Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Letter Experiment

I was reading an article last week about goals. Particularly, how if you write down your specific goal then you will be more likely to attain it.

I won't go into the heady details but basically, when you write something down, the act of using your pen to form the words and have it on paper is more binding than just thinking it.


Then I remembered something. About 10 years ago, I discovered running. I was working at a local news affiliate producing the 5pm, 6pm and 11pm news so I didn't have to be at work until 3pm. Perfect hours for me by the way. Anyway, since I had the mornings to myself I took up running and eventually fell in love with it.

While I was going through this phase of my life, I wrote myself bi-weekly letters. I don't remember why I started but I remember writing them. In fact, I still have them. I would write what I wanted to accomplish in the 2 weeks. It was everything from water intake, to shaving seconds off my pace to how many times I would actually run that week. And it worked. For about a year, I ran 6 days a week. Yes, 6 days a week. I believe I missed one week due to illness but on average I maintained my 6 days. I also lost weight. But that wasn't the goal of my letters at the time. I wasn't concentrating on my food so much as my overall fitness and how I wanted to improve my running.

I have always wondered why, in that particular phase of my life, I had a such an easy time with my health and fitness. I usually attribute it to my age (yes, I was in my early 20s), my hours at the job being conducive to exercise, and basically just it being "one of those things". After I read the article I thought "What if the letters also had a hand?"

Now, I don't think that my letters were the one and only factor but maybe they did help with my motivation and success. I didn't always meet my goals every two weeks, but I always improved in some way. If I wanted to drink 8 glasses of water a day, maybe I got in at least 6. If I wanted to improve my running, maybe I didn't get faster but I was still running TRYING to get faster.

You get the point.

So last week I decided to try my hand at it. I wrote myself TWO letters. The first one was a 6 week letter with 6-week end goals. And the second was a week letter and in my week letter I wrote 3 simple goals:

1. To eat between 1200-1500 daily or on weekly average
2. To do cardio 5-6 times
3. To do strength training 3 times

I added a line or two about some motivational thoughts but all in all it was simple. At the bottom I left a place to right down the results.

Now, the 6 week letter is a little more detailed but not much. It basically states the same calorie, cardio and strength training goals but I added ONE addendum. I go on vacation next week and I added slightly, slightly more lenient calorie/exercise goals that are only to be followed on the exact days that I am out of town. For instance, my calories increased to 1500-1600/day/average for vacation days only (I'm gone 4 days) and I excused myself from cardio and strength on the same 4 days. I wanted to be realistic about my vacation. I'm meeting family up in San Francisco and am aware that getting my gym time in is probably not going to happen seeing as how I have 4 days with these people that I only get to see once a year. I'm also hoping that sight-seeing/walking will keep me active. At the bottom I left a place for physical results as well as motivational and emotional results. Oh yes, and weight results.

I bundled the two letters together to help me keep sight of the big picture and also to remind me that it's a week by week battle.

That was a week ago.

Today I get to open the letter. It's at home right now but when I do I get to write the following in the results column for my week letter:

1. calories: 1475 average
2. cardio: 5 times
3. strength: 3 times

Did I mention that I also get to add that I lost 3.2 pounds this week! Not too bad right? Granted last week's weigh-in came right at that time where I was carrying some water weight but still I think I would have a put up a good number regardless.

So today another letter gets written. It'll say almost exactly what the previous one said except with different motivational words this time because I figure if it ain't broke don't try to fix it.

Here's to another week of success :)

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30 Days to ... by JH is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.