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When you are trying to make a change in your life, the key is to engage in consistent effort for a long period of time. Most change efforts fail because people give up and quit too soon. It’s easy to go outside for a jog one time, or order a salad for dinner one time. But it’s tough to make healthy choices day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

The “Apple a Day” Principle

One principle that has helped me make real, lasting changes in my life is the “Apple a Day” principle. The principle is based on the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” What it means is when you are trying to change something in your life, the key is to do something small and manageable every day, but stay consistent with it. Just like most people can eat an apple a day (not a big deal, right?), most people are able to do one small thing every day that moves them in the direction they want to go.

8 Steps to Apply the “Apple a Day” Principle

Here are 8 steps to apply the “Apple a Day” principle in your life:

  1. Identify your goal. The first step is to identify your goal. What do you want to change in your life? Where are you trying to go? It is best if your goal is specific, rather than vague. “Get in better shape” is too vague. “Complete a 5k” is more specific. Similarly, “improve my relationship” is too vague. “Take my wife out on one date per week” is more specific.
  2. Assessment. Before you get going on working toward your goal, it’s important to figure out where you are at right now. How can you know where to go, if you don’t know where you are? Be honest and take stock in your life right now. How much are you running right now? How often are you going out with your wife right now? Where are you at in regard to the goal you are working toward?
  3. Education. Sometimes you may not have the necessary information to know what to do to improve. For example, you may not know how to start a jogging program in a balanced, healthy way. You may have some skill deficits when it comes to your relationships. Do some groundwork and get some education. What will it take for you to move toward your goal? You might need to read a book, get a coach, or go see a counselor. Don’t wander aimlessly in the direction of your goal. Get educated on what it will take to get there.
  4. Focus. It’s important to keep your goal in front of you. Sometimes it can be easy to forget or lose track of what we are working toward, especially a few weeks down the road. Put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror to remind you of your goal. Put a sign on your desk at work. Get an accountability buddy who can encourage you and remind you of your goal. Make sure your goal is in front of you throughout your day.
  5. Break up your goal into parts. One big mistake people make is trying to tackle their goal all at once. Remember, the goal is one apple a day. If you try to eat all the apples at once, you will get sick. Break up your goal into small parts. Don’t try to do everything at once. For example, if your goal is to run a 5k, you will complete shorter running workouts that slowly increase over time.
  6. Start small. When you start your program, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Instead, start small, with something you know you can complete. If you’re new to running, and you try to start by running 30 minutes, that’s too much too soon! You will likely not be able to do it, and end up getting discouraged. Instead, start by trying to run for 5 minutes. This is something more manageable, and then you can build on your success and go a little further the next time.
  7. Do one thing each day. Remember, consistent effort over the long haul leads to success. You want to do one apple per day. Try to do one thing every single day that moves you in the direction of your goal. Research has shown that it takes about 66 days of doing something regularly before it becomes a habit. At first, the change will feel really difficult. But keep at it. If you do the behavior every day, eventually it will become part of your normal routine.
  8. Do it first thing in the morning. One pitfall a lot of people fall into is to think they will “get to it eventually.” Unfortunately, we are all really busy, so what generally happens is the thing you mean to do gets pushed to the back burner and doesn’t happen. To prevent this, do your “apple a day” activity first thing in the morning. Get it out of the way, before you start working and checking email.

Discussion: What is something you would like to change in your life? Try working through the “Apple a Day” steps, and see if you can do one thing per day that moves you in the direction of your goal.

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