Keeping Your Resolutions
How many of us vow at the start of each new year that we will get healthy – eat better, exercise more, quit smoking and lose that extra weight? After January 1, there’s a noticeable uptick in how crowded the gym is. But in a few weeks, things always seem to regress as we get discouraged or simply feel we can’t keep up with our grand plans for self-transformation.
If you want to make changes, first define what “get healthy” means. We translate that into very specific actions. “Eat better” might mean including one or two more green vegetable servings in meals each day. Or not snacking after 8:00 p.m. Maybe it’s drinking an additional glass of water.
“Exercise more” might become a goal of walking five or ten more minutes each day, going to an exercise class one or two times per week, using the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
“Losing weight” would mean setting a goal that is realistic, based on an embodied experience of having been that weight as an adult and feeling better – not a number from a weight table or what one weighed in high school.
Setting achievable goals requires getting very specific.
The more specific the plan, the more likely one is to succeed. The plan should include making small, do-able changes that build off each other – stepping stones.
Consider adding rather than cutting: Add more fruits and vegetables to each meal instead of taking something away. It’s the same thing with a smoking cessation plan. Adding deep breathing exercises, meditation, short breaks spent outdoors without a cigarette can ease tension and replace some of the underlying reasons that someone smokes in the first place.
In addition to a specific plan, people who successfully change habits over the long term have three things: motivation, a support network and the understanding that there will be missteps along the way.
As for motivation, ask yourself why you want to make these changes. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight so I can be healthy,” make a list of the things you’ll be able to do without the excess weight. And be certain you’re making the change because you want to do it for yourself. If you are working someone else’s plan, chances are you won’t stick with it.
Having a strong support network is critical. Enlist a buddy who will agree to remind you why you are making these changes. Let that person know you will be calling on them for support when you need some encouragement and acknowledgment, and give them some specific instructions about what you will want: “When I’m too tired to exercise in the morning, I need you to remind me that this walk will help me to feel more energized and to be in a better mood with the children today.”
Finally, understanding that missteps are part of the journey. Studies have shown that the people who are successful long-term with weight loss and other lifestyle changes are the ones who know they will “fall off the wagon” from time to time. They don’t dwell on the fall or use it as an excuse to give up. Take each fall as a lesson and move on. Spending energy berating yourself for the misstep is wasting energy you could be using to get yourself back on track.
Knowing this will happen and being prepared for it will allow you to recover more quickly and to keep moving forward toward your goals. Be as loving and compassionate with yourself as you would be to a friend who asks for your help.