Tools for Personal Change: Claudia’s Story

During the first P&L group breakfast workshop for the year “Leading Change: Up Close & Personal”, Sarah and Claudia introduced some models that may help you with making sustainable changes in your life.

Today we’d like to share how Claudia has used “Appreciative Inquiry” to help her achieve one of her goals for 2018:

“As long as I can remember, I have struggled with my weight. In the last 10 years, I have fluctuated from being slender to being overweight; from being fit to being a couch potato. I am blessed with a strong body that has good muscle memory and can get fit relatively quickly. I am equally cursed with a body that can put on 20 lbs in no time without me even noticing it.

On December 23, 2017 I returned back from a trip to Portugal in excruciating pain. I had slipped a disc while on vacation: this was not the first time I had experienced back pain. Normally I could walk it off and take NSAIDs for a couple of days. This time was different. No amount of walking helped and the NSAIDs were almost without effect. It took heavier drugs and a muscle relaxer to even get through the day.

In my past, I had suffered broken bones, twisted knees, and all sorts of ailments related to an outdoorsy lifestyle; yet I had always managed to maintain a good degree of mobility.

Not this time: I was almost immobile. Walking the dog, slowly, while being supported by my husband’s arm, felt like an achievement. For the first time in my life, I felt my age. I felt old and weak.

I was lucky: a neighbour recommended a genius osteopath who fixed me in tw

o sessions. He told me that my body had exhausted its capacity to cope – the cause of my problem (which was located in my jaw) had been with me for a while and had caused a chain reaction down my spine.”

For the last 1.5 years, I had neglected exercise. I don’t know what I was thinking (probably nothing), but I clearly remember the day when I decided not to use my rowing machine (for no reason other than not being in the mood) and hadn’t used it ever since.

I had let myself go and now I reaped what I had sown. I knew that I had to change something and make it last.

Using the model of the Appreciative Inquiry, this is what I did:

Discover (what works well)

  1. I knew from past experience that when I exercise regularly, everything falls into place. My sweet cravings (liquorice is my weak spot) cease, I stop overeating, my body reacts gratefully to exercise.
  2. I may be out of shape at the moment but have a solid basic fitness base to build on. I can go for long walks, for instance.
  3. I may not be a model athlete, but I have done different sports in the past and can do them more or less well. I also can get fit quite quickly.

Dream (what the future will look like)

Instead of focusing on 2018, I dream of myself in 30, 40 years (If I am privileged to live that long). I want to be strong and mobile when I am old and not depend on anybody. One of my heroines is the 90-year-old lady who lives in my building. Slim as a willow, straight as a rod, she walks (perfectly coiffed and attired) every day. I once walked home with her from the bus (she’s a fast walker!) and asked her how she stays fit. The answer was simple: she has always walked a lot, has done a lot of 30-40 km hikes when she was younger. Another heroine of mine is a 78-year-old lady I see in the pool regularly. I guess she goes there every day. She rocks her Speedo, and swims her laps without fail. I once told her that she’s an inspiration. That’s who and how I want to be when I am old.

Design (processes that work well)

What did I need to do in future to maintain a healthy fitness regime?

  1. Create variety. In the past, I would only run or only row. Nothing else (except riding my horse, which I didn’t think of as exercise). Running or rowing every day delivers great results but is also (to me) extremely boring. Today, I have a variety of exercises (swimming, running, rowing, riding, walking, functional training) that keep me entertained.
  2. A little is better than nothing. In the past, when I didn’t want to make the time for a run or a row that I would deem “a good workout”, I didn’t do it at all. Instead of running only 2 or 3K instead of 5, or rowing only 20 mins instead of 45, I wouldn’t run or row at all, which always marked the beginning of a steep decline. Today, I am OK with squeezing in a quick session. Moving a little is better than not moving at all.
  3. Have fun! For me, it turned out that running was not the sport that I liked doing every day. In fact, I find running quite hard. I like swimming much better. Find something that you like doing and do it often.

Destiny (take first steps towards your dream state)

  1. Give the goal a positive note: Instead of “I need to lose some weight” or “I need to get fit”, I decided to focus on “move more, get stronger, and remain mobile as I get older”.
  2. Accountability: I have never been a fan of “wearables” for aesthetic reasons, but investing in one (in my case, an AppleWatch – others also serve a similar purpose), and using it, has worked wonders. I had no idea how many calories I burn during an exercise or during a day. By setting an achievable calorie-burn goal (with a weekly increase of 10), I make sure I go the extra mile, on top of my 30 minute per day exercise goal.
  3. Start Today: I had my 2nd and final session with my osteopath on December 29, and December 30 I went to the pool, which I have done once per week as a minimum since. There is no point in waiting to implement positive change, start right away. Do some squats, run on the spot, do something, and do it again tomorrow.
  4. Track and measure your results:  This road is a long one, so it’s great to celebrate milestones to see how far you have come. My first big milestone was swimming 2K, I was immensely proud. The next big milestone was going shopping for clothes two sizes smaller. There will be more milestones in the future (one of them will involve plyometrics, i.e. jumping) – I will keep you posted.

Finally, we are only human! It is only natural that we will come up against hurdles in our change process. Successful change happens, when you can identify possible challenges in advance, and plan how you will deal with them.

  1. Too much, too soon. Like a lot of people, I would overdo it. Running or rowing every day or 5 times a week was simply too much. In order to make cardio-vascular exercise a pleasant experience, the German sports scientist Ingo Froboese talks about a feeling of “subjective underload”. In other words: one should finish the exercise on a high note, with the feeling of being able to do more. “That was a lot of fun! I could have gone longer. Tomorrow, I will go again”.
  2. The pain of starting over again. Following a couple of days of doing nothing, doing something was always painful. It turns out that in as little as two weeks, even professional athletes lose ca. 35% of their strength. So, maintaining an irregular regime made starting again painful. The knowledge of something painful ahead of me, didn’t exactly boost my motivation, which ended in not doing the exercise at all. To avoid the pain of starting over again, I try to do something every day, even if it’s just 15 or 7 or 5 minutes.
  3. Fear of failure. Life happens and there may be days when exercising is difficult or simply not possible. That’s OK and no reason to beat myself up. In order to reach my long-term goal, I simply need to ease back into the routine.
  4. Stop comparing, start aspiring, be kind to yourself. In our performance-driven society, we tend to hold ourselves to high, maybe even unreasonable standards. We compare our performance with friends or colleagues or even younger versions of ourselves. We’re being told that “pushing ourselves” is the only way to a better and healthier life. The psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihály has done a lot of research on what helps athletes reach their state of “Flow”. It turns out that the feeling of Flow is achieved when the task ahead is just a little harder (roughly 7% to be exact) than what they are able to do. So instead of pushing ourselves, let’s stretch ourselves, just a little, and often. None of us will be competing in the Olympics (if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog), so the World will not stop turning if today you’re a little slower or can do less repetitions. If you need to take a walking break while running, it’s not as if lightening will strike you. Just finish on a high note and try again tomorrow.

By following these simple steps, you can make change stick in your life as well – how could you Discover, Dream, Design and reach your Destiny?

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