Project Louise: Coach Undertakes To Kick Louise's 'But'

By Allison Rimm
Guest contributor

Haven’t you been enjoying Louise’s chronicle of her quest to become healthier? Who couldn’t love, respect and trust such a wise, witty and articulate woman? Turns out, Louise.

It's time for Project Louise's first quarterly check-in, and in assessing its first three months, I see that one of Louise's main challenges is to be both easier and harder on herself. That is, she needs to learn to care enough for herself to take better care of herself — and she needs to hold herself accountable when she doesn't.

I got hints of this underlying issue from our first meeting. Feeling honored to be chosen as her coach, I first met Louise in a coffee shop. Before we’d even sat down, she was berating herself for being “so stupid” as to order a latte that takes more than a nanosecond to make, keeping me waiting while I blew on my hot green tea. Thus came the first coaching imperative: Cut the negative self-talk.

Louise’s mission — “to take better care of myself and to feel at home with myself” — requires creating healthy new habits that she can maintain for the rest of her life. As Albert Einstein said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And bringing about sustainable change requires that she love, respect and trust herself enough to fully commit.

"There’s a fine line between self-compassion and accepting all your excuses."

She needs to believe, at a visceral level, that she is worthy of this investment. Calling herself stupid is the kind of thinking that will tether her to the unhealthy habits that created her current state. So day one included adopting a new mantra: “I love, respect and trust myself to ….fill in your healthy behavior here.”

As a management consultant, I’m a big fan of using a strategic planning framework for any undertaking — even the project of your life. So, with her mission clear, we went right to work creating a vision of success for this endeavor. Having a clear vision of how she wants to look and feel will help guide her decisions throughout the year.

At this point, the coach in me wanted to examine what had kept her from fulfilling her mission so far, so we could address those issues in her coaching plan. It’s like preparing the soil before you plant a garden, so your seeds have the best chance of thriving. But she was eager to jump in with both feet, and her enthusiasm was hard to restrain. So we cut right to setting some goals:

Build lifelong habits
 Eat a healthier diet at least 5 days a week
 Establish a sustainable exercise routine
Achieve tangible results
 Lose 44 pounds
 Lower her triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol
• Improve strength.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a mantra and a vision would fix everything? Sadly, simply wishing doesn’t make our dreams come true. As the Japanese proverb says, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” You actually have to do something. Among others, Louise’s main strategies to achieve her diet and exercise goals were to eat more vegetables at lunch and dinner, swim, and go for some walks.

In addition to our biweekly meetings, we agreed at the outset to assess Louise’s progress at quarterly intervals so we could course-correct as necessary. The strategist in me is delighted to have three months' worth of data to analyze.

Breaking Louise’s 'Yeah, But ...' Habit

There’s a fine line between self-compassion and accepting all your excuses for not accomplishing what you’ve committed to doing. Louise and I have been walking this line from the start. Like most people, she has a lifelong history of doing things the way she’s always done them. Having exercised those muscles for 50-something years, she can hold on very tight to her old habits. And she has a very firm grip on a powerfully undermining one – the pernicious “Yeah, but ... habit.” It plays out in all sorts of unhealthy ways. “Yeah, I was going to go to the gym, but I couldn’t find my ID card.” “Yeah, I was going to eat a healthy dinner last night, but my husband made meatloaf.” And on and on ...

We started by unraveling the easy ones. Louise needs to take responsibility for what she puts in her mouth no matter what’s on the table. Done.

As you’ve been reading, she doesn’t always get to the gym, coming up with all sorts of excuses. That’s not the kind of resistance training that’s going to improve her fitness. This was another challenge with an early warning sign: She'd been paying for her gym membership for six months without setting foot in the place. To break her cycle of making and breaking plans to go to the gym, we did the 5 Why’s exercise to get at the root of her reluctance – she felt unattractive and self-conscious around the cutely clad college students at her health club. Her discomfort was such that I asked her whether this was a “but” she would ever get over.

Going back to the strategy cycle, we questioned whether going to the gym was the best way to achieve her goal of establishing a sustainable exercise routine. Louise said she feels like she should go to the gym. I told her it’s time to stop “shoulding all over herself” and find a form of exercise she’ll actually want to do. That’s her current assignment. Training for the Best Buddies bike ride is one such strategy, and she’ll contemplate others that she’ll look forward to rather than fighting.

Measures Of Success And Moving Forward

At the three-month mark, Louise has some early victories under her somewhat smaller belt: She’s lost 11 pounds and is exactly on track toward her weight-loss goal. The Salad Club at work is a big win. And she’s learned a lot about what works for her and what doesn't. That’s particularly important as she seeks to adopt habits she can stick to even as she rides the waves of change that life will inevitably throw her way.

Now, she has to find ways to work out that she enjoys enough to continue long after the year ends. In the coming quarter, we will keep putting on positive pressure that will propel her toward fulfilling her vision, but not to the point of creating undue stress. This marathon requires creating habits she’ll follow forever. Not for Project Louise. For Louise.

Allison Rimm is a management consultant, award-winning educator and executive coach. She is the former senior vice president for Strategic Planning and Information Management at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life.


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