Making resolutions for the New Year is easy, keeping them is hard–it means changing habits. But it can be done, especially if we understand how we form habits. We are all entrenched in habits and change brings frustration. Is this you?
- Street repair blocks your route to work and in seconds you have to find another way that lengthens trip time;
- Your favorite relaxing Tuesday night show is cancelled;
- Your bank changes the online bill-paying format you’re used to;
- Your regular doctor retires.
These require change and adjusting; habitual living is easy, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Change is challenging. You’ll find an interim route, learn the banking format, etc. These become bumps in your road. But losing weight, changing your diet, quitting smoking, doing regular exercise can be like climbing a mountain.
How to start? 1. Be selective. 2. Don’t take on too much as succeeding at one new habit overrides failing at four. 3. Keep a journal or create a computer file to track your progress.
- Determine an attainable goal and write it down. Question?? which goal is attainable: I will lose 20 pounds in one month. I will lose five pounds in one month.
The second goal is more attainable. If you attempt a difficult goal at the start, you set yourself up for failure. Once you fail, it’s harder to start again. People change when they are ready to change. Selecting a difficult goal is practicing self-sabotage; like wanting an excuse to say I just can’t do this. You can if you set realistic goals.
- Create a plan that will help you reach your goal and keep you motivated. Write it down in as much detail as you need. Question?? which plan is realistic: I will run a mile every day and cut out all sweets. I will walk for 20 minutes 3 times a week and only eat sweets at dessert on the weekends.
The first plan is not specific enough and too taxing. The second plan is more specific and allows for a day off now and again. A doable plan increases your motivation and helps you visualize success.
- Write down your major motivation for wanting to succeed with your goal and plan. Question?? which of the following are good motivations for true and lasting habit change: I want to look good for my high school reunion. Or I need to lose weight for health reasons. Other examples: I can’t afford cigarettes because I didn’t get a raise, so I guess I’ll quit. Or There’s cancer in my family and I like to hike and will need good lungs as I age.
Note: Having solid, research-oriented information to back up a habit change increases your motivation and helps you stay on track.
Finally—here are some tips to help you succeed once you’ve made a resolution to change a habit or form a new one.
- Find mentors who will support you when you hit a rough spot. Keep their email addresses handy, their numbers in your cell phone. They’ll help you stay on track. If people close to you don’t get it, find a support group. It’s your health!
- Be aware of the obstacles and roadblocks to your success. Deal with them before you begin your habit change plan. Obstacles could be: junk food in your kitchen; cigarettes hidden in your car. Replace them with fruits and vegetable snacks; gum to chew, water to drink when you want a smoke. Plan for obstacles: like a place to exercise in bad weather. Eliminate excuses before you start.
- Watch out for triggers, ie something that your new habit must avoid. Example: want to lose weight?? Triggers include fast-food restaurants where few items on the menu will keep you on track. Or television, often a trigger for snacking. Keep the junk food out of the house or take a stroll to walk off the craving. Want to quit smoking?? Triggers can include: waking up, drinking coffee, having a drink with a friend. Plan ahead. Find substitutes: a shower upon awakening, a piece of candy, a bottle of water for oral gratification.
- Keep track of your successes when you defeat your triggers. Give yourself a gold star. You are truly motivated.
- Remember: it will be hard at first. Stats show we often drop goals 20-30 days into a plan. Stay in the game and it will get easier.
- It’s the weight of the habit change that matters. You might hear someone say—I’m a disciplined person. Habits are easy for me: every day I make my coffee, read the paper and walk the dog. But those are light-weight, second-nature kind of habits that take about twenty minutes. Changing your life-long diet to lose weight, quitting smoking, doing things for your health overall requires months and staying power into years. What smoker hasn’t considered the 20 years of the habit that is pushing against a major change in days and weeks? And the change has to be permanent. The weight of the change is heavy. It’s not a bump in the road—it’s that mountain.
Finally: educate yourself as you proceed. Losing weight? There are menus and recipes in the thousands to help you along, exercises, sports and activities to help you burn calories. Trying to stop smoking or drinking? Get online and you’ll find articles and research to help you set your goals. And talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you too. You’ll succeed—with your goal, plan and commitment–your resolutions will stick and you’ll form good habits.
Thanks to the American Diabetes Association and Leo Babauta at zenhabits.net