“I’m going to work out three to four days a week… I’m going to eat better.. I’m going to lose weight.” Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution, a goal or just a promise to yourself, we have all heard it before. But what breaks the cycle of unfulfilled resolutions or goals?

The key is behavioural change—not promises. And there are simple steps that anyone can perform to ensure behavioural change. Anyone, yes anyone who is truly committed. And that is the first requirement. You have to be truly committed and initiated to really start on the path towards behavioural change.

And what’s one of the secrets to ensuring behavioural change?… You may ask.

Accountability, checklist

Checklists. Yes that’s right, a simple checklist.

You don’t need some fancy app. You don’t need a smart phone. You don’t need some expensive $300 electronic gizmo on your wrist that requires wifi.

You only need a piece of paper and a pen. Just a simple checklist. That’s all. And you need to be committed and/or to have a committed partner, so that together you can place a checkmark on a schedule (having a partner that you’re committed to or with helps, but it’s not necessary).

Like pilots do before every flight and like I do as a thoracic surgeon before every chest operation, we take out a checklist and start marking off each box to ensure accuracy and to eliminate mistakes of omissions. But how are you like a pilot or surgeon?

Obtainable, realistic goals

First, set realistic goals. Most of us are not going to work out seven days a week; we’re all too busy with work, family commitment, hobbies and down time for that. But you can do four (not three) days a week.

And thus the first checklist is created. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, the simpler it is the better. I use an old calendar I got for free in the mail or from my bank for Christmas.

Every time you work out (which has to be for at least 25 minutes if you’re doing cardio with an elevated heart rate of least 20 percent of your baseline)  you gain the right to place a check in that box.

And after you hit four checks in a week then you get to place a big check mark at the end of the week. You did it! You hit the exercise goal for that week. Now, you can set up the same system for your diet.

Set your goals based on your current health and weight and medicines and ask your physician if needed before you start. You know what you should and should not eat and how much.

When you hit your mark each day give yourself a check for that day’s consumption. Strive to hit it five or six days a week. It’s OK to have one cheat day a week if you think you need it, but you can’t go overboard on that day either. Again, checks go in the days you follow the diet and no checks days you don’t.

Measurable

Each Sunday morning (or every other day if you want) when you wake up, after you go to the bathroom and before your enjoy your healthy breakfast weigh yourself naked.

Just like I review my results and outcomes as a surgeon every Friday afternoon for that week, you too have to review your outcomes for your goals to lose weight and get in better shape. You have to review your outcomes frequently to ensure you’re on the correct path. If not, the course must be redirected.

Any process that doesn’t mandate frequent review of outcomes and that doesn’t ensure the chosen metrics that measure success are accurate is a process that will fail.

Do this religiously and honestly for three months—just 12 weeks—and watch the results. And what are the results?

First and most importantly you have just learned and accomplished the art of behavioural change. This can be applied to any process—ANYTHING.

Second you have learned to change your culture. Go back and re-read just the highlighted words above.

These words outline part of the process of excellence of being a super performer. This process can and has been applied to any problem you have—every one—none is too big or too small.

Once you master the process you have learned one of the most important parts of being a super performer. And that is the desire to get better in everything you do. Make the process a constant lifelong commitment. Make it part of your DNA.

Read more about goals in NEW YEAR, NEW YOU?: Complexities of resolutions and goals>>

Robert J. Cerfolio, MD, MBA, is the James H. Estes Family Endowed Chair of Lung Cancer Research and Full Professor Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. The author of Super Performing at Work and at Home, (www.superperforming.com),Cerfolio, who was a First Team Academic All-American baseball player in college, is a world-renowned chest surgeon and recognized as one of the busiest and best thoracic surgeons in the world.
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