So, you are in the process of moving from preparation, into the action phase of change (click here to read an earlier post on the stages of change). For the purpose of clarity, let's say the behaviour you want to change is to no longer purge, although this method can also work for any behaviour or 'thing' you want to change in your life. How many times have you said to yourself, "Come tomorrow (or next week, or next month or next year), I am going to stop purging... cold turkey... that's it, no more purging for me!"? How has that statement worked out for you? Likely, not great. It's too big and broad of a change. It also sets you up for failure, as likely, in the process of change, we makes slips. This doesn't mean your effort to change has failed per se. It just means, it needs some tweaking.
I encourage my clients to make, S.M.A.R.T. goals (sorry guys, I'm not the clever one who made this acronym up, although I cannot find the source). A S.M.A.R.T. goal is the following:
S - simple
M - measurable
A - attainable
R - realistic
T - timely
In the above example, saying you are going to quite purging cold turkey, isn't in line with the S.M.A.R.T. goal acronym. Sure, it might be simple in concept (i.e.: one purges and wants to stop purging), however, as you know, it is not that easy. It may be measurable (i.e.: you no longer purge), but as stated above, you may slip along the process. Is it attainable? Well... sure. Many people break the binge/purge cycle and lead purge free lives. Realistic? Not so much... maybe people do not find success in just going cold turkey. Timely? I would argue you may find short term success with becoming purge free by going cold turkey, however, we are looking to build long term change, which this initial goal is not able to obtain.
The S.M.A.R.T. goal to be purge free over the weekend might look something like this... "Over the weekend, I want to stop purging by using distraction, socializing, following a mean plan, yoga and distress tolerance skills". Let's see how we did...
Simple - Yes. You wan tot stop purging over the weekend by using specific skills, which are clearly listed
Measurable - Yes, you will know after the three days how you did on your goal and what areas you may need to tweak.
Attainable - Yes, you aren't trying to fit a square into a round hole or anything crazy like that. This said, stopping an eating disorder behaviour (or any behaviour that has become habit, or is long lasting, etc) is quite the feat. Perhaps, at some point along your journey, the idea of being purge free for a weekend was more of a dream than a possible reality. If challenging yourself to the whole weekend is too long at this point, break it down to a day, or even a short period of time (i.e.: between breakfast and lunch, etc). Even if you can't see it right now, it is possible and attainable for people to go on to live purge free lives.
Realistic - Yes! Remember, if it is unrealistic to have yourself be purge free over the entire weekend when you haven't got pure free for a day, change your goal a bit to make it more realistic for yourself. Also, make sure the skills you plan to implement are realistic. For example, it may not be realistic to socialize with friends when you are out of town and unable to connect with them.
Timely - Definitely! You will know how you did within 72 hours! It has a concrete beginning and end.
Remember, you want to set up goals that build success, which also builds motivation and confidence! Even with S.M.A.R.T. goals you will have to go back and make adjustments. There is nothing wrong with that. For example, maybe you found out that using yoga as a way to stop purging wasn't as helpful as you had thought. Change it up a bit, try something different. Totally okay to take this as a learning moment and use this knowledge in the future when you set up another goal.
So, what is your S.M.A.R.T. goal for the week?