Happy New Year!
This time of year, people set resolutions with good intentions, but their lofty goals often get abandoned. Does it need to be the fate of our goals?
Today, I talk with my friend and my Life-Spark, LLC business partner, Jay Elkes. After a long career as a software developer, Jay has switched to thinking about systems that make life better. Recently, he blogged about one of his key strategies on his personal blog, and I’m excited to share his thinking with you.
Jay, your article focuses on a topic we are both interested in — achieving goals, which you’re taking it one more step to maintain the result.
That’s right, Janna. Anybody can set a goal.
Many people can achieve it. When it comes to lifestyle goals, the real challenge is maintaining the results.
About five years ago, I re-engineered my life to lose 35 pounds, and I’ve kept it off ever since. I did this over a period of six months without name-brand diet plans, medical supervision, or surgery. I didn’t understand what I had stumbled into at the time, but I recently recognized the underlying principle to my success.
Why don’t we, Jay, start with the moment you decided to take action? What was going through your mind?
In April, 2011 I wanted to lose some weight . I lost a couple pounds right away, but then I started coasting. Over the next six months I lost another six pounds. Any progress I made was quickly overwhelmed by moments of celebration.
By the end of October, I realized that at that rate it would take me years to get to my target. I decided to make it a formal goal, complete with measurable targets and a plan. I wrote out the plan in a Moleskine pocket notebook that I still have today.
So what did you decide?
I set a specific target weight to achieve over a period of three months and outlined what I was going to do to achieve it. This was a classic SMART goal and I used every trick I know to make it happen.
S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Action oriented
R – Realistic
T – Time bound
I have used SMART goals before and after, but this was one of the clearest examples I’ve seen. If you look carefully, you’ll see that I missed the target by a couple months.
Was that a problem in this case?
In this case, no. Nobody else was depending on my result and I was pleased with my progress. The real issue would come later. Anyone can set a goal, and a lot of people can achieve it. I knew from the start that I could reach my target weight, but the real goal was to maintain it long term.
You’re talking about a lifestyle goal. Correct?
Exactly. If you want to visit the Grand Canyon, you can do that, check the goal off as done, and pick another destination for your next trip. Reaching a target weight is a great feeling, but it’s just another data point on a graph of maintaining health. I waned to change my life to maintain that weight. Today, almost five years later, I wrote about my success and why I’ve succeeded this long.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What exactly do you mean by success?
When I checked my weight this morning, the scale reported 153.8 pounds. For my height of 5’9″, this maps to a body mass index of 22.7 — perfect according to even my fussy primary care doctor whom I see once a year for a checkup. Even better, I’ve maintained that weight since ending a diet that dropped 35 pounds in 2011-2012. What I realized this year is that back then, more by dumb luck than insight, is the master key to long term success.
Willpower won’t power long term success
I’ve known you long enough to see the result. If willpower wasn’t the answer, what did you do?
I began with exercise. mostly walking…
Yes! I remember, you shared this with me. I also remember that I asked you “How did you make it, Jay? And you said:
Walking is a two-step process: you take a step with one foot, then a step with the other, then repeat five thousand times (for 10,000 steps) a day.
This took willpower at first, but after a few weeks it became habit and finally I enjoyed it. If I miss a day now, I regret it. I also know that one hour at a fast food restaurant destroys several hours of exercise.
Come on, Jay! It can’t be all exercise! Can it?
Losing weight is 20% exercise and 80% diet. About half the diet effort is cutting out the stupid habits. First, I cut from my meals (and my snacks) the items that were totally self-destructive. A burger, fries and coke can provide 1700 calories in a meal. Replace that with a grilled chicken sandwich, a small salad and water and your calorie count is at most 600. I used willpower to make good choices until good choices became a habit.
Then you recommend both diet and exercise?
Correct diet can help you lose weight, correct exercise will make you fit. Weight control and fitness are two separate but related goals. If you want both results, you need to do both.
You’ve already said that willpower doesn’t do the job. What’s the missing piece?
What I didn’t catch at the time was that over time I went from applying willpower to adopting healthy habits, and from there to craving them. Lots of walking became a habit, then a reward in itself.
Do you have any tips on the diet side?
Use your willpower to fight the biggest problem. For me, it was too many calories in liquid form. The most effective rule I had was don’t drink your calories. Today, I’d say make a habit of not drinking your calories.
So, what’s wrong with willpower?
When it comes to goals, willpower eventually loses to the power of won’t. Buddha said “In the confrontation between the rock and the stream the stream always wins, not because of strength but because of persistence.”
Willpower can’t last long enough to power persistence. It can power you long enough to reshape habits and habits are the tools of persistence. When you crave the walk and happily select the salad, you’ve won the game.
So you need both willpower and habits?
Think of it this way. Use willpower like tinder to start a fire. Use habits like firewood to keep it going long term.
Thank you Jay. Where can my readers can get more inspiration from you
Make a New Year’s Resolution to change your habits and use your willpower to get the process started.
Hey, Jay! Why won’t you show us your trick with the belt?
O! This is my favorite! In 2011 this is the belt I was wearing, and it felt uncomfortably tight! I’ll let the result speak for itself.
Be the stream. If you want help plotting the course of your stream, we can help.
My project to produce a movie from my book Love Is Never Past Tense led me to Stage 32, an online community of 500,000 creatives. When I started to engage with them, an editor invited me to write an article for their blog. I responded enthusiastically (see the article here), which started an email exchange with Rosalind Winton. Rosalind is an editor and lyricist from “across the pond” and we became friends.
After Rosalind read my book, she shared a story from a few branches back along her family tree. When I realized it included a historic event and a song she has written, it was time to invite her to my blog.
Hi Rosalind! Tell us please how your song about the Titanic came about?
I’m so glad you asked me that question, as I absolutely love talking about this; you might want to grab a coffee or something for this story. My Paternal Great Grandfather Harry Corn died on the Titanic. He was married to Rebecca, and they had two daughters Stella and Fay who were about six and four years old respectively. They wanted to travel to America to reunite Rebecca with her family; they had been split up after migrating from Russia. Some of the family went to America and some, including Rebecca, had come to London. They sold their successful upholstery business and bought four tickets for Titanic, but near to the time they were due to leave, one of the girls became ill and couldn’t go. So, it was decided Harry would go on ahead and the rest of the family would follow later. Of course, he never arrived.
The story of Titanic has always meant a great deal to me and I had always wanted to write a lyric about it, but over the years, everything I tried to do just wasn’t right. I was never happy with the outcomes.
One day, Mick Cooper whom I was working with on some songs said “I have a challenge for you!” He wanted me to write a lyric about something “that wasn’t human”. He said it could be about anything at all, as long as it wasn’t human.
I love a challenge, and for many weeks I wrestled with his idea. I tried out all sorts of different connotations on a theme.
One day, I was looking at Harry’s picture, and it hit me: Titanic isn’t human! I’d write about that. Weeks and months went by… I kept trying, hoping one day I’d have a eureka moment. And it came! It came during the final of the Wimbledon tennis championships. Right at the end of the match, the winner was walking around the court, holding up his trophy. The audience was applauding. The press was taking photos. All of a sudden, in my mind’s eye, I saw the Titanic superimposed on the TV screen, and the chorus for the lyric suddenly appeared in my head, in its entirety. I grabbed a pen and wrote it down. It was perfect and from there I wrote two verses and a bridge. I decided to put a twist on the whole challenge and write the lyric so that the Titanic came across as human. Within half an hour, I had the whole lyric, I showed it to Mick. He loved it and he composed beautiful music to it. Mick’s friend John Paul McCrohon has provided a stunning vocal. The song has since gone on to win a Merit Award at the Portsmouth Music Festival in 2001. It’s been aired on the radio and played at Titanic Exhibitions. I am so proud of this song!
Rosalind! I am so proud of you too! My congratulations! Can you share the lyric for us?
You can view a video of it here. Here’s the lyric…
Tell us a bit about your lyric writing.
I’ve been writing for over 30 years and enjoyed some lovely achievements. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of my songs performed live on stage, I’ve won awards at music festivals, written lyrics for school plays, solo artists and studio vocalists. I’ve also written for as yet unsigned musicals, which is something I really love doing. My biggest ambition is to write for film. I hope to fulfill that dream one day. Writing my lyrics is something I’ve always been extremely passionate about. I’ve worked in recording studios, overseeing the production of my songs and this is where I get to direct talented musicians and vocalists, people I’ve had so much pleasure working with. It’s the most incredible experience! What I love most, is starting off with a blank page and an idea, and building on that until it finally becomes a fully produced song. There’s really nothing like it. You can see more on the music page to my website.
So, Ros, who has been your main inspiration?
Without a doubt, the genius that is Barry Manilow. When I first discovered him, I was about 17 years old, and I had been writing for a couple of years. I bought Barry’s first album and as I listened to the songs on the album, I realized that was how I wanted to write my lyrics.
I spent hours studying the lyrics of all Barry’s songs. I learned a great deal doing that, especially about structure and timing. Barry also gives his songs big, musical theatre type endings. I realized very early on, that’s how I wanted to write my songs, using the time to ‘say something’, tell a story or portray a feeling and build the song right up if appropriate. I have been a lifelong fan of Barry’s, I learn from him all the time, he’s an incredible performer, writer, arranger. When I write my lyrics, I think of Barry as an imaginary gauge to how I’m doing. I ask myself if I think a lyric I am writing is good enough to show to Barry. If the answer comes back ‘yes’, that is really good, if it comes back ‘no’, I go to re-write mode. Barry has always been encouraging in his messages to his fans and audiences about never giving up, being positive and believing in yourself, which has really helped. I have met Barry a few times. The last time was in New York for a talk he was giving about writing for musical theatre. There was a meet and greet afterwards, and I was able to tell him that I write, that he has always been my inspiration, and how much I have learned from him over the years.
We met because of your editing work at Stage32.com. You also offer freelance editing as One Voice Literary Agency. How do you describe your editing work?
Publishers have their own editors and proof readers, but my aim is to inspire, advise and help new authors and those who are already in the process of writing, to reach a high standard of professionalism that will encompass everything a publisher or producer will look for on a first read-through.
I have an excellent understanding of what publishers expect to receive from authors. I also help authors write synopses of their work, the all important covering letters and advice on submitting manuscripts to publishers.
What work do you take on, what do you look for when deciding whether or not to take on a project?
It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, or what the genre is, I work on presentation, spelling, grammar, format if it’s a screenplay, continuity, and character and story development. It could be an epic novel or a short article, a psychological thriller, romance or children’s picture book.
What final message do you have for our readers?
Do what you love, find a way, even if it seems impossible and even if it means you won’t reach the top, do it anyway. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t, believe in what you do and grab any opportunity that taps you on the shoulder.
OK, Rosalind. It was a pleasure talking with you. Thanks for visiting us and thanks for sharing your interesting story about your great-grandfather Harry and Titanic.