Starting From Where You Are
We have all made and broken New Year’s resolutions, so we can all appreciate the struggle of making positive changes in your habits. Whether you want to lose weight, stop smoking, or accomplish something else, there is no single solution that works for everyone. The secret is to keep trying different things until you find something that will work for you and that you can live with.
Making permanent changes in your habits is hardly a simple process and usually involves a substantial commitment of time, effort, and determination.
Here’s five ways to stack the deck in favor of turning your resolutions into lasting change:
1. Keep it simple.
Work on just one habit at a time.
Habit change is difficult, even with just one habit. If you do more than one habit at a time, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Keep it simple, allow yourself to focus, and give yourself the best chance for success. By the way, this is why New Year’s resolutions often fail — people try to tackle more than one change at a time.
2. Practice Self-Care and Compassion
Stress-reduction and good self-care are essential components to long-lasting behavior change. Become aware of your mind-body vulnerabilities. Most of us resort to unhealthy behaviors when we are tired, hungry or emotionally triggered.
The easier you can make it for yourself to succeed, the easier it will be to create new behavioral pathways in the brain. Be prepared for obstacles and challenges. Avoid places and people that may sabotage or tempt you. Feeling competent reinforces healthy new behaviors, so do what works for you. Work with, rather than against, your strengths and abilities.
3. Start Small
The smaller the better, because habit change is difficult, and trying to take on too much is a recipe for disaster. Want to exercise? Start with just 5-10 minutes. Want to wake up earlier? Try just 10 minutes earlier for now.
Even a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination. And just so you know, willpower doesn’t work (great book available on Amazon.)
4. Be Patient and Persistent
Change takes time and persistence. It will be far more effective to go slow, and take baby steps than to overdo it.
How many times have you charged full force into a workout regimen only to burn out, and guilt-trip yourself into feeling like a failure (which causes guilt and stress that triggers unwanted behaviors)?
5. Keep track of your progress
The good and the bad (including those days when you took the elevator because you were running late) -- to help keep yourself focused and on task.
Progress reports are a good way to keep yourself motivated and moving in the right direction toward your goal; without them -- and sometimes despite them -- we can become discouraged. This year, I plan on incorporating Habit Trackers into my Bullet Journal, to make sure that I consistently meet my goals.
Don’t sweat missing a work-out or flubbing up here and there. Researchers have found that a few off-days from time to time doesn't have much, if any, effect on your overall success [source: Burkeman].
Researchers are also examining a phenomenon called decision fatigue that plays a part in how likely we are to keep resolutions [source: Tierney]. The more decisions, even small ones, that you have to make in a day (including deciding to go for a walk or run, selecting healthy foods, and putting away cash for a rainy day), the more depleted your willpower and self-control will be as the day wears on. So think about how you can incorporate small steps to your goal in your daily life so they'll be automatic and require little or no decision effort.
What are you doing right now to change your life?
How much time do you think you really have?