It’s a new year, which probably means you have made at least a few resolutions to do better, be better, or take better care of yourself. That’s great! You know the challenges you face: time, motivation, access, family, and the unpredictability of life. So how do you overcome those pesky challenges? By focusing on smaller steps. For example, if your goal is to workout 3 times per week, but right now you only work out once (or less) it will not be easy to suddenly triple that.
We tend to embrace the “go hard or go home” mentality when it comes to life changes. This sets us up for failure because it is not easy to make major changes and it takes time for them to stick. Creating new habits can be expected to take at least three weeks, if you enjoy them, and even months before they become so “routine” that you do them automatically. Those people who go to the gym every morning before work did not simply wake up one day and decide to start going daily. They built up to it, and it became routine, the same way your morning coffee stop may have become routine. So, how do we create healthy habits without failing and deciding to quit? Set small, accomplish-able goals. If the goal is to go to the gym three times a week, but right now you go once, start by adding one additional day. Perhaps make the goal going to the gym twice a week for the next month. If you a miss a couple days, that’ okay! Because every day you go beyond the 1 day each week you would normally have gone is an accomplishment! Once you have gone twice a week for an entire month, add on the third day. Most importantly: don’t see missing one day as a “failure.” Life happens. You are human. Give yourself a break and commend yourself for when you DO succeed.
Here are some tips for other common resolutions:
Dieting: Don’t expect yourself to be able to successfully change your diet overnight. Break it down into achievable goals. For example: decide to only eat out 3 times a week if you were doing 5. Once you’ve done that successfully for a few week, cut down to 2 days, then 1. Counting calories? Calorie deprivation can give you brain fog, which feels horrible and does not help you accomplish anything else! Cut down gradually, losing 50-100 calories off your diet at a time (and make sure you have a doctor’s supervision before making any major dietary changes).
Self-care: Deciding to put yourself first? Great! But you can’t just stop caring about others – you aren’t wired that way! Set aside a reasonable amount of time for yourself every week to focus on “you” and also accept that if someone calls you with an “emergency” you are going to go to them. This isn’t a failure – simply reschedule your “me time” for another day that week! Just don’t let yourself put it off too long.
Volunteering: Giving back has been shown to have tremendous mental health benefits – if you actually follow through. Time and convenience are probably the biggest challenges for this resolution. Break this one down by setting small goals. For example: Step one might be to spend January FINDING a charity you’re comfortable with. Step two is to decide what kind of time and work you are comfortable donating. Most people probably can’t realistically donate more than one day/weekend per month to start, and might even choose to only volunteer during major fund raisers, which might only occur once or twice per year. Any work you can donate from home (calling donors, helping with their website, etc) might also be a good way to break into volunteering. Just make sure you keep your commitments manageable and realistic. They will be grateful for anything you can give.
Drinking less: Another common resolution is to drink less alcohol. This one might seem simple, but can be very difficult because drinking is both habitual, meaning you get used to doing it and do it almost automatically, and social. Where people fall short is at social outings with friends, where they are accustomed to drinking. It is hard to say “no” because you enjoy it and it is “just what you do” when you are out. Part of the habit is the physical lifting of a glass or bottle to your mouth. To help with this, make sure you order something else to drink (non-alcoholic) to help trick your brain into thinking you are still partaking in your normal routine. Also, bynot ordering (or re-ordering) right away, thus delaying your gratification, you can decrease how much you drink overall. Let yourself sit without a drink for a few minutes. This may feel uncomfortable and unusual, but the more you do it the more comfortable you will become with not having a drink in front of you. Of course, if you really feel you CAN’T stop drinking, you might want to seek professional help.
The take home message here is to break your resolution into small, accomplish-able goals. Each goal you reach is a milestone and gets you one step closer to your true goal. Also, expect some set-backs. They are normal, expected, and somewhat predictable. Give yourself a break, and just try again tomorrow. ANY progress is still progress – be nice to yourself! After all, change is hard.