Considering something new? Here are 5 great tips for making your resolutions stick.
I’m a big believer in setting intentions, and making resolutions to change unwanted habits. And the new year is the perfect time to get the ball rolling. But sometimes our strong desire to do something differently can leave us running headlong into defeat as the pull of the familiar takes hold. The good news is, it doesn't have to be that way.
As great as resolutions seem, clients, students and life experience have taught me that they’re often easier said than done. Here are the most common pitfalls and what you can do about them.
1. Biting off more than you can chew. Enthusiasm is great, but when it comes to setting goals and changing behavior, too much is not always a good thing. Instead of resolving to stick to a healthier diet, we often compound that wish with losing 20 pounds and running a marathon.
Because intentions tend to overlap, not succeeding at one can cast a shadow on the rest, leaving you to feel as though you’re failing at all of them. Consider tackling your highest priority habit and experiencing successes in unexpected ways, rather than setting goals to climb multiple mountains at once.
2. Big, hairy audacious goals (BHAG). In the research institute where I work, we sometimes brainstorm our most lofty goals and work backwards to nail down specific actions that we’d need to take to make them happen. Although that may be well and good for group activities where we hold each other accountable, setting big goals can also be a set up for big disappointments.
When it comes to personal change, I’m a fan of starting with small, doable behaviors that lead to success rather than focusing on a big end game.
If you’re wanting to exercise more, try committing to walking 10 minutes a day and see how that works for you. Once you’ve created a habit of walking, or discovered how great it feels, you might feel more motivated to take longer walks, or make plans to take on a larger goal.
3. Same old situation. It can be very difficult to change habits when you’re surrounded by the same environment that supported the behavior in the first place. Even if you consider yourself to be chock full of motivation and willpower, both will only get you so far.
My friend Kate is committed to losing weight and eating better. She’s made numerous attempts, but year after year finds herself in the same frustrating cycle of losing a few pounds only to gain back more.
A big part of the problem is that her environment doesn’t support healthy eating. Her loving and well-intentioned partner is happy with eating chips and other fatty foods, so when Kate feels frustrated she’s less inclined to reach for an apple when a far more tempting snack is within reach. Getting rid of temptation is key to sustainable behavior change.
4. We need cheerleaders. Humans are social creatures. Even the stalwart introverts among us need encouragement when tackling something new.
Cheerleaders can take many forms. When I decided that I wanted to get out and walk each day but didn’t have any friends or neighbors who were up to the task, I found myself a four-legged walking buddy. For the past 10 years I’ve taken two walks a day rain or shine. My dog holds me accountable.
You don’t need to adopt dog for change to occur, but having a buddy to motivate you on days when you’re not in the mood to stick with a routine can be a huge help.
5. Are you ready for change? Ultimately setting an intention to take up a new behavior or ditch an old habit is a personal decision. We have to be ready and willing to change before it will take hold.
Years ago psychologists Prochaska and DiClemente developed their now famous Stages of Change Model to give therapists and lay people a sense of how change occurs. Stages range from “precontemplation” (zero motivation) to “maintenance” (keeping a good thing going). Their research shows that you’re more likely to succeed when you chose behaviors that you’re ready to change, rather than those habits you’re not quite willing to give up.
If you are actively considering adopting a resolution to take up a positive health behavior or ditch an unhealthy habit, check out this list of Health Topics from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. It includes everything from information on supplements, to evidence-based interventions for addressing most physical and mental health conditions, and guidelines for things like massage, yoga, acupuncture and more.
Whatever you decide to do (or not do) this year, remember that change is a process, and life is a practice.
Be kind to yourself.
If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed. ~Chinese Proverb