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Step 3: Make the plan

Achieving a goal can be a complex process that involves many individual tasks. Break them down into a realistic plan.

Source: Health Services

Typing on laptop

Achieving a goal can be a complex process that involves completing many individual tasks. For example, the tasks involved in achieving a nutritional goal might include learning more about the various nutrients, learning how to plan a day of healthy eating, generating a shopping list, learning how to read a food label, finding and preparing healthy recipes, buying food storage containers, identifying shops that sell produce at good value in the neighbourhood, scheduling time to prepare meals, developing a repertoire of quick, easy-to-make meals...and the list goes on.

In this third step of the change process you will identify the tasks that you need to do to achieve the goal you have written in Exercise 1.1. Some goals require just a few tasks; others require many. We have divided this section into several different categories of tasks to make this process easier.

(Note: Download the interactive workbook and complete these exercises in it)

Before you continue, take some time to think about the strategies you will use to achieve your goal. What changes do you think you can make? For example, if you have a nutrition goal you may see yourself cooking at home more often, bringing your lunch to work/school or going grocery shopping more often. If you have a physical activity goal you might see yourself going to the gym three days a week and playing basketball with friends twice a week. Visualizing the things you will do to achieve your goal can greatly help you with the exercises in this section.

Exercise 3.2: Build skills: A skill can be defined as the ability to do something well. Skills are learned; often through training. Since a skill refers to knowing how to do something, the word “how” often introduces a skill. Examples of skills include: how to read a food label, how to use a condom correctly, how to negotiate effectively, how to check your heart rate, how to identify the number of calories in a food, how to say “no”, how to correctly lift weights, or how to recognize hunger and satiety cues. Some of the tasks involved in reaching your goal may require building skills.  

Exercise 3.3: Gather information: Making changes usually requires gathering information and building knowledge related to the change. A person who has set a physical activity goal may need to gather information about the services, equipment, and monthly fees of local gyms; learn about recommended number of sets and reps in weight lifting; or learn about the best clothing for walking outdoors in winter conditions. A person with a nutrition goal may need to learn more about proteins, fats and carbohydrates; learn about healthy cooking techniques such as broiling and grilling; or learn which foods are high in fiber. Some of the tasks involved in reaching your goal may require gathering information.  

Exercise 3.4: Get support from others: Research reveals that social support is an important factor in successful behaviour change. Social support refers to the network of family, friends, co-workers, neighbours and others who can offer encouragement or assistance. Some of the tasks involved in reaching your goal may include garnering the support of others.

People can provide practical, emotional, financial or other types of help. Some examples of social support include:

  • a person who has set a nutrition goal asks a good friend to teach him how to prepare a few healthful dishes or he asks his parents (who shop for, and prepare, the food at home) to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in the weekly shopping and to include extra vegetables and less meat in his servings;
  • a person who has set a physical activity goal asks a friend to be her walking partner or asks her parents to be encouraging;
  • a person who has set a sleep goal asks his roommates to turn down the volume on the television in the evenings after he has gone to bed.

Exercise 3.5: Change your environment: Healthy behaviours are much easier to carry out if the environment supports it. For example, being physically active is easier if there are bike paths and safe walking trails in the area; eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is easier if there are several stores in the neighbourhood that sell quality produce at good prices. These are examples where the environment is already shaped for us. However, there are things a person can do to shape their environment so that it encourages and supports the actions needed to reach a health goal. For example, a person who wishes to achieve a nutrition goal can fill his pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods, remove unhealthy ones from the house or buy equipment that makes healthy cooking easier — such as a slow cooker or food processor. A person with a physical activity goal can clear a spot in her living room for doing exercises or download exercise routines.

Exercise 3.6: Identify other tasks and strategies: The previous exercises in this step have prompted you to identify tasks in several categories that included skills, information, and support from others. There may be other tasks or strategies that don’t fit neatly into these categories. For example, if part of your goal is to eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, some tasks and strategies to achieve that might include:

I will make a grocery shopping list every week.
My grocery shopping list will include at least four types of vegetables and four types of fruit.
When I go shopping I will head first to the fruit and vegetable aisle.
I will include a piece of fruit or a serving of vegetables in at least two of my three snacks each day.
Each week I will seek out and prepare one new vegetable dish or side dish.
I will have at least two different vegetables with supper.
I will buy a slow cooker to make cooking easier.

Exercise 3.7: Identify possible barriers and how you will address them: Another important consideration in developing a plan is to identify any possible barriers you may encounter that will prevent you from putting the plan in place. Once you have identified a possible barrier, brainstorm ways to overcome it. These barriers could be conditions that already exist or situations that you may encounter in the future.

One example of a condition that already exists is a distaste for vegetables in a woman whose goal is to consume eight servings of fruit and vegetables each day. In this case she may choose to experiment with some of her favourite spices to enhance the flavour of vegetables. She may decide to add curry when stir-frying vegetables, or create a spicy dip for vegetables using fat-free sour cream and a few drops of hot chili sauce.

Exercise 3.8: Identify and implement rewards: The final part of the plan that will increase the chances of successfully achieving your health goal is to identify and implement rewards. Rewards can act as incentives and encourage attainment of your goal because they provide immediate and tangible feedback. A bit more about rewards.

Some tips for identifying rewards:

A reward should be something you truly enjoy.
A reward should be good for you (having a cigarette after doing a yoga class is not a helpful reward).
Rewards can be monetary (e.g. paying yourself or giving to charity), non-monetary (e.g. clothes, electronics), activities/social (e.g. going to the movies, having friends over for dinner), relaxation (e.g a hot bath, a massage) etc.
Some should be quick and easy to implement (e.g. treating yourself to a nice meal); others can be long-term (e.g. putting away money for a trip to Europe).

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