How Will You Fare Downstream?

Many of us give our future selves the shaft on a regular basis. We spend money we don’t have, eat sugar we don’t need, and procrastinate to the point that stress is inevitable.

We’re human. How can we manage to change our behavior for the better whemultnomahfallsn our best intentions don’t match what we do?  This: Be proactive. Start thinking upstream.

In business, “upstream” refers to the process of searching for and procuring raw materials. For our purposes, upstream behaviors encompass gathering all of the tools and support needed to be successful in making healthy changes.

First, ask yourself: what is the specific behavior that you want to do?  “Eating healthier” is a good goal but the target is too broad.  Start with one behavior, like eating one serving of greens per day, or drinking a glass of water when you wake up.  Then break it down: what resources do YOU need to make that behavior happen?

The answer to that question is driven principally by two things: motivation and ability*:

Here’s how to approach each one to maximize your success:


  • Prepare your mind.  Create a mental picture of how you’ll look and feel when you reach your goal.  Alternatively, consider what not taking action will lead to in a month, six months, a year, and down the road.
  • Get social support.  Enlist as many people as possible to champion your efforts, especially those closest to you.  Reach out to them for encouragement when you need it.  Ask them to remind you why you’re doing this.
  • Be accountable and reward yourself.  Track activity with an app or paper log to see progress.  For every X number of workouts completed, put $5-10 aside for a treat like massage, mani/pedi, or new fitness gear.


  • Try something new to build knowledge, experience, and confidence.  Go to a group fitness class that’s new for you.  Try strength training, or rock climbing, or a challenging hike.  Attend a healthy eating or stress management talk, or read a related book or reputable source online.
  • Get professional coaching.  An effective trainer is worth their weight in gold and more.  A good trainer can help you reach your short-term goal, and a great trainer will teach you everything you need to know to stay as healthy as possible over the long-term.
  • Set up an environment for success.  Make it easy to eat healthfully and work out.  Set a calendar alert to remind you to drink water or try a salad for lunch.  Block off time for a workout.  Make it harder to eat unhealthful food by not buying it at all or hiding it behind something that’s better for you.  Plan to only eat dessert twice a week, and do so away from home.

The more sources of influence you incorporate, the higher your chance of success in completing your goal.  Addressing at least 4 of these thoroughly “upstream” has been proven to boost your future (“downstream”) achievement.

Keep these guidelines close and figure out what’s going to work for you by trying different things.  Will writing out your plan work for you?  How much flexibility and professional support will you need?  Stay curious and be persistent.

What do you need to do now in order to reach your goal downstream?

[Photo: Multnomah Falls on a foggy day outside of Portland, OR]

*For further reading: Change Anything.