Oh New Year’s day – the day that brings a fresh start to us all. We are so hopeful about what we will achieve and vow that THIS year is OUR year. However, despite much effort put forth in January, the majority of us do not keep our resolutions past March. Why is this? And what can we do to make this year different? Below are a few tips on how to kick off the new year so your desired changes have a better chance of surviving – and becoming healthy habits that last.
Start Small. One of the biggest pitfalls of resolutions is that they start big and extreme. For example, we give up all alcohol and sugar and promise to go to the gym seven days a week. This might last a couple of weeks, but you’ll soon get tired of such a rigid extreme in behavior and revert back to your old routine because it requires less effort. (There’s a reason why most programs and “challenges” last only 28- 30 days.) The key is to start small – begin implementing one routine change at a time and build on it. Want to start eating healthier? Find a time in the day or a meal that usually involves unhealthy indulgences and fix that. Start there and when you’ve changed that, add something else. The objective is to make the new feel familiar. That’s when it becomes default.
Prepare. After you decide what changes you want to make this year, figure out the plan – the whole plan – and prepare for it. Write down not only the what but also the who, where, when, how, and why. Who will be involved in your goal? Most likely other people will be directly or indirectly involved in whatever it is you’re trying to do. For example, if you are changing what you eat everyday, are your spouse and kids on board? What about that co-worker who you always grab a mid-afternoon snack with? Then think about where and when this new behavior will take place. If you are deciding to workout, is it a gym at 6am? Or a run outside immediately after work? And then how will you do it? If you plan to workout immediately after work, you may decide to pack a gym bag the night before and put it by the door. And lastly, spend some time thinking about your why. Why do you want to make this particular change? Why is it important now? This why will serve as your motivation when times get tough.
Find External Accountability. According to Gretchen Rubin, when it comes to meeting expectations, most of us are what she calls “Obligers.” This means we have the tendency to meet outer expectations (ie work deadlines, family responsibilities) but struggle to meet inner expectations (ie New Year resolutions). The solve is to find external accountability with our goals. This could be finding a workout buddy who is relying on you to exercise, a personal trainer who is waiting for you to at the gym, or a health coach (like me!) who is helping you track your progress. Expanding the benefits of accomplishing your goal to other people could be the inspiration you need to stay on track. Even just sharing your goals and successes with others will make you feel more accountable to them because people will ask how things are going and start to expect that behavior from you.
Welcome the Stumbles. You will not be perfect and that’s ok. Go into the new year knowing this. Plan for failure because if you welcome a stumble it helps prevent a fall. You will miss workouts, eat doughnuts with your kids, and order take out instead of eating the home-cooked meal. This is life. The key is to effectively deal with these lapses so they don’t turn into full on relapses in behavior. We have a tendency to think “all or nothing.” Once we’ve done something “bad,” we say f-it and surrender to the bad behavior. Instead, see the behavior as an exception and get right back on track at the next meal. Know that exceptions will come along and plan for them.
Build Knowledge. Most people kick off a new exercise regimen by joining a particular studio or a new diet by subscribing to a meal plan, but don’t rely too heavily on any one outside resource for attaining your health goals. There will be times that resource will not be available. You don’t want to depend so much on it that you are at a loss when it isn’t there – like when you travel. As you begin your new routines, build the knowledge necessary to keep it going yourself. Be proactive in learning as much as you can about what it is you are doing so you can replicate it on your own as needed. So when you go out to eat on a Saturday night with friends, you know what to order off the menu that keeps you still on track with your goals. Or when you're traveling for work, you feel confident you can keep your workouts going despite not having access to your personal trainer or the workout studio you frequent. Also, most plans are one-size-fits-all. Be aware of what works for you specifically. The more awareness you have of your own needs the better you can customize plans for individual long-term gains.
Hopefully, these tips will help make this new year a successful one for you and your health goals. Remember to be easy on yourself as we all experience ups and downs along the journey. The goal of good health is a continued one.