Setting Your DIY Up for Success

I know and you know that not all of our DIY efforts end well. And also that many of our DIY efforts that are successful could’ve been achieved with a little (or a lot) less struggle.

If you relate, you’ll love what I’ve got for you today.

I’m not taking anything away from the necessary process or the journey. I’m not talking about shortcuts (remember that we cut costs, not corners). I’m not paring things down so far (reductionism) that we lose context or miss the most important invisible pieces.

I’m talking about a framework for achieving more wins with less struggle.

Sound good? Read on…

Here are the essential elements. Remember that if you do some deep thinking up front, you save time, energy, and grief on the back end.

  1. The Why (Strategy & Meaning)
  2. The How (Tools & Skills)
  3. The When (or “To Schedule or Be Scheduled”)
  4. The Where (Location, Location, Location)
  5. The Who (The Guide & Guru)
  6. The System (The Plan, Tactics, The Timeline, Deadlines, Scheduling, & Coaching)
  7. The Feedback Loop (Assess, Reassess, Adjust)
  8. The Context (Relationships, the Network, Holistic Thinking)

Let’s get into it.

The Why (Strategy & Meaning)

Whatever you do, don’t skip this part! It’s step 1 for a reason. It’s the DI-“Why”

While “Y” is sometimes a vowel, “Why” is never optional.

Whenever you take something on, particularly a DIY project, you want to examine your reasons and motivations before you start. It’s important so you can set your goals and get a handle on what’s important (avoiding wrong turns later).

The “why” helps you form a strategy to meet your goals AND it gives you solid criteria to determine if certain actions (tactics) will get you there. Why would you employ a particular tool, or technique, or professional if it doesn’t help you get where you want to go?

Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

The strategy is what gives it meaning (a desired and impactful end-state).

Take a look at the following questions to get a handle on this.

  • Why are you taking this on? Is it something you are choosing (I want to get better) or is it something forced upon you (all surgeries have a recovery)?
  • What is your best case scenario? Worst?
  • What factors are in your control and which aren’t?
  • In other situations where those factors were similar, what worked best for you and what didn’t?
  • What are you willing to invest to both achieve the best outcome and avoid the worst? (in terms of money, time, effort, planning…)
  • Do you tend to be more hands on or hands off? Do you like to have more control over the outcome or do you prefer someone else to take control and pay them to do it? (Active or Passive roles)

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it gives you a great start on understanding the why behind your DIY.

A failure to plan is a plan to fail.

What are you trying to achieve?

Since our first program is DIY Lymph Massage, let’s use that as an example. The why is that you have significant swelling that is both causing miserable symptoms (achy pain, difficulty moving and sleeping, requiring medications…) and potentially slowing the recovery process (traffic jams move more slowly). The desired end goal is to heal and get back to normal as quickly as possible with the least amount of discomfort.

The strategy (better & less miserable recovery) implies actions or inactions that either improve the recovery outcomes or reduce the miserable experiences (criteria).

The How (Tools & Skills)

This part is the easiest, or at least most obvious. In fact, this is the part you’re guaranteed to do even if you neglect the rest.

But without the rest, this part might be futile. How do you know what tool/skill you need until you’ve thought things through? See where part 1 comes in? If you don’t have a strategy, the tools are meaningless.

Now we can start talking tactics – or actions to take or avoid. You can make out a list of things you should do and things you should avoid. If the list is short, a mental one is fine, but if you’re dealing with unfamiliar subject matter or have a lot of things to consider, write it down.

From that list, you can start adding qualifiers to each item – cost, time investment, effectiveness, how likely you are to do it, whether or not you’d like to do it (or can do it), difficulty, side effects… Then you can prioritize your action/inaction list to reflect your values and strategy.

In surgical recovery, some are told to you already or are “common sense”, like when your doctor says don’t go to work for a week, avoid strenuous exercise for 3 weeks, take these medications, do PT… get the idea?

  • Some are expensive (using up a week of vacation time) and some are very inexpensive (a bottle of ibuprofen).
  • Some are involved (physical therapy) and some require very little time and effort (popping a pill).
  • Some have fewer side effects (taking it easy) and some have more side effects (constipation from those pills).
  • Some are more or less appealing to you or you’ll feel better or worse about doing (don’t discount your feelings about it!).
  • Some are easier to remember and motivate yourself to do and some are more of a challenge.
  • Some are easier to learn/do and some are harder…

From here, you can start to evaluate your options. If you’re technical like me, try a decision matrix where you assign a score to each criterion and sum the results so that the better options have higher scores. Even if you’re not a systems geek like me, try to mentally weigh the factors.

In the case of DIY Lymph Massage again, there could be a few different scenarios:

  1. For a person who wants the least effort and cost, they may just take the pills and avoid the negative activities like exercise. That’s DALAP (do-as-little-as-possible) way to go.
  2. For a person who wants little to no cost but is willing to put in the time, they go the YouTube Rabbit Hole approach. But of the videos you find there and on various Googled webpages they have no idea if it’s right for them, how incomplete it is (it’s all in bits and pieces), or how to piece it together. (Read more about this approach here as it pertains to lymph massage). Definitely time consuming. A lot of the people I work with start here and end up down below at #5 when they can’t find what they’re looking for.
  3. For a person who wants the best results and has the time and money to spend, they’ll hire every professional they can and shuttle from appointment to appointment doing everything they’re told and spending whatever they’re asked to. That’s the DIFM (do-it-for-me) route.
  4. Most people are somewhere in the middle (so figure out where you sit on that spectrum). You want the best results for the time/effort/money you’re willing and able to invest.
  5. For a person who wants an active role in their recovery, wants better results without the expense of a multitude of professional services, but is willing to spend some time and money, then DIY Lymph Massage is a fantastic option. For a person who isn’t willing to do the work and invest the time, it would be a horrible option (if that’s you, please don’t buy it!).

So what kind of person are you?

The When (or “To Schedule or Be Scheduled”)

Sometimes you have control over the when – like choosing when to do an elective surgery. If that’s the case, choose a timeframe that suits what you have going on in your life so that you can execute your intended strategy as planned. That means, if you want to be active in your recovery, make sure your life, work, support network will allow you to do it. Don’t plan your surgical recovery for when you have a critical deadline at work or your kids are approaching playoffs.

If it’s the other way around, you’ll have to try to adapt your life to fit the condition. You didn’t choose to have that car accident or emergency surgery or sprained ankle, but now you have to deal with it and make your life accommodate.

The time you have available may dictate some options. If you don’t have the time to actively invest, both in learning it and in doing it, then it may not be an option for you. I know with my DIY home projects, it always takes at least 3x longer than I planned for, even when I plan for it (it’s like Boyle’s Law). Sometimes I just can’t DIY a project because I don’t have the time.

What time factors allow you to meet your strategy with your choice of tactics? And don’t forget to add in the cost factor. Which is more important to you, the cost or the time? Are you willing to pay more for less time spent? Or are you willing to spend more time for it to cost less? Do they even play off each other (PT out-of-pocket is both expensive and time-consuming)?

And returning to our DIY Lymph Massage example, do you have the time (and desire) to perform at least 2-3 self-treatment sessions a day, maybe even 4-6? For 10min elbow sessions, maybe it’s not so bad, but what about 25min ankle sessions? Will your kids give you enough interrupted time to do it? Your boss? If not, then DIY Lymph Massage (or many other DIY options) isn’t for you. But if you’re eager and can put in the effort, it might be just the ticket.

The Where (Location, Location, Location)

You might think this is completely self-explanatory. For something like a DIY home project, you’ll be doing it at home. For a DIY health pursuit, it’s wherever your body is. Obvious, right?

Not so fast.

For a DIY home project, where are you going to get supplies? Local box store? Specialty store an hour away? Super-expensive designer store? Online? If you need something today or your project halts, is there a place nearby where you can get it without paying an arm and a leg (unless you’re willing)?

For a health & wellness DIY, if you have to disrobe, it limits your options a little on where you can do it. If you need a particular health service, you also have to have a professional that’s accessible – Is there one in town? Great! How about the next town over? OK. An hour’s drive? Getting difficult if I have to go there 3-5 times per week!

And don’t forget availability. There might be a great pro in town, but if they’re great, are they also booked out 6 months in advance? Are they taking new clients? If not, they might as well be a thousand miles away.

I had plenty of “medical tourism” patients in my practice. They had their BBL done in the Dominican Republic and their doctor told them to find a lymph therapist when they got home. They found me, but I had a busy practice, so my availability was also a bit limited for bookings and some of my patients had trouble finding a consistent time to work in their treatments 3+ sessions per week.

For our Lymph Massage example, maybe you have a good lymphatic therapist close by that you can go to. Good on you if that’s the case. If you want pro service, the where may become a question of comparing the pros and their prices. If you want to save a lot of money and still get expert results, you can go the DIY Lymph Massage route or even combine the pro services with DIY filling in the gaps between sessions.

The Who (The Guide & Guru)

Once you’ve decided on what you want to do (i.e. Lymph Massage), then you need to think about who you want to get help from. If you’re already an expert, that would be yourself. I did my own lymphatic treatments after my laparoscopic hernia repair surgery last year. I’m chronicling that recovery here.

But if you’re not your own expert, who do you turn to? A YouTube guru? A local pro? One of many local pros? Your PT? Your doctor? Me?

You’ll be putting trust in your guide, that they won’t lead you astray, take advantage of you, and that they actually know what they’re talking about.

Bear in mind that better help often costs more. In some respects, you get what you pay for. So if you want cheap help that doesn’t fit right, go cheap. If you want quality help that is more impactful, be prepared to invest in the right help.

Of course, there’s always credentials. Some credentials mean something. Some aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on (or the bytes they’re stored as). As a consumer, it can be hard for you to know what those letters and acronyms even mean, let alone if they are meaningful.

You should put stock in credentials only if they have meaning for your particular situation.

For example, with lymph massage, a CDT or MLD certification is great and definitely means something. That means they’re trained to work with lymphedema, which is a complicated condition needing specialized care. But there are a lot of other conditions that can benefit from variations of lymph massage that don’t require a CDT/MLD certification. I do lymph massage, but I don’t work with lymphedema.

Swelling resulting from the trauma of surgery, injury, or accident is a good example. Lymphatic Facilitation, a subset of MLD techniques, is more than adequate for treating those conditions. I’m not “certified” as a CDT/MLD practitioner, but I don’t need to be for what I do and who I work with. There’s no real certification for LF. I was trained in LF as a teacher in a “train the trainer” program led by a CDT certified professional and then turned around and taught it to hundreds of massage therapists. I’ve been doing it professionally as a focus for over 15 of my 23 years in practice. I’ve done it a few times. 😉

I’m not knocking CDT/MLD certifications, but you only really need to seek that out for lymphedema and wound management. I treat traumatic inflammation and edema and those are quite different from lymphedema.

Do you see how credentials can be confusing?

By all means, if you feel more comfortable with the designation, go for it. Just make sure that for your particular situation the credential means something and makes a credible difference in what you’re getting. Some credentials are marketing ploys.

But let’s go beyond credentials. Does your “guru” know what they’re talking about? See my article “What Makes an Expert an Expert” for more on that. Do they have your best interests at heart or are they just after your money? I want you to have the best results and if that’s spending your money elsewhere?… Great! If I have your best result solution you’ll be happy to buy my program and that’s the only time I want your money.

Your guru should have that same attitude. They shouldn’t be pushing you to buy something they want to sell. They should be offering you the opportunity to buy a solution you already really want.

Side Note: I only want you to purchase my program if it’s a perfect fit for your needs. I actually discourage you from buying it, because then if you do, it’s because you really, really want it. If not, please go spend your money on something that is a perfect fit for you!

I designed DIY Lymph Massage to get the best of both worlds. I’m offering you quality expertise, but cutting out the labor costs of per-service pricing. The result is access to expert knowledge for life with great results as long as you’re willing to do the work. -Mike

The System (The Plan), Tactics, The Timeline, Deadlines, Scheduling, & Coaching)

OK. Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Everything we’ve discussed already goes into the form of intention. This is where you get to start to translate it into action. Where you start doing it (or at least thinking about doing it) instead of just talking about it.

This is where you have to be realistic (and forgiving) so you can develop a plan you can actually do.

If you don’t make the plan workable, it doesn’t matter how great the intentions, it won’t happen. And if the plan doesn’t happen, then obviously the change you’re looking for doesn’t either

KISS – I’ve heard this as Keep-It-Simple-Stupid, but really it’s better put to say Keep-It-Stupidly-Simple. Take your plan in the tiniest, bite-sized pieces you can. If you can get it down to less than a 5min change a day, great! Start super-small and you can always build it up.

Don’t underestimate the “phenomenal cosmic power” (Aladdin) of inertia.

Take advantage of the snowball effect. Start small, get it moving, and it will accumulate size and speed as you go.

A good plan will have some common elements:

  1. Identify the end goal and overall strategy
  2. Detail the actions you will take (or that you will avoid)
  3. The timeline and deadlines
  4. The schedule to meet the timeline
  5. The guidance and coaching needed to get there
  6. What happens when you go off-plan.

We’ve already taken care of 1, 2, and 5 earlier so let’s get into 3 and 4.

For a home DIY project or something like it, there may be a hard deadline (like making a Halloween costume). For a health DIY, there may be an estimated recovery time or projection. Use that as a guideline to base your plan off of and do some research about what to expect as you go through the process.

Apply some basic project management principles to identify constraints to your plan. That means take note of any particular activity, milestone, or benchmark that other items are dependent on.

Say what?

Some events and activities will be dependent on others and can’t begin until something else happens first. For example, in a home project, you can’t paint the wall until after the drywall is installed and textured. If the drywall is delayed, then it will prevent texturing and painting from happening.

With health, it might be that you can’t complete your PT until you achieve a certain range of motion in a joint.

Those constraints have to factor into your plan and schedule.

For DIY Lymph Massage, you’d take a look at the anticipated recovery period for your surgery or injury, or the degree of need for your chronic swelling. Then you can base your schedule off of that. I’d usually see my post-Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) patients for 3x/week for 6 weeks or so following their surgery (that’s about $1800 for those wondering what professionals cost). I’d taper down the time of treatment over the weeks and they’d cut back on the number of at-home sessions they’d do each day as they got better. For an ACL replacement, it’d be about 3-4 weeks.

For self-massage, I’d set my clients at 4-6x/day to start when their swelling is acute, then 3-4x/day in the middle, and 1-2x/day on the tail end of their recovery. Of course, not all patients were able to achieve that frequency, but that was the goal. The middle and end stages weren’t determined so much by time as by milestones in the symptom levels.

You may also introduce new treatments or activities in at certain milestones or remove some activities.

The key is to make a schedule. Just remember to not take on too much.

The Feedback Loop (Assess, Reassess, Adjust)

“What gets measured gets managed” – so make darn sure that what you’re measuring actually matters (see #1).

As you formulate (love that word – it makes me want to Mwahaha) your plan, make sure to include regularly schedule points to reassess the plan and make needed adjustments. The best plans only last until the shooting starts and it’s a bit naive to think that you can plan it all out perfectly ahead of time (yet we all do it – does that make us all kids at heart?)

Determine if it (the plan, the tactics, each small piece) is working – and remember that the answer isn’t necessarily yes/no. It can be yes, no, I don’t know yet, or yes, but I don’t like it.

If a selected activity is working, keep it. You can evaluate if there is something you can tweak to make it work even better, but keep it in your plan. For DIY Lymph Massage, I recommend continuing your self-treatments at the same level for 1-2 days past when you think you should change because the symptoms often return if you taper off too soon.

That actually is one of the most reliable signals that tell you the treatment is working – that it gets worse when you stop. Unfortunately, you have to stop too soon to really tell, so hold the course for a few more days to be safe.

If you’ve given something a fair shake and it isn’t working or you can’t stand it, get rid of it! Unless you have to per doctor’s orders of course! Remember that the recovery process is inherently miserable though, so while you may not like it, it can still be good for you. Feeling less miserable than miserable is still not feeling good, but you’re still better off better than worse.

The Context (Relationships, the Network, Holistic Thinking)

It’s all connected. Yes, ALL.

What good does it do you to neglect one area because of focus in another? Even worse, sometimes other areas can directly suffer from improvement in something.

Say what?!

It’s true. Blindly improving one “piece” could make another piece, or the whole system, worse. An example from DIY Lymph Massage: If you facilitate lymph flow (an isolated good thing), but that causes a local infection to spread to the rest of the body, then improving one part causes the whole system to suffer. (That’s why we don’t do it on infections!)

So always look back on the plan – actually this is best when it permeates the whole process – and see how it fits into the big picture and work every step with an attitude of seeing it as a whole. What does this piece take away from? Contribute to? Interact with?

Science says to reduce everything down to one dependent variable. But life usually doesn’t work that way. You can’t reduce YOU, down to a set of variables, let alone one. You’re a complex system. Everything is a dependent variable. And there is no constant variable because everything changes (except the fact that everything changes).

Wrapping It Up

If you apply these basic principles, your DIY’s will turn out more successful. I make DIY health & wellness programs, but these principles just as easily apply to any DIY project. Of course, like any good DIYer, you’ll adapt this guide to fit your needs and that’s all I can ask for.

Good luck!


Mike “The DIY Guy” Wolnick

PS: Help me pick what to write about next!

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