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The Art of Making Change: Part One

by Marilynn Preston

At the start of the new year, my friend Diana did what millions of Americans do: She made a resolution to exercise more.

“You’re too young to be this out of shape,” her doctor told her. Diana had a gym in her building, and a husband who would cover for the kids, and she certainly had the clothes.

Diana set her alarm for 6 a.m. every morning for the first week. She crept out of bed and was on the treadmill by 6:10. Thirty minutes of walking (and checking her mail), followed by a few stretches and some weights, and by 7 a.m., she was back in her apartment, showering for work, fighting off the urge to drink a Diet Pepsi for breakfast.

By the middle of week two, Diana was shutting off the alarm and snuggling up with her husband. No more early morning workouts, and her promises to hit the gym after work withered and died as well. Yesterday, she told me she’s given up and feels like a failure.

Yes, she’s a failure. And there are millions of you out there struggling with the same issue as you watch your New Year’s resolve melt away, like the extra cheese on the beef nacho chips you just polished off without thinking: What’s the best way to make change happen?

I’ve been a student of behavior change – and a practicing life coach – for years, and as the year unfolds and Resolution Interruptus sets in, I want to assure you it’s not too late to reset your intention and experience success.

But you need to understand how change happens, and how to make it happen for you. It’s a big subject. Expect two columns on this, starting with my current list of keys to success, subject to change, just like everything else in life:

YOU HAVE TO WANT IT. Your doctor may be pushing you to exercise, or your girlfriend nagging you to quit fried foods, but if you don’t want it for yourself, it’s not going to happen.

Here’s the most important truth to emerge from all the research: You can’t change to please someone else. Well, you can, but it won’t last. Lasting lifestyle change – moving more, eating smarter, balancing play and work – happens when you are ready, when you are deeply committed, when you decide to take charge of your own health and wellness. Call it your aha! moment, and let’s hope it happens before a heart attack or a scary diagnosis.

LESS IS MORE. It may feel good – in the moment – to resolve to lose 30 pounds in six weeks, but it’s a crazy and counterproductive goal. A pound a week, maybe two, is plenty to shoot for. Same with athletic pursuits. Be realistic. Better to succeed at running one 10k race than dream of a marathon with no plan or real intention of following through. Small victories fuel big changes. If you are going to set one intention for 2014, choose one you are certain you can achieve.

REWARD YOURSELF. Once you set a realistic goal, attach a reward to it. Write it down in your journal. For example: After five workouts in a row, I will treat myself to a massage … or a margarita. There are apps and websites for this, too, being one of the best known. You can also place big bets with friends, but it has to be for serious cash so you’re highly motivated not to give in.

GET SUPPORT. You are more likely to stick to your goals if you play with others on a similar path. That could mean joining a running club or Weight Watchers, or finding a training partner. Misery loves company, but so does success.

LET FAILURE INSPIRE YOU. See failure as feedback. Take it in stride, and don’t let it deter you from moving forward – again! – toward your goal. Resiliency is required, so learn to stand up and fall down with grace and courage. Change is hard work, but it doesn’t feel like work when you’re living the life you want to live. That’s what authenticity feels like.

And it’s authenticity – being true to your highest values – that makes lasting change more likely.

Next Month: It’s OK to tear up your old resolutions.

Marilynn Preston is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website,, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to



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