Ep #34: The Power of Small Wins

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | The Power of Small Wins
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What change do you want to make in your life? Maybe you want to make exercise a non-negotiable. Maybe you want to eat better or think differently about something. Whatever it is you want to change, you can get it done by aiming small, and taking it slow.

We are impatient and we want results as fast as possible. We think that to create a change, we need to go all in and take drastic action. But when it comes to change, your approach does not have to be extreme in order to work. Slow, small wins are more tolerable, sustainable, and enjoyable than fast and furious, and they are key to making the change you want.

In this episode, learn the benefits of small wins, why you should be aiming for them when making a change, and the importance of celebrating them when they happen. Hear some tips to help you get started with making small, slow changes, and learn how to take this approach and apply it to any area of your life where you want to see a change.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make this show better for you. Want to get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out? Share this podcast with a friend by texting a show link, sharing a screenshot, or posting a link on your social media, and help other busy working moms feel better and change things up.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • Why it is OK to aim small while you are aiming big.
  • How small progress makes a huge difference.
  • What you get from aiming for and achieving a small win.
  • The benefits of small wins on your pathway to change.
  • Where I most commonly see people get tripped up when it comes to their goals.
  • Some of the upsides of aiming small and how it can benefit you and your progress.
  • What self-efficacy is and how to get it for yourself.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #34. If you’ve got a big goal, get it done by aiming small. Tune in, and you’ll see what I mean.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some day sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, we are going to talk about small wins. We’re talking about aiming for, accepting, and even celebrating the small wins. We’re talking about slow, small progress today.

And here is why I want to talk about this. I want to make the small wins as palatable as possible to you. Because I get it. I get that I am taking a risk here by encouraging you to aim for slow, to aim for small. You might be raising an eyebrow at me, and I got you. But let me explain.

Many of the women I coach come to me with really big goals. And I love it, I am here for it. That’s what we do. These women have legit, serious goals that they want to accomplish. They come to me to help them reach their goals. And we do that. I help them get results, whether it’s at home, at work, or just to feel better inside her own brain and body.

Here are some of the most common things I get asked to help my clients do. And maybe some of these apply to you too. Maybe you want to make exercise a non-negotiable. Maybe you used to exercise in the past; maybe during high school, college, or even grad school, or before kids. But then, work and life happened, and you got busy.

As you started succeeding professionally and taking on more and more responsibility at work. And often, this is alongside having and raising a family. Maybe you found less and less time to take care of your body in the way you wanted. Maybe that’s you.

Maybe you’re in a place where you remember what it felt like to be in a good routine with exercise. But now that work and kids and family are all competing for your time, you don’t have time left for yourself. Or, maybe you want to make eating healthier a priority because you’re not eating in a way that makes you feel good.

Again, many clients come to me because they are in a habit of picking up takeout, eating out at restaurants, or just not planning ahead for meals. So, they end up eating in a way that does not feel good to them. And maybe they’ve tried a few things or ordered a meal plan or system, but it just didn’t stick.

Or, maybe they are all thumbs in the kitchen, like me, but still have a desire to eat healthy and just don’t know how to get started. Or, maybe you want to lose weight. Not every client comes to me with the objective of weight loss, but some do.

Maybe you have tried every book, every system, every diet under the sun, and you feel like weight loss is just not possible. Maybe you’ve yo-yo dieted for years. And you’ve done Weight Watchers, and you lost 30 pounds, then you gained it all back once you stopped. Or, you did a plan with bars and prepackaged meals, and you lost a boatload of weight. But it wasn’t in a way that was sustainable. And you want to know what else you can do.

Most recently, I’ve had women coming to me looking for career help. So, maybe this is you. Maybe you are well-established in your career; you’ve checked all the boxes professionally, and you look perfect on paper. But that same career is sucking you dry.

Maybe you aren’t appreciated at work. Maybe you’re not getting paid what you’re worth. Maybe you were just totally exhausted and straight-up burned out. Maybe, like me, you felt called to do work that is more meaningful, but feel trapped and don’t know where to start.

This is just a sample of the types of things I have coached women on. And if any of these situations apply to you, here’s what I want to offer in regard to whatever change you’re trying to make. Whether it is exercise, your weight, nutrition, your career, your thinking, whatever it is, know this, okay? Small progress is good, period. Really.

My whole purpose of today’s podcast is to help you see and understand why it’s okay to aim small, while you are aiming big. I want you to understand how small progress makes a difference, and see what the benefit is of small wins in your pathway to change.

So, hear me from the outset, I’m not going to get all hokey on you and shout, “Small progress is still progress. And small progress adds up to big results.” You know that already. You can find that on Google. I’m not going to get all Disney movies here.

You can find all kinds of inspirational quotes about small or slow progress, but I want to take you far beyond that today. Because as I say this, small progress is still good, and I’ve said it to many of you, I want you to truly believe this in your core. Meaning, I want you to believe it to be true for yourself.

Because what I will commonly see when I’m coaching women is this: She can understand and intellectualize that small wins and small progress is good; for her friend, for her kids, for her coworker. But it’s not good enough for you. And I’m going to show you that small progress is good enough for you, and it’s really where it’s at. It is absolutely good enough for anyone.

So, to illustrate this, I want to give you real, true actual examples where small progress is actually huge. Maybe you can relate to some of these examples in your own life. Maybe I can help you see the small wins you are having as not so small, after all.

And maybe if you feel like change is not happening fast enough for you, maybe I can help shift your perspective. If you feel stuck… If you’re worried that the slow progress you’ve made isn’t good enough… If your concern is that you need to be doing more and seeing more wins, then this one’s for you.

I’m going to start by using exercise as an example because this is where I most commonly see people get tripped up. And because I’ve said it many times, fitness and exercise really are a great dry run for the rest of your life. So, let’s just start there. Okay?

What if you are not currently in a good exercise routine? I’m assuming you know and understand all the benefits of exercise. You really want to move your body more. You know it’s really awesome for your brain and your mood. But you’re just not in the habit of regular, consistent exercise.

Maybe you get up at 5 am one day and get 20 minutes for jogging, but then you’re really tired the next day from getting up so early, so you hit snooze. And then the next day, you were just too sore from the exercise. And then you’re like, forget about it, this is just not happening.

I have seen this many, many times, and it does not have to be this way. I have used this concept many, many times, coaching people around habits and especially exercise. And here is what I want you to start telling yourself. I’m asking you to start telling yourself this sentence every day, “Something is better than nothing,” okay? Something is better than nothing. If you don’t want to borrow that sentence, please come up with your own.

And here is what I mean by ‘something is better than nothing’. Say you’re not currently exercising, and you haven’t for a few years. But then you’ve decided it’s time to shake it up, and you’ve set a goal. Your goal is to do four 30-minute runs on your treadmill every week.

You come to me, and you tell me, “There’s your goal. Game on, let’s go.” But then, as things move along and reality sets in, you find that it is just not working. You’re snoozing your alarm. You’re skipping it altogether. And those workouts, they are just not happening. And that does not feel good.

So, here’s what I will offer to you instead. What if, instead of a goal of four 30-minute runs per week right now. What if you set a goal to get up once a week and walk on your treadmill for five minutes; five minutes. That is it. Once a week, you get up and walk on your treadmill for five minutes.

And if you’re laughing or shaking your head at this idea, you’re not alone. I’ve had a few clients just outright laugh at me and balk at the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn, only to get on their treadmill for five minutes. Like, why bother, right?

So, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Why would I bother getting up at the crack of dawn, or even after work, why would I bother to change, put on gym clothes, and get on that treadmill for all of five minutes?” I get it. Okay, so here’s why; here’s why you should bother.

It has nothing to do with the exercise, it really doesn’t. Okay, so maybe those five minutes on the treadmill, yeah, that’s a bonus, but the reason to get up and do it goes far beyond the benefit of exercise. I’m asking you to get up and walk on your treadmill for five minutes because this is about proving yourself, to no one other than yourself.

You are proving that you’ve got your own back. When you make a plan for yourself, that plan of getting up once a week to walk on the treadmill for five minutes, you stick to it, and you get it done no matter what. It’s self-efficacy.

What is self-efficacy? Why do I harp on it so much? As a side note, it wasn’t until I started this podcast that I realized just how much I talk about self-efficacy. And at first, I worried that it was going to be overkill. And now, I realize, oh no. I need to keep shouting this from the rooftops. I need to keep talking about self-efficacy because too many of you don’t believe in yourselves and don’t believe that you can change.

But I’m here to help you shake that all up, and we’re going to get rid of that limiting belief about yourself. Okay? So, that’s why you’re going to keep hearing about this. I want you to know exactly what self-efficacy is and how exactly you get it for yourself. Very simply, self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to do what you need to do to achieve your goals.

Albert Bandura was a psychologist who defined this. He is essentially the grandfather of self-efficacy. He was way more eloquent than I am, but all the same, when you boil it down, self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to do the work to get the job done. And that is critical.

No change in your life is going to happen or is going to stick, without self-efficacy. And too often, that’s where you get tripped up. You have to believe in your ability to get up and get your workout done. You have to believe that whatever goal you are taking on… You have to believe that the work you’re putting in, that it matters. And, that you can do it. Without self-efficacy, nothing changes.

So, how do you get it? I will have this exact conversation with a client. She will tell me she hasn’t been getting her workouts in. And I will ask her, “Hey, do you think you can get up early once this week and walk for five minutes?” She’ll raise an eyebrow at me and say, “Yeah, of course, I can do that.” And then my response is, “Awesome. Let’s make that one of your goals for the week. Let’s make it happen. And go prove yourself right.”

Go prove to yourself that you absolutely can get on that treadmill for five minutes, once this week. Go and show yourself that when you commit to something, it is as good as done. Because you honor your commitment and your word to yourself. Then you go and do the thing, and you get on your treadmill.

Do you see it is not about the exercise? It really isn’t. It’s about creating a goal that is just a bit of a stretch, but attainable. You can totally walk for five minutes. And then, you go and do the thing. That’s building self-efficacy.

And if you’re thinking, “Well, that’s not hard enough,” I hear you because I’ve most definitely gotten that response. I’ve gotten the response, “Well, it’s only five minutes. That’s not enough, I should do more. I should be doing at least two 30-minute runs per week.”

And this is exactly it. Sure, you could be doing more, but right now, you aren’t. There’s a mismatch. Yes, you could be doing more workouts than a five-minute walk. But right now, you’re sleeping through your workouts and not getting in any exercise. So, that’s zero minutes of exercise in a week.

Yes, while five minutes might seem way too small or insignificant to you to prove to yourself that you can do it, you go do it. If you are consistently not exercising at all, or consistently skipping workouts, but you think that five minutes isn’t enough, there’s a disconnect.

I’m asking you to close that disconnect by going and doing the five minutes. Because then, you’ve taken your workout from zero minutes in a week to five minutes in a week. And that is a win. And if five minutes is so little, prove it to yourself and get it done.

Because you know what happens when you do this? I will tell you what happens. When you hold yourself accountable, and you get up and do those five minutes on the treadmill, you prove to yourself that you’re capable of doing what you need to do to get the job done. You set a goal, you hold yourself accountable, and you follow through. This will feel amazing.

This will feel very, very different from setting a goal of four 30-minute runs on the treadmill and doing exactly none of them. Do you see the difference? This is huge, and it will feel so different. It feels really, really good to do what you said you’re going to do, especially when no one else is watching.

When you make a deal with yourself, and you follow through, and you do the hard thing, it feels really good. And that is how you build trust in yourself.

Alright, so to keep going with our five minutes on the treadmill example. From that place of self-efficacy, after you’ve done the five minutes, you up the ante. You decide, “Okay, I’ve done five minutes. I can totally do this once a week. Now, I’m going to aim for two 10-minute walks per week.” And then, you go and prove yourself correct about that, too. You get up twice a week, you do your 10 minutes on the treadmill, and you prove to yourself, I got this.

This is how this works. This is goal setting and going after it, right here. This is critical. If you learn nothing else from me and the time we spend together, this is essential. You have to have belief in yourself. You have to believe that when you show up, you are capable of producing results. And then, you go and do the thing to prove yourself right. It is a self-perpetuating process.

And if you’re still having trouble accepting this concept, think about it this way. You have to be able to run a 5k race before you can go and run a marathon. And if you’re thinking the 5k isn’t enough, go out and do it. Go out and do the 5k, and prove to yourself you can do it. And then decide whether or not it’s enough; that’s the difference.

When you’re aiming small, often you get tripped up because you think it’s not enough. But you haven’t even done the thing that you think is too small, so how do you know? I’m encouraging you to go and do whatever you think is too small or too insignificant, or not going to make the impact you want, and then evaluate it and decide if it was too small.

Because what if those five-minute walks once a week were exactly what you needed to move you to two 10-minute walks? To two 20-minute jogs? To four 30-minute runs in a week? To a 5k road race? Then, was it too small? I don’t think so.

So, do you see? Prove to yourself that you are capable of a small win. And how do you do this? You do it by taking action. Taking action. Once you try something and actually do it, then you can go back and decide if it was too small.

But don’t tell me that five minutes isn’t worth your time when you’re currently doing exactly zero minutes. Okay? I know that may be a little tough love, but it’s true. If it’s too short, do the five minutes and then do some more. And here’s the kicker, you’re not doing this out of anger or spite or resentment; you’re doing it out of kindness.

Here’s one of the most important take-homes about a small win: Too often, once you decide to trust this concept, and aim for the small win, and then you go and do it, you don’t acknowledge it. You don’t give yourself credit for it; you downplay. And I’m here to tell you, no. As your coach, and if you coach with me, you know you got to high-five yourself.

You need to give yourself props, pat your back, I don’t care, whatever it is. After you do the thing, I encourage, well, really, I insist, that you celebrate it. And that is for a number of reasons.

First, I said this before, and I’ll say it again here, you cannot beat yourself up into better. If you want any change to last, it has to come from a place of kindness. So, step onto that treadmill for five minutes as a way to be nice to yourself. And then, be proud that you made a plan and you stuck with it.

Acknowledge that the step you just took is important. And be proud of yourself for taking it. Imagine what you would say to a friend in your shoes, and then talk to yourself that way.

Second, your brain needs reinforcement. With any habit you’re trying to build, your brain needs to know that what you did was a good thing. So, after you do that walk, maybe you give yourself an air high-five, or maybe you just smile to yourself. Or, maybe you say, “Way to go!” to yourself. Whatever it is, find a way to celebrate your small win so your brain can remember, “Hey, I like that. That was good. Why don’t you go and do that again?”

This is habit science, right here. That small act of celebration is essential to cementing a new habit into the hard-wiring of your brain. But too often, it gets overlooked because instead, you’re getting onto yourself about how you could have done more or run faster or run longer. And why are you so out of breath? And No; no more.

Instead, find a small way to celebrate yourself, to reinforce those new neural pathways that you’re creating in your brain. That is how it becomes a habit. Okay?

Now, let’s take this concept of small progress and apply it to your nutrition. So, I’m going to use it in the setting where this most commonly applies. And this most often comes up when you’re trying to lose weight. So often, you will come to me with a goal of losing 10, 20, or maybe even 50 or more pounds. And I can help you with that.

Do you know where I suggest we start? Let’s work on losing a pound. One pound. Again, I often get resistance to this idea. Quite often, the knee-jerk response is, “Whoa, that is just not enough.” I hear you, and I acknowledge what you’re saying. You’re right, one pound is not a lot. And that is exactly the point.

My response to that will be, “If you tell me that one pound is not enough, I will say go and do it.” This is not in a snarky, ‘I told you so’ kind of way, but rather in a prove it to yourself kind of way. Go lose that first pound, and then come back all fired up and pumped up that what you did worked.

And then, let’s talk about what you did. And how we can use that information to lose the next pound, and the next pound, and the next pound. Because again, in order to lose 20 pounds, you have to start by losing the first pound.

So, unless the math has changed, you have to start by losing the first pound. So, go and do it. Do you see what I mean? This is why I ask you to start with that first pound. I want you to learn exactly what you need to do in order to lose that weight. I want you to be able to reflect and think about it and tell me exactly what it took from you to lose that pound.

Maybe it was exchanging your fries at lunch for a salad, all the time. Maybe it was cutting out breakfast cereal in the morning, and having eggs and oatmeal. Whatever it is, I want you to get really clear on what exactly it took to get that one pound of weight loss. And then hone in, take that information, and then add to it.

If this is what you had to do to lose one pound, now what do you need to do in order to lose the next one? And we keep chipping away at it, one pound at a time, recognizing, acknowledging, and accepting the work that you’re putting in, in the process.

I’ve seen this in real-time with my clients, and it is awesome. The level of confidence. The level of understanding of how their bodies work and how they respond to subtle changes in their nutrition. And just the simple awareness that this creates for them, it is visible; I see it, and they see it.

All right, so here is another upside of aiming small. In this example, when you go about trying to lose weight one pound at a time, you can decide if what you’re doing is sustainable. So, think about it. How many different products, plans, systems, influencers, whatever, will claim to have you 10 pounds lighter in a month?

Okay, so maybe that’s an extreme example. But I’ve definitely seen these types of promises, and you get the idea. What they often neglect to tell you is that these systems are strict, they are restrictive, and they are not easy to stick to.

So, while you might be able to strongarm yourself through 1200 calories per day, which is part of your plan, and lose those 10 pounds within 30 days, you might be so hangry and tired that you decide it is not sustainable. So, then you go off the plan and gain all the weight back; no good. This happens way too often.

What if, instead, you took the slow approach? Making one half of your plate a salad every day. Substituting takeout for a meal you cook at home at least once a week. What if you took that approach? Do you think that you could lose one pound doing that? The answer is yes.

I know you can lose a pound doing this simple change because I’ve seen it happen. And as I’m talking this out, it’s making me think of something I want to make very, very clear here: Your approach to change does not have to be extreme in order to work.

Your plan for change does not, and in fact, it should not be wild or difficult, or extreme in order to be successful. And this is true way beyond your weight. It applies to your nutrition. It applies to your work-life balance, all of it. Remember, humans like comfort. We like the familiar. We like easy.

So, the easier you can make this for yourself, the happier your brain will be. And the less likely your brain will try to talk you out of the change you’re making. Your brain does not like drastic changes. So, as soon as you try to restrict yourself to losing 10 pounds in a month, your brain is going to freak out on you and tell you to go back to what you know. And, your 10 pounds lost will come right back. Okay?

When you aim for losing just one pound at a time, yes, you are taking the slow approach. But what this does is give you the time and, most importantly, the brain space to evaluate if what you’re doing is going to work for the long haul. I cannot stress to you how essential this is.

If you’ve been hanging around with me at all, you know, I will say this until forever, diets do not work. Extreme, restrictive, complicated eating plans?

No, they do not work. While they may promise rapid weight loss, they are not sustainable. So, I would argue that a plan that promises 10 pounds of weight loss, or some ridiculous other number of pounds in a month is not going to be sustainable for you over the long term.

And worse, when the sort of super-fast results programs fail to work, the end result is not only the weight you regain, which often happens pretty quickly but also the damage to your metabolism. Remember, the more extreme your approach is to weight loss, the more you risk damaging your baseline metabolism. Meaning if you lose weight, then regain the weight back, your metabolism will be slower than it would be if you hadn’t lost any weight at all.

So, in the long run, that super-fast progress really ends up putting you a step backward if you can’t sustain that pace. And most people trying to lose weight cannot sustain a drastic fast approach. I know that’s not the answer you want to hear; it’s frustrating. We want what we want, and we wanted it yesterday; we are impatient. And we want results as fast as possible to get us to that next space of comfort. But it just does not work that way.

When it comes to change, and especially when it comes to weight loss, slow, small wins are more tolerable, sustainable, and enjoyable than fast and furious. Always. Okay?

So, here’s the other thing you get by aiming for and achieving a small win, you get motivation. If you remember, a few weeks ago, I talked about motivation and how unique it is in the process of change. In the case of weight loss, I’m using motivation as an end result. It’s a byproduct of the actions you take.

After you make the necessary changes to your diet, and then you stick to it, and you see that it worked, and you lost that one pound, that’s motivating. So, not only did you produce the result of weight loss, but you also produced motivation for yourself.

That motivation drives you to keep taking action and continue eating in a way that results in weight loss. That motivation, from your small win, compels you to keep taking action to get more small wins. And those add up. The more you succeed, the more you will be able to succeed in the future.

It’s these small wins and the resultant byproduct of motivation that are there to keep you moving forward when you face challenges. Because for many of you, you’re right, that one pound might not be a big deal. It might be easy for you to lose one pound. But I want you to learn from that and take note of it, for the time that comes when it isn’t as easy to lose that next pound.

Or, take it back to exercise. When it isn’t as easy to slog yourself out of bed because work is busy or you haven’t slept enough, or whatever the reason may be, it may start out easy. But whatever change you’re trying to make, you are going to be presented with challenges.

And if you have a history of small wins behind you, that can give you the bump you need to keep pushing when things get hard. Again, when you have small wins, that feels good. You can use that feeling of pride and empowerment to keep you moving forward when things get hard.

Those small wins, think of them as a reminder. They are reminders of all that you have already accomplished on the way to your big goal. So, don’t underestimate them, okay?

All right. I hope this opens you up to the idea that a small win is anything but small; it is a win. It is progress, period. For any of you who might have a big goal you’re staring at, I wholeheartedly encourage you to aim small while you aim big.

You will find a sustainable rate of change that you can stick with for the long haul. You will produce motivation as a byproduct. You will most definitely reach your goal. And most importantly, you will prove yourself to the one person that matters most, yourself.

All right, thank you again for hanging out with me, and I will catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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