It’s that time of year – everyone has the best of intentions to make resolutions that stick. I get it. I’m guilty of it. I make lofty, nonspecific goals and find myself disappointed 6 weeks into the new year.
So, where do resolutions fall apart? I firmly believe that we often go about it all wrong. We focus on the big picture and lose sight of the necessary small changes that need to happen along the way. We all know that someone who has never run more than 1 mile cannot become a marathon runner overnight. I always tell my clients to remember:
Big change = Small change + time.
Let me explain this logic more. All goals have one thing in common: they require behavior change. And here’s the thing, most of our behaviors are habits, they aren’t conscious decisions. Think about it – you wake up in the morning and immediately embark upon a string of habits to get you going. Some of us are so habitual in our routines that we show up to work and have no real memory of how we even got there. Our brain does this for a reason. It’s a means by which for our brain to conserve energy. It’s why we form habits on a primal level – so that we can survive without a lot of concerted attention. But, what happens when we are on autopilot all of the time? We form a LOT of very dysfunctional habits. What’s more, our habits are perpetuated by rewards. Showering, getting dressed and arriving to work on time is rewarded by you keeping your job. You can see how some of these habits are necessary, but some are less desirable. For example, one of my most challenging habits to overcome was this: I eat dinner, then I want to eat something sweet. You’ve likely heard that consuming sugar, looking your smart phone and using narcotic drugs all activate the same area in your brain – the reward center that reinforces habit (read: addictive behaviors). That said, these habits can be hard to break. But, the first step toward reaching your goals is acknowledging your specific habits that need to change. Rather than focus on global goals, isolate specific habits that may be standing in your way of reaching your goals.
But guess what? Every single habit has a stimulus that cues the behavior that follows. So in order to effectively change a habit, you must identify the stimulus for said habits. For example, what triggers your snacking? Is it the time of day? Maybe sitting in front of the TV? Or maybe you’re actually hungry. I find that daily journaling has helped me to effectively recognize some of my common triggers.
Once you’ve identified your triggers it is not necessary to avoid these stimuli, but rather, we must be mindful in instances in which we are presented with them. It’s important to be prepared to replace a habit with a new routine. For instance, I immediately do the dishes after dinner and have found that this new (productive!) routine has helped me to finally suppress my post-dinner sweet tooth.
I’m sure you’ve heard that it takes 21 days to create a habit, and I’ve found that to be true. It may sound counterintuitive, but I often ADD a new habit when I’m trying to change a dysfunctional habit. For example, try making your bed each morning. Or maybe adding flossing your teeth every evening. Research has shown that forming certain habits can make you more effective in implementing changes to existing habits.
Regardless of your goals, be sure to focus on the small, sustainable changes that you can make. I’m confident that you are capable of making changes so that the coming year is the healthiest yet!
I’d love to hear what your specific goals are and how you’re going to achieve them. Leave a comment below and let me know!
Wishing you a happy, healthy new year!