a race chosen, I have to keep running to train. It adds a layer of reason to why I run. But, I also think that the goal cannot be pounds lost, since it should be an added reason. Number three is something to carry you through the times when things don't seem to be changing. I would target time periods, again, something other than the primary goal, in order to provide that extra reinforcement. Exercise 4x/week for a month, get a pair of shoes (or something.)

I'd also schedule an outdoor active activity for each day of the weekend, not anything super big, but something in addition to the other exercise you're doing. This can go a long way toward curing (through fiat) the lie on the couch blues.

Now, you knew all of this already, so how are you going to make the change? Well, you just have to make it. You have to sit down and take out your calendar and schedule each of your workouts for the next month. Then you have to keep those appts by being strict with yourself (in a loving way.) When I can't seem to get it happening, I use my lunch hour to work out, I feel as if I get a chore out of the way which I might be tempted to skip when I got home; and although I also eat a healthy lunch, I can eat less and still be satisfied if I've worked out.

This can be done. I've focussed on exercise because I think it's most important for losing weight and getting fit. A word about kinds of exercise: it doesn't matter what kind you pick, as long as it's vigorous and gets a sweat on. Walking is ok, but it will take a heck of a lot of walking to lose 60lbs. You can read Gina Kolata's Ultimate Fitness for some info on types of exercise. I don't think the book is great, but it does a good job of laying out the reasons that strenuous is best. Diet needs to be considered, but not nearly as much as what you burn.

I lost ~60lbs over two years about 5 years ago, and I've been able to keep it off pretty easily, even when I eat poorly ( I have a real problem with ice cream, I mean, A REAL PROBLEM,) because I exercise a lot. I think quite a bit now about the joys of exertion, and about the difference between panting because I'm working hard and panting because I'm hardly working. There is a period at the beginning where the exercise and the getting up and getting out is like taking bitter medicine (which is why I argue for intermediate incentives,) but eventually being fit becomes pretty awesome.

I hope this wasn't too long or preachy.

[Oh yeah, you can schedule other things too, like washing your face, and reward youself intermittently.]
posted by OmieWise at 1:54 PM on August 19, 2005

I decided not to become a fat dad, and here is how I am doing it at age 38:

The No S Diet and the mighty (albeit poorly named) Shovel Glove, both courtesy of Everyday Systems.

I'm now within 6 pounds of my ideal weight, feeling better, looking better, and looking forward to being able to fit into clothing sizes I wore in college. The wife doesn't seem to mind either....
posted by Scoo at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2005

I'm just getting started on a similar track. For me, it's keeping my house clean, cooking, getting up on time, washing my clothes... I'm a life-long procrastinator and it's so, so easy to just say "I'll have more time tomorrow" or "Maybe I'll be in the mood to do it then" but that never stops. It frequently happens to me where I'll be about to go to bed and there's two dishes in the sink. I immediately think "Can I let those wait?", to which the answer is of course yes, but then nothing ever happens. I realized that when I ask myself that question, I should really be asking myself "Can I do that now?", to which the answer is almost always yes. I just do it and feel immensely better not only that I did it, but that I recognized what I needed to do and carried through. Hack Yourself is a well-written not-too-sappy motivational little thingy I came across lately that you might want to read in the morning or whenever.
posted by nTeleKy at 2:23 PM on August 19, 2005

For me part of getting on this horse was realizing I was being ridiculous. I have always been a bit hedonistic in that "don't deny yourself simple pleasures" way. This included stuff like dessert, sleeping late, not doing things that felt bad, not giving myself a hard time for activities that I knew were ultimately not helping [too much time online, too much beer at night, not doing enough laundry, not doing enough food shopping, whatever]. The problems would snowball, and it wasn't like I wasn't happy it was just like the gradual lack of exercise and the gradual increase in food and sloth were not going to wind me up anyplace good.

So, as far as being ridiculous. I realized if I was saying I couldn't fit in 30 minutes of serious exercise [swimming, for me] 3-4 times a week, then THAT was my problem. I'm a bit of a control freak, and a good planner. Watching myself not plan to do this [as TJH says, look at it from the outside] when I could, if I wanted to, get a seven-part meal all on the table and hot at one time, was silliness on my part.

So, I started keeping track. I divided my days up into "helping" and "not helping" days. Any day I managed to eat three healthy meals [breakfast was impossible for me], or get 30-60 minutes of real exercise with somewhat more lenient food restrictions, or cross one thing off of my embarassing To Do list ["call plumber" that should not take four months, I'm ridiculous!] was declared a day that was helping solve my problems. Any day that didn't have some redeeming factor like this was declared "not helping." My goal started as more helping than non-helping days. Now I'm up to one not-helping day every week or two, often with some acceptable excuse [parents in town, lousy weather, flu].

To me, the big deal was making it clear that even if I was comfortable and happy, I needed to do a little more to secure my comfortable and happy future like taking better care of myself. This might, in the short run, give me some discomfort and unhappiness. Other things that really helped: having support from my partner for getting to the pool, cooking healthier, realizing I LOVE how I feel when I've been exercising and the resulting ease of doing other things [long uphill walks, hiking, moving boxes] that were more of a struggle before. Often it snowballs. Getting more exercise means I shower more, dress slightly better, have a better body image. None of this was mission-critical bad before, but it's better now.
posted by jessamyn at 2:58 PM on August 19, 2005 [2 favorites]

The thing that tends to get me going is the idea that if I don’t keep my promises to myself, how can I think of myself as a reliable, trustworthy person?

An additional nudge: setting up external accountability. It can be something as simple as telling my husband in the morning that I will be going to the gym after work. It’s not that he’s keeping track or anything, but knowing that I have told him that I plan to go, I also know that if I bail on going to the gym, someone else knows that I bailed. Often, that is enough to keep me on track. Can you make plans to go on a walk with someone on a regular basis? Or volunteer as a dog-walker at your local animal shelter? Or just get a dog (another form of external accountability- the dog has to be walked every day, and it can't go walk itself.)

I second what Jessamyn says about the virtual snowball effect: when you move more, it becomes easier to move more. And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on...
posted by ambrosia at 3:31 PM on August 19, 2005

You might check out the Kaizen movement, which basically advocates the small steps everyone else has been talking about, albeit in a more structured way, which seems like it might help you.

Also, if you want to start exercising, find out what works for you. I had to start a structured exercise program, not just for my body, but for my mental health. But getting out the door to go to the gym or even on a walk just wasn't happening. So I bought a cheapy recumbent exercise bike that I use two days out of three for 35 minutes at a time, which I hope to increase to an hour a day within a year. The exercise will help your mental state as well as your energy level, I promise. This is coming from the woman who absolutely hated exercise her whole life, no joke. Now I look forward to it and when I skip a day I can really tell by how I feel both physically and mentally. When it comes to your skin, maybe you can treat yourself to some nice facial products that are fun to use, so as to be more of an incentive.

And don't be so hard on yourself. There's lots of things that all of us "should" do. It's just a matter of figuring out for yourself what your motivation should be.
posted by sugarfish at 3:32 PM on August 19, 2005

Schedule, if you can keep to them, and keep to it.

Plan out your week by the hour, exercise, playtime and worktime.

Then at the end of the month, readjust your plan; to something more comfortable or reacts to your experience of the previous month and plans for the next month.

Stick to it.
posted by Navek Rednam at 4:12 PM on August 19, 2005

I find that having exercise serve a purpose (other than exercise) can help a lot. When I lived an hour and a half's walk (or a 45 minute bike ride) from work, I tried to walk/bike to and/or from work nearly every day (or at least three times a week). A good portable music player can be a real motivator for this sort of thing. I used the time while walking or biking to work on the way my brain worked, to try and adjust the things I didn't like about it.

Finding an exercise buddy can also be a great boon to motivation. Especially if you can find fun ways to get exercise together.

As others have said, eat the elephant one bite at a time. Choose one thing you CAN succeed at (45 minutes of exercise three times a week or whatever) and just do it. Be mindful of how things get easier as you get better at them. Keeping a diary or journal of this sort of thing (Fitday is a great help for exercise and diet) can help you see what you've accomplished (and not just in terms of exercise and weight, but also in terms of how you're progressing with changing the other things you want to change). Be forgiving of yourself without being easy on yourself (it's okay to slip up now and then, it's not okay to just stop your new way of doing things).
posted by biscotti at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2005

I am lazy. I am getting better.

Weight loss: my doctor said, "Come back in three months weighing less than you do today." That started it. Two years later, I weigh 36 lbs. less. Lost 25 lbs in the first year, and 11 in the past year. I go back to the doc every 4 months to get weighed. His only standard is, "Weigh less next time." There is still plenty of willpower involved.

Fitness: Same principle. Started a year ago when my weight loss slowed. My standard: just do more this month than last month. Started feeling a real improvement after 3 months. I'm still lazy, so it's an effort every month. But I'm still a little bit pleased with myself, and I know there's a good chance I'll keep getting more fit.

These things work for me. I think part of it is that I'm middle-aged now, and I've accepted that a little real progress is better than the dream of a dramatic change all at once -- and that my basic personality is pretty much set.
posted by wryly at 5:57 PM on August 19, 2005

Just pick one small goal and start. Just do something, anything. It might not seem like enough, but ANY change in an improvement over what you're doing now. Set a simple goal, like, "I will walk for 3 minutes on 3 evenings a week for one month." Celebrate that achievement, and set another reachable goal. Keep going. Along the way, don't berate yourself for not having more or better goals, or for still being short of your imagined ideal. Measure yourself against where you were, not against some abstract ideal.

Seriously...just DO something. You've obviously thought, read, and stewed your way into inaction. Now just stop listening to the circular thinking and GET MOVING. The world is for the do-ers. Grab the brass ring. I know what I'm talking about; in the last 3 years I quit smoking, lost 62 pounds, started working out, and just completed my first triathlon. Ran a 10K last night. Just get moving; you will probably find the rest of your goals will fall into place, or at least fall into perspective. The improved self-confidence, physical and mental well-being, and self-image you get from an exercise program will boost you in every other area you'd like to improve.
posted by Miko at 6:21 PM on August 19, 2005

I wonder whether the lose weight/look better thing and recent weight gain means that you don't really want to? that it's not really as important to you now that you're part of a couple? (i mean this seriously--we all have things we feel we need to do to be attractive, but our hearts aren't really into it--it's externally driven)
posted by amberglow at 7:22 PM on August 19, 2005

I totally second the advice to join a class or team. For years I would begin to exercise and then fall off again. Now I swim with two teams and I look forward to going swimming. Someone above said no one enjoys going to the gym--that doesn't have to be true. I love it, because I have goals and encouragement in the same place, and friends I only see if I show up.

Good luck.
posted by dame at 8:18 PM on August 19, 2005

Laziness workarounds from the semi-reformed:

Skin care: It takes 21 days for a new behavior to become a habit. Find a great face wash and moisturizer, stick a reminder post-it to your mirror, and it'll become second nature.

Exercise: Biscotti has great advice above: the lazy need exercise that either has a point, like taking the stairs or walking to the store, or doesn't disrupt other activities, like curling 10 lb. weights while reading AskMe. 10 reps per thread = biceps in no time!

Weight loss: As every thread on this topic recommends, Fitday!. After a few weeks (or 21 days...) you'll become aware of both your eating patterns and the healthiness of everyday foods. Fitday's journal feature made me realize that I eat when I'm bored, and seeing the calorie/fat/carb/protein counts of everything I ate led me to alter my diet significantly. I didn't need to eat less, just healthier: salads, fruits, popcorn, and popsicles rather than pasta, chips, and icecream. I've lost 40 lbs. in 6 months thanks to Fitday (and AskMe, where I first heard of it).

General advice: Don't think of laziness as a character flaw that needs to be fixed before self-improvement can begin. As long as the sloth and weight gain aren't related to depression (have you seen a GP lately?), it's not impossible to (lazily) become who you want to be.
posted by ellanea at 9:21 PM on August 19, 2005

I read the stuff at a lot; he's got a lot of motivational stuff there. I don't agree with all of it, but there's definitely a lot of good content.

Two things come to mind from my experience. First, I tend to forget things, even something like "remember to wash my face every night" would be a challenge, so I'd simply have to hack myself into doing it. What am I guaranteed to do every night? Climb into bed! So, put a reminder in your bed that stays there and makes it impossible to go to sleep until you move it (and wash your face). When going to sleep, put this big block of wood (or whatever) somewhere where it is the first thing you see in the morning--perhaps in the shower so you cannot start your day before you reset your reminder by putting it back into bed. After a while after the habit is formed, this won't be necessary.

The second obstacle is when I remember I'm supposed to do something, but it's easier to just not do it. There's a bunch of ways to deal with this. Here I can repeat to myself that the *only* way to my goal lies through this action (say, getting up and exercising). If I want that excellent, wonderful, goal, there is simply no way to get there without taking that step. So, it's like convincing myself something obvious like,"I can't have this canned soup without first getting the can open; it is a necessary step."

The other more general thing is to catch myself when I catch myself considering the "easy" thing: taking the elevator, doing sloppy work, eating extra ice cream. You know the feeling: "Should I have that candy bar or not? Should I rewrite this? "I really don't feel like taking the stairs..." Each one of these is a decision, and I can fixate on simply doing the harder choice as a way of life. I'm not exactly promoting masochism: it's just that the harder choice is often the right one, and a little challenge is a good thing.

I didn't find a good source for this quote, but it's like the saying "Eat a live frog every morning and nothing worse will happen to you all day." Except your "frog" was something that was good for you, yet initially unpleasant. You get the added benefit of the mental conditioning of "I didn't want to do it, but I did it anyway. That's really huge.

I share your concerns about not being able to motivate myself to self-improvement, although not in exactly the same areas. Feel free to email if you want more info/feedback/support.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:52 PM on August 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

How about rewarding yourself in some non-food way for each step you take in the right direction? If you manage to eat healthily and go for a half-hour walk for three days, for example, treat yourself to a fancy face wash product, a trip to the movies or even to an extra hour in bed with a new book?
posted by hazyjane at 11:31 PM on August 19, 2005

I felt this way at about 29 too - embrace it as you telling yourself that you are in control of your life and who you want to be and feel empowered that you are not forcing yourself to do things you don't want, but that you are making the adjustment needed to become who you are inside.

Second - do not let perfectionism stand in your way. In my house it was always, if you don't have time to do it right - when are you going to have time to do it over? I used this to put off all kinds of things. Realize that many times just doing something is MUCH better than doing it perfect "later" - which never comes.

I learned how to make "better bad choices" in situations when I couldn't make the "best" decisions about food/exercise. So you are traveling and have to eat out with co-workers who want pizza. It is ok to have it - just don't eat the whole pie - pick the veggie pizza! Don't use an impossiblity of acting perfect as an excuse to fall into gluttony.

Make lifestyle changes - resolve to be healthy and lean - or when you get to -60 lbs you might just go right back to bad habits and behaviors. Make exercise part of who you are - make healthy eating part of who you are - you ARE an athlete and a health nut. Identify with it - rather than feeling like you are just denying yourself things.

Finally - as others have said - small steps. Replace white with wheat. Beef with chicken. Fried with broiled. Cola with diet (or better - water). Little things over time make big changes.
posted by jopreacher at 11:50 PM on August 19, 2005

One thing that strikes me about your goals compared to mine is that they are abstract states of being. Eg, sure it's great to be healthy and cute. However, I find it more motivating to frame it as "see my grandchildren (assuming my daughter reproduces) and "stay desirable for my girlfriend". Further than that, I find it easier to have very concrete, achievable goals.

Eg, I wanted to be able to play capoeira, and more than that, I wanted to be able to cartwheel and walk on my hands. I've become fitter and healthier in order to do those things. It helps to achieve these abstract states (health, fitness, peace of mind) if they are gratifying side-effects of something that brings its own satisfaction.

There is an old Russian saying along the lines of "if you exercise, and don't smoke, and don't drink, you'll die healthy". Frankly, the sacrifice of immediate pleasure is never going to be motivating for most people in itself. Unless and until you can get off on the pleasure of self-denial, you need to focus on things that are small, achievable and fun in themselves. Don't be thrifty: save a hundred bucks. Don't lose weight: lose 3" off your waist so you can fit into your favourite trousers.

You believe that you should get some hobbies. Well sure. So pick something that will probably be fun, and do it. "I should get some hobbies" is not a goal. "I will have a hobby by this time next month" is on the way to being a goal. "I will take samba lessons and save money until I can fly to Rio and score an attractive Brazilian sex partner by January 2007" is a goal.

Until you can express what you want and why, you will sit on your arse watching tv until you die. Eschew the abstract. Embrace the concrete. Close this browser window RIGHT NOW and don't come back till you can tell us your list of concrete goals.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:48 AM on August 20, 2005

PS: I mean this lovingly, of course. :-)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:57 AM on August 20, 2005

I'll second Steve Pavlina's site, especially his 30-day challenge. Basically, pick one thing (exercise every day, don't eat sugar, watch no more than two hours of t.v. a day, read for one hour every night, eat four marshmallows a day, whatever) and commit to doing it every day for 30 days. At the end of the period, your new thing will be a habit and you can decide if it's worth continuing. Steve, for example, tried being a vegan for 30 days and liked it, and later tried following the macrobiotic diet and decided after 30 days that it wasn't worth it.

In general, set SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. Not "I want to lose weight" or "I need to lose 60 pounds," but "I will average 2200 calories a day for 30 days" or simply "I will record everything I eat on every night for 30 days."
posted by callmejay at 8:14 PM on August 20, 2005

As usual, jessamyn has great points.
posted by OmieWise at 5:31 AM on August 23, 2005

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