The new year is upon us, and with it, the usual slew of new year’s resolutions: quit smoking, lose weight, drink less, eat more vegetables, exercise more. I could go on. I’m not sure what it is about the new year that spurs such a sudden desire for healthier living – perhaps the feeling of a clean slate and fresh start; or maybe the motivating factor of weeks of cakes, sugar cookies, too many finger foods and glasses of wine taking their toll. But whatever the reason, we wake on New Year’s day compelled to better ourselves once and for all.
The problem is, that motivation never seems to last. We start off with the best intentions – heck, we might even go for that first 3 mile run. But by the end of the week, the running shoes are sitting in the hall looking neglected and sad and the potato chips are back in the cupboard. The trick is to take that initial burst of enthusiasm and craft it into something sustaining and usable. Here’s how:
- Make your goal specific and follow through: Eating more vegetables is a great goal, but what exactly does that entail? Is it putting ketchup on your potatoes at dinner, or is it eating salad with a side of broccoli for 3 meals a day? How do you know if you are succeeding? The brain works best at creating new habits when we provide it with very specific ideas, and practice those ideas often. You might not remember to “exercise more” as you go through your week, but you probably will remember to go to the yoga class you signed up for on Monday and Friday. And the more often you go, the less it will be a goal, and the more it will be just another part of your lifestyle and routine.
- Think positive: If you set a piece of candy in front of me and tell me not to eat it, what do you imagine will happen? I don’t even like candy and I’d probably still eat it! Telling yourself not to do something is the surest fire way to guarantee you will. So if you hope to quit smoking, for example, you might want to think about what positive benefits you hope to derive from doing so. Instead of just quitting smoking, maybe you want to lower your risk of cancer, have a better sense of taste, save money or be able to have more endurance when you exercise? Trust me, you will be far more motivated to follow through by the enticement of all those benefits than you would be by the idea of depriving yourself of something you enjoy.
- Be realistic: I admit, I can get carried away sometimes. My husband looks at me with an arched eyebrow when I tell him I plan to run a marathon next month, or that I am starting a daily 2 hour meditation practice. I might do it for a few days, but when the initial inspiration wears off, I forget all about it. If you happen to be like me, try setting yourself a less extreme and more humble goal. Try taking a 20 minute run instead of jumping right in with the half marathon. Start slow, and gradually build up. That is the key to creating healthier habits that last.
- Create accountability: Studies show that people are far more likely to follow through on a goal when they do it with a friend. You might be able to let yourself off the hook, but when you know that your best friend is depending on you (and possibly competing with you), you might not give up as easily. Find a friend that shares a similar goal, and agree to keep each other accountable for following through. You’ll also have the benefit of having someone to celebrate your successes with too!
- Create change from a place of self-love: I don’t mean to get sappy on you, but if your desire to change comes from anything other than a place of self-love, you will never truly succeed – and why try? Any change you make should not be motivated by insecurity, self-criticalness or the like, but from a desire to provide yourself with the best quality of life you can. Which voice would you be more likely to respond to: the one that tells you to do something because you’re not good enough, or the one that tells you to do something because you are?
May the new year bring you all the happiness it can, and all of the healthy habits that will infuse your life with the vibrancy and richness you deserve.