Episode 139 Show Notes 


SMART goals for Behaviour Change - You can dream big, but it's important to know how to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Many people struggle with this, but setting small, achievable goals is a proven strategy backed by science and experience. Just take action, experiment, and keep trying until you find what works for you. And remember, you don't need to be perfect, you just need to do. One useful tool to help you set achievable goals is the SMART framework, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Our Brains Learn Best from Success - One of the keys to achieving goals is to make and keep small promises to yourself that are easy to accomplish, as our brains learn better through success than failure. Small changes can and do compound over time and lead to exponential progress towards your health goals. This approach is rooted in neurobiology, which suggests that failure is not an effective learning strategy. By making small promises and keeping them, you can achieve your goals and maintain the changes you want to make.

Shrinking the Change - Breaking down your actions into doable chunks, like setting a timer for 2 minutes, or simply putting on your running shoes, makes your goals so very very small that your brain can’t find an objection to doing them. If your goal for today is a 2 minute walk or 10 deep breaths or drinking one glass of water, and you do this action, your brain will register your success.

Our eBook is the first step in your journey to achieving Real Health and Weight Loss - By healing your physiology with low carb real food and managing your psychology with self-compassion and mind management tools, you can create sustainable change and achieve your health and weight loss goals. Download The Doctors' Guide to Real Health and Weight Loss for free today and take the first step on your journey to better health.

This eBook is the first step in your journey to achieving real health and weight loss - By healing your physiology with low carb real food and managing your psychology with self-compassion and mind management tools, you can create sustainable change and achieve your health and weight loss goals. Download The Doctors' Guide to Real Health and Weight Loss for free today and take the first step on your journey to better health.


Click here if you would like the Doctors’ Guide to Real Health and Weight Loss


Episode 139 - Small steps for big changes

Dr Mary Barson: (0:11) Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr Mary Barson.

Dr Lucy Burns: (0:15) And I'm Dr Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of

Both: (0:20) Real Health and Weight Loss!

Dr Mary Barson: (0:23) Hello, lovely listeners. Dr Mary Barson here, and I am joined by my friend, colleague and all round clever person, Dr Lucy. So Lucy, tell me something interesting! What's going on in your world right now?

Dr Lucy Burns: (0:39) Well, Mares. By the time this goes to air, it'll be a couple of weeks later. And I'm hoping to have continued my new habit. But my new habit, day four of going for a swim. Early morning. And early morning for me is like seven o'clock, and the swim is in my unheated pool. And so I started this as an experiment, because I needed to do a bit more movement. As you know, in our recent podcasts, we've been talking about the mighty mitochondria. And I'm very acutely aware that I spend a lot of my day sitting, and not a lot of my day moving.

Dr Mary Barson: (1:17) Mmm. Not great for your mitochondria.

Dr Lucy Burns: (1:19) Not at all. So I'm thinking, well, how can I improve them and obviously, having a pool is a great blessing, but it's no use if you don't hop in it. So I thought, okay, and every day I would tell myself to go for a swim once it warms up. And every day I wouldn't do it because I'd get to the end of the day and I’d be busy. Suddenly, you know, other priorities came in. So I just thought, Well, why don't I do this experiment of basically just going in? And seeing? And it has been magnificent. So that's my news.

Dr Mary Barson: (1:49) That's great news. It's like it's good. Lots of benefits of that cold water in the morning, bit of hormetic stress. We could talk about hormesis one day. I think we should. Like a little bit of stress is good for you. And yes, the movement, the sunlight, getting out in the morning and having the sunlight touch your retinas! Ah, so good! So many, so many wonderful benefits.

Dr Lucy Burns: (2:10) Our favourite word “pleiotropic” - multiple benefits doing the one thing.

Dr Mary Barson: (2:14) We're all into pleiotropism at Real Life Medicine.

Dr Lucy Burns: (2:18) Indeed. What about you Mares? What's been happening for you?

Dr Mary Barson: (2:22) Ah, yeah, what's been happening with me? I've been experimenting on myself as well. There's something missing that I need to find and do to help my well being. I'm fine. Like it's nothing too significant. But with being a mama, and busy with a bubba and not getting as much sleep as would ideally be ideal, I am finding that I'm needing to experiment with finding a way to prioritise the self care. And to be honest, the experiment is ongoing. I haven't nailed it yet. There are things that I do really well, you know, I eat well, I do prioritise my sleep, even though I don't necessarily get that much of it. You know, I don't drink, I don't smoke. There's lots of good things I do for my health. But in terms of that, like actual self care, taking time out for myself, really not doing that at the moment. And I'll do something for a few days, but it just sort of falls over. So that's what I'm currently working on. And I'm thinking of ways in which I can make this goal more achievable for myself. And it dovetails nicely into today's topic. Amazing coincidence, no? Which is on short term goals.

Dr Lucy Burns: (3:48) Indeed. Indeed. And it is interesting, and lots of you lovelies know that we have the thought model that your thoughts create your feelings, your feelings create your actions, your actions create your results, it's not rocket science. Quite often we will do actions to try and evoke a feeling. So we will eat, you know, piece of cake to feel better, or have a glass of wine to feel better. So the model can go up or down. But one of the things that is really common to stop us doing the actions are our thoughts that the action is too big, or too hard, or not doable, using one of our favourite words. And so we've got some discussions on that today, which I'm excited about because they’re discussions around the way our own own brain, as in your brain and my brain, has been working in some little strategies that we've been using, you know, teaching our own selves to overcome some of these barriers.

Dr Mary Barson: (4:48) Yes. So with behaviour change, I think it's great to dream big, like you can have really big lofty goals if you want to, you know, to completely revolutionise your health, to completely change your health behaviours. I think it's good to have those goals. They're absolutely okay to have. However, you need to know how to get there, how to get from where you are to where you want to be. And lots of people, I think, find that they're ready for change, but they just don't know how. They don't know how to change. And a great way to change, well supported by science and and experience, is to set small goals to break down your big lofty goals into small, doable and achievable chunks. And take action, just give it a go. See how you go, experiment with yourself. And if that doesn't work, if you break it down to some little goal, and it doesn't work for you, like at the moment with me and my stumbling around trying to get my self care activities, then try something else. And just keep going. And you don't need to be perfect, but you do need to do. Taking action is really important. So there's a couple of acronyms that I like here. I think the best one is setting SMART goals, the S-M-A-R-T goals and really shrinking it down into something that's achievable and attainable, and extremely doable.

Dr Lucy Burns: (6:24) Indeed, and if I think about it, it's a bit like this swimming goal for me. So yeah, I mean, I know the benefits of cold water therapy, I know the benefits of moving. I had all that knowledge. It wasn't that I didn't know and suddenly I now know! I already knew, I just didn't do. So I had to come up with a way to start doing and I think certainly immersing ourselves in the April challenge for our members of the mighty mitochondria just kept bringing it to the forefront of my brain. So it became more and more apparent that I do need to do something. That my poor old mitochondria are not going to thrive just by me sitting on my arse all day. So then I came up with an idea. So a goal, which was well, you know, swimming. Lucy it’s good for you. So an activity that you can do with your muscles. You've got a pool there. And the old me would go, so just go and do it. Well, the thing was that that actually wasn't working that well. Just go and do it didn't do anything. And that's often the tool that lots of us will use. Just a bit of self direction. Just go and do it. Just do it. Yeah, yeah! Bit of Nike!

Dr Mary Barson: (7:39) Exert some willpower!

Dr Lucy Burns: (7:40) Yes, yes!

Dr Mary Barson: (7:41) Discipline!

Dr Lucy Burns: (7:43) Exactly. And so then I had to just scratch the surface a little bit more and think well, what is happening here? And, again, I think I mentioned that one of my strategies was to wait till the pool had warmed up, because we've got solar heating. Not that it's that warm in Melbourne at the moment. But that was my strategy all summer as well - was to wait until it got a bit warmer. And maybe once a week I would get in the pool, which is just not achieving the goal I wanted to achieve. So I then had to go, you know what? This talk of “It's too cold” is that serving me? Is that actually helping me achieve my goal? And actually it wasn't. And in fact, then I decided, well, it's actually not that cold. Like if I'm actually talking cold water therapy, it's actually not that cold. Like there are people doing ice baths where they're hopping into iced water. It's not iced water, Lucy, it's not that cold, just brain has made up this little story about it being a bit too cold. And I thought why is it saying that? And of course, you know, my favourite two things that I've been talking a lot about. The brain has two jobs, one - to keep you safe and two - to make you feel better. So it was saying to me, well, it's too cold, ie it's not safe. And that's not going to make you feel better. So why would you do that? It's amazing, isn't it? How circular our brain goes. So then I just decided, well, if I'm going to do this, I need to do it. And I need to do it in the morning, before I can do anything else. Before anything else gets in the way. So that then became my goal, right? And then I go, Oh well, if I'm gonna get in the pool, I need to you know, make it worth it. Because you know, I'm going to be getting wet and have to then go and wash my hair. So I'm gonna have to do this big, long swim to make it worth it. And I thought actually, you don't have to do that. You can just get in and see how you go. And maybe commit to five minutes at the start. And again, my brains going, my high Achiever because you know, lots of us high achievers, my high achieving brain goes “five minutes! That's not worth it. Why would you bother? Don't be ridiculous. Don't even bother for five minutes.” And that's when I saw that ad on telly that comes up, that you may have seen Mares. It’s an ad with Ash Barty. And you know, I know all of you will know Ash Barty, world number one tennis player. And I think it's for insurance or something. I don't know what she's advertising. And she's with Steph Gilmore, another phenomenal female athlete, and they've got a phrase called all or something. And I thought, Ah, yes, doing something is better than nothing.

Dr Mary Barson: (10:21) It is, yes. Got lots and lots of psychological theory to back that up, Lucy.

Dr Lucy Burns: (10:31) Absolutely. And I thought, You know what? I need to stop aiming so high that my goal was too lofty, you know that you have to get in and do half an hour. Because if you're not doing that, it's not worth it. And that's actually rubbish.


Dr Mary Barson: (10:47) That's it. So you shrunk down the change, which is a fabulous way to get motivated. And our brain might play a few tricks on us like, it's too small, there's no point, but there is. So you got your goal. And your goal is to, well your ultimate goal is to have beautiful humming mitochondria. And as part of that, your goal is to be regularly swimming, which is great. And so you shrunk it down into a doable chunk for you, and you started doing it, which is great. And this is the importance of small steps, small steps get us to where we need to be. If we reach for the goal that is achievable and attainable, over time we will keep reaching, keep stepping. And eventually we'll get to those big, big lofty goals. And practically, this helps us get there. But also psychologically, once we start to, we set ourselves a small goal, and we do it, our brain learns from success. And so our brain will want to do it again, we get a nice little dopamine rush for having achieved our goal. And it's like if you could imagine, you want to climb up this ladder into the clouds. And there are two ladders side by side. One has got lots of little rungs quite close together where you can comfortably step on one and then step on the next step one, the other one, and this, these tiny little steps will eventually take you all the way up to the clouds. And the next one, it has these rungs that are just like two metres apart. And as much as you jump and stretch, you just can't even reach the first rung. And so the person next to you who's taking the tiny, little, little steps, which you think that's so small, why would you even bother? they're actually getting to where they want to be. Whereas you know, if you don't do that, you just sit there looking at the ladder, wishing that you could just reach that goal. Why can't I just hop in the pool for 30 minutes? What's wrong with me?

Dr Lucy Burns: (12:40) Yes absolutely. And there are so many examples of, you know, people I will talk to, particularly if somebody say has a large amount of weight they want to lose, and they will come and they'll go but Lucy, I've got to lose 40 kilos, like it's, it's impossible.

Dr Mary Barson: (12:57) Why should I even try?

Dr Lucy Burns: (12:59) Yeah. And it's understandable that your brain will look at that and go, it's impossible. That statement is not true for a start. And you can just break it down to small goals. Because as I will always say to people, the thing you do to lose the weight is the same thing you do to maintain it anyway. So just start, you have to just start somewhere. Because doing nothing is actually a decision. And in fact, doing nothing means that you're making the decision a bit like me, doing nothing meant I'm making the decision to stay seated and not move my body. So we often think that doing nothing isn't making a decision, but it is.

Dr Mary Barson: (13:43) Yep, yep, it's an action in and of itself. So I reckon it can be helpful if we talk about ways in which you can break down your goals. So if you identify what your long term goals are, you know what you want for yourself. It might be to get off your diabetes medications, or to reverse your diabetes, it could be to lose weight. It could be to run a half marathon. It could be to get your Masters. It could be to have a perfectly clean, well run house.

Dr Lucy Burns: (14:12) Can we take the perfectly clean out?

Dr Mary Barson: (14:16) Absolutely! Yes, thank you for catching… I believe perfect should be struck from the dictionary and we should never ever try and use the word perfect ever. Perfect is nothing. It's just a clean, clean, clean, clean ish cleaning. Yep, good enough yet good enough. Yeah. I want to pass my Masters and be good enough. That's right. So give us some examples. How can we break the goals down to small doable chunks? And sometimes even if we're feeling that we've got some difficulty, like ridiculously small, sometimes can even be the way to go.

Dr Lucy Burns: (14:52) Yeah, absolutely. And I think so again, with this swimming, what did I do? The first thing I actually did was I visualised myself swimming thought, yeah, good. That was the idea. I thought, right. And I knew my “why” - I wanted to swim because I know, you know, as I said, I know, I knew all the things, all the goodness that was going to come. But I envisaged myself swimming in the early morning. And then I wanted to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. So because I started, I was only planning this on Sunday night. So on the Monday, I got my bathers, and I put them next to the toilet so that when I wake up in the morning, I put them straight on. And I also planned, so there was a bit of planning, the planning was…well I want to, you know, get out there and then I want to get out of the pool it'll be a bit chilly. I don't want to do a towel, towels don't work for me, but I have my bathrobe. So I just put my bathrobe on and then I went out to the pool. But the thing that I really think got me over the line was it happened to be my turn to do an 8am Facebook Live. So before I got in the pool, I told everyone!

Dr Mary Barson: (16:02) You outsourced your motivation!

Dr Lucy Burns: (16:04) Yeah, I basically, I outsourced my accountability. Because you know, at any stage in that time, I could have still talked myself out of it. Like it was a bit chilly that Monday morning, I could have said oh look, go back inside, there was ample time for me to, you know, run away. So no, outsourced my accountability. So the idea therefore, of having that option, and then recognising..and even as I'm hopping in part of my brain is going, Oh, it's going to be cold, you'll be frightened. And you know what I actually said to myself, “Brain! Stand down. It will be invigorating.” So I reframed my objections. Cold is a state of mind, you know? And in my head, I'm actually thinking “this is not as cold as Wim Hof, who you know, is the Iceman who bloody carves holes in the ice and hops in!” So all of the little objections in my brain, I was able to reframe into different words. So those are all strategies. Now you can do those in your mind, or you can actually write them down. So for some people writing them, again, is just a very formalised process of accountability to yourself.

Dr Mary Barson: (17:20) Yes, yes! I think tracking your goals is really helpful. I love all those beautiful techniques you use, especially I love how you used your tribe, because we're social creatures. So surrounding yourself by people who are doing the things that you want to do, like our beautiful Real Life Medicine community, is a great way to maintain the changes that you want to maintain. Like shrinking the change down. You can…Lucy, you’re a superstar. You did it. It was beautiful. If you're really struggling with your goals, our trick can be to make it so ridiculously small, that there just pretty much can't be any objection. So if your goal might be to improve your fitness, and you might have a health goal. It might be a specific thing like to run a 10k in November, maybe not, for example. And you need to start walking and jogging in order to get there. But you're just struggling with the motivation, the procrastination, getting this goal going. Turn your short term goal into simply putting on your shoes. Your running shoes in the morning. Obviously, if you stop there, if all you ever do is put on your shoes in the morning, then you've climbed up that first rung of the ladder up into the clouds, and you're not going to get any further. But fortunately, that's not quite how our brain works. The only thing you set yourself up for, the promise that you want to keep, is that you'll put your shoes on. And then you do that and you have kept your promise to yourself. You have done it, you have succeeded. And quite likely, you're probably going to want to open the front door, go outside and go for a walk, it's quite likely that that will happen. But if it doesn't, doesn't matter. And then you just put your shoes on. That's your goal. Until that's become so easy, that then your next goal is yes, I'm just going to get outside and just walk one block. Just one block. And you walk a block and quite likely you might want to walk another five, but you've shrunk the goal down to the point where it's so small, your brain really hasn't got any objections. You can do beautiful, clever work like Lucy did where she realised that her thoughts weren't necessarily real, and challenged them in a kind and loving way and managed to flip them around to much more helpful thoughts and feelings. Totally do that. Absolutely. But you don't have to start there.

Dr Lucy Burns: (19:34) No, no, no. And in fact, interestingly, for a lot of February, one of my goals was ‘put your bathers on in the morning’ because then you're likely to go for a swim in the evening. Because again, I realised that, you know, so the story being let's just wait till the pool warms up a bit and then I'd get to say five o'clock and I’d think oh I can't be bothered to put my bathers on now. I've got to go and get undressed and ra-ra so that was a barrier. So, you know, I'd made the right thing hard - the right thing being to go for a swim. I’d made it hard because I had to go and get changed again. So therefore, to make it easy, I put my bathers on. And I just wore them all day, under my clothes, which meant all I had to do was take my clothes off to hop in the pool. But you're right. So yeah, there's so many little tricks that our brain can do. But the key, as you so eloquently said, is making a promise to yourself and keeping it.

Dr Mary Barson: (20:30) Yes. Honour your achievements. Yes.

Dr Lucy Burns: (20:35) Yes! And so many of us have made massive lofty promises, not kept them, and now we actually don't trust ourselves anymore.

Dr Mary Barson: (20:44) This is rooted in neurobiology. Our brains learn best by success. Failure is not a very effective learning strategy. I'm not going to mention names at all here, but I can distinctly remember, it's funny how I can remember a time where I didn't remember, I can remember in medical school, a time where I was terrorised by a certain professor. And this topic was atrial fibrillation. And we were in this tutorial. And I was a final year, medical student, I was nearly a doctor. And this person was quite frightening. And they started grilling me on atrial fibrillation, and I think I got quite anxious, and I sort of fumbled over my words. And he actually screamed and swore at me and knocked my notes out of my hand , so terrible behaviour! And do you know what I learned from that? Nothing. Nothing. He was a very smart person, a cardiologist, professor in cardiology, and had so much wisdom to impart to me about atrial fibrillation. I don't remember a single thing that was then taught to me about atrial fibrillation. All I can remember is that terrible feeling of failure. So that's an extreme example of how we just don't learn from our failures as well as we learn from our successes. So if you can make and keep your promises to yourself, your brain will learn better. And these small changes, even if they seem really, really silly small, like putting shoes on, they do compound over time. And the small changes build and build and build and you actually, like, start to get exponential changes towards your health goals.

Dr Lucy Burns: (22:32) Oh absolutely. And I've got another thing, just to add to your story there, is that you don't learn from being berated. You don't learn from a place of fear. Sometimes it'll work as a short term motivator, of course, because our brain is designed, you know, oh there's headlights coming! quick get out of the way. Because you know, we're not, we'd all be run over otherwise, but it won't keep you going. It won't keep you motivated. So, berating yourself, it doesn't work.

Dr Mary Barson: (23:05) I've got another little trick about shrinking the change and bringing something down. Totally borrowed from James Clear. His fabulous book Atomic Habits, which is a wonderful book if you want some extra reading and motivation about how to change your habits. He talks about the two minute rule. That you could do anything for two minutes. So if there's something you really don't want to do. Just do it for two minutes. That's it. Like putting my clothes away is not something… I don't adult particularly well when it comes to putting my clothes away. There's so many things I'd rather do rather than put my clothes away. Just the whole laundry process. That is just my least favourite…

Dr Lucy Burns: (23:51) Yes. No. Funny, I don't like folding. I like putting them in piles. And then I like leaving them there.

Dr Mary Barson: (23:58) Hanging them on the line, that's quite nice. Go out there, put my baby in the little bouncer things. Quite pleasant. Yet putting them away though! Foof! But I can do it for two minutes. And I will set a timer on YouTube. YouTube has these little timers and they can play some songs that you like. And I'll do it for two minutes. And then of course, usually once I've started I'm like, ‘Alright Barson. You can just, might as well put them all the way, love, since you started!’ But “I'm only going to do this for two minutes” gets me over the line just to start.

Dr Lucy Burns: (24:30) And then again, that's just like putting on your shoes, isn't it? And you've again, you've made a promise to yourself that you've achieved and developing self trust is so important to long term change. And I reckon, you know how sometimes I speak to people who have said to me “Oh Dr Lucy I really wanted to do your 12 week Mind Body Rebalance, but I just didn't trust myself that I would do it properly.” And it's like okay, two things. One, you don't have to do it properly, there is no “properly”, but two, that's the whole point of our programmes. We teach people how to develop self trust. And, you know, learning tools like this is really important because our only tool for lots of us is, you know, the Nike - Just Do It. Well, if it was that easy, we would all be doing everything perfectly. And it doesn't have to be perfect. Good enough is good enough.

Dr Mary Barson: (25:27) That's right. And you can shoot for the stars with your life in any domain that you want to, and you shoot for the stars. And how you get there is by aiming for what is in reach. You know, the small goals really do help you achieve and they add up pretty fast to the big benefits. Small goals are how you reach the clouds, reach the stars, get to where you want to be.

Dr Lucy Burns: (25:54) Absolutely. And I mean, we also know this, there's, you know, the British Cycling Team who, you know, it was their goal to win the Tour de France. And you know, they hadn't won one for ever. And they got a new coach in and he made changes. Not monumental. 1% changes. These 1% changes over time, though, like compound interest, and they just accumulated and basically they won! And it was literally, yes, the riders did the winning, but they did it because of his process of introducing one percenters.

Dr Mary Barson: (26:32) Yep, yep. You start climbing up slowly. Yeah. And then you gain momentum, you gain speed. And before you know it, you are just sprinting up this ladder to where you need to be.

Dr Lucy Burns: (26:44) Absolutely, absolutely. So gorgeous ones.You know, this is living. This is how we, how we roll at Real Life Medicine. It really doesn't have to be perfect, perfect is unachievable. Even if you're doing something perfectly for a little while, nobody ever is long term perfect. And it doesn't have to be. But for lots of us with the all or nothing, then we're either doing it or we're not doing it, you know? To quote Ash Barty, “all or something.”

Dr Mary Barson: (27:14) Yes.

Dr Lucy Burns: (27:16) Gorgeous ones, if you haven't downloaded our free ebook, it's The Doctor’s Guide to Weight Loss, then you can do so! We've got a link in the show notes. Or you can go to our website, rlmedicine.com/free. There are a number of free resources there including our ebook, and a free hypnosis and anything you like really, but toddle along there and have a little look and let us know how you go.

Dr Mary Barson: (27:40) Bye bye, everybody.

Dr Lucy Burns: (27:47) So my lovely listeners, that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr Lucy burns…

Dr Mary Barson: (27:54) and I'm Dr Mary Barson. We’re from Real Life Medicine. To contact us, please visit rlmedicine.com

Dr Lucy Burns: (28:05) And until next time…

Both: (28:06) Thanks for listening!

Dr Lucy Burns: (28:09) The information shared on the Real Health and Weight Loss podcast, including show notes and links, provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide, individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.




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