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I have learned over the last few years that big things can be accomplished by taking baby steps toward a goal. This is how I have managed to get all of my credit cards paid off, how I have managed to amass some savings, and how I have (finally) figured out how to attack my fat and lack of fitness.

I used to stand back and look at a problem, throwing up my hands in despair. “There is no way I can pay off all this debt,” I would whine. “I'll never save any money,” I would cry. “I will never lose X pounds; I will be fat forever,” I would sob.

I don't just have 10 pounds to lose. I have doubled my size since I graduated from college 15 years ago. No, I didn't go from a size 6 to a size 12; I weighed 2X where X was my graduation weight. I have realized I didn't put on this weight instantaneously, that it was over a space of 15 years, and that it is completely unreasonable to expect to start drinking Slim Fast and wake up next week at a size 8 again. Just like my debt: I didn't just wake up one morning and suddenly owe over $20,000 to various creditors (excluding my mortgage). It piled on as I charged various vacations, impulse purchases and meals (hmmm, correlation with the weight gain here?).

When I made the decision to “attack” my debt, I made a little index card and taped it to my bathroom mirror. It said, “What is ONE thing you can do today to help pay down debt?” I started each morning with that thought as I brushed my teeth, and the memory of that card stayed with me as I reached for impulse purchases at the store, bought expensive prepared foods, or paid my deluxe cable bill. It helped me make better decisions: downgrading cable to basic, shopping for a cheaper internet provider, just generally cutting a lot of “luxury” items from my spending and applying the savings to my debt.

I still have an index card taped to my bathroom mirror. Today it says, “What is ONE thing you can do today to become fit?” I start each day with that little meditation, and it helps me make better choices throughout the day. It motivates me to take my walk every morning, and it motivates me to add a little more distance to that walk every day. I think of the card every time I want to walk downstairs to get my favorite snack mix from the machine, and instead, I reach for the peach I brought from home. I think of that question each time I am tempted to drive around the parking lot waiting for a space closer to the door, and I happily park in the back of the lot and enjoy my walk into the building. I recall the card when I think about watching TV instead of going to the gym, so I load a tape into the machine and go to the gym. I consider the index card's query when I am faced with a choice of elevator or stairs, and usually choose the stairs. I don't always make the right choice in every situation, but I make the right choice now more often than not.

And it's all helped. I have lost 22 pounds so far pretty painlessly. It's been about changing my thoughts more than about changing what I eat. I don't search for the magic food combination anymore that will melt off the pounds. I simply work to make at least one little change a day that will make a difference.

Let's face it: that's how most of us gained weight in the first place. We made tiny changes to our lifestyles that have added up over time. We opted for the Ben and Jerry's more often than we opted for the piece of fruit. We hooked up with a significant other and adopted some of their favorite foods as our own. We started driving to work instead of walking around campus. We had kids and started cleaning their plates rather than let the food go to waste. We opted to watch Law and Order instead of taking the bike ride around the neighborhood. We started ordering fries with our hamburgers.

I believe that the secret to taking weight off, and becoming healthier and fit, is simply to identify those opportunities that can make a difference, and then take advantage of them. Baby steps will get you to the goal just like the big steps will, and I think they make the journey a little more tolerable.

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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