We are well into the New Year, which means, if you’re anything like the 80% of people who give up on their New Year’s resolutions by February, you’ve probably slipped once or twice already—and not just on our slick ice earlier this month.
Resolutions are hard—that’s why we declare them “resolutions” and set goals. Most of us are creatures of habit, and habits, good or bad, are tough to change or adopt. But it’s not impossible, especially if you reframe those “resolutions” as something less daunting, so you don’t give up and toss out all those good intentions when you, like most of us, slip a little.
Instead, think more in terms of shifting your habits than keeping a resolution, then you give yourself more leeway for success. “Shifting” suggests improvement over time, some back and forth, as opposed to a one-and-done, “if-you-break-it-then-forget-it” mentality. Shifting can be incremental, and ideally will lead to lasting habits. And your long-term health is too important to toss out the window like a broken resolution.
Try these six tips for embracing healthy habits that stick.
- Understand the “why.” Do a little homework to know if this change is important enough to commit to, and why. You don’t want to fall for the latest fad, but most importantly, when the willpower wanes (and it WILL!), you need to understand and believe the underlying reason(s) you are eating more vegetables, for example, or getting more sleep. And consequently, you’ll understand more about what’s at risk if you renege on your resolution.
- Remind, remind, remind. Good intentions remain only intentions if you forget to follow them. Think through where you will be and what you will be doing when it’s your optimal time to walk, to meditate or eat your healthy lunch, then put a reminder note or other visual nudge in that vicinity. Use your computer, apps and devices in creative ways to remind you. Ask a friend to call you and hold you accountable. You’re busy, and it’s easy to forget, so set up duplicate reminder systems.
- Acknowledge temptation and old habits as opportunity. Realize from the start that you’re going to be tempted to fall back into old, unhealthy habits. But use that to your advantage as a signal to acknowledge that this isn’t easy, then celebrate what it feels like to recognize this discomfort and temptation but still push forward to embrace the healthier choice, the habit you’re committed to. Also, be grateful that you have the luxury of opting for a fresh vegetable over a processed food, or, say, taking a nap. Many people aren’t so lucky.
- Be rigid in some areas, and flex in others. Listen up for when you start renegotiating with yourself. “Well, just for tonight I’ll have that extra bowl of ice cream, then I’ll start fresh tomorrow.” Be rigid with those tricks you try to play on yourself (and we all do)—they’re a slippery slope. Don’t let yourself decide in the moment whether you’re going to have that ice cream—stick to your plan. But at the same time, allow yourself the flexibility to renegotiate your deal/plan after a week (or a month), then you can give it some thought and determine if it’s working for you.
- Remove barriers and make it as easy as possible. For a habit to stick, it has to be feasible and somewhat convenient. If your goal is to eat more fresh vegetables, then set aside a time to wash and prep celery or broccoli or whatever it is you enjoy eating, so it’s ready and accessible. If your goal is to walk every day, then make sure you have shoes that are comfortable and a flashlight (if you’re exercising in the early morning or evening). Anticipate and remove the barriers that can become excuses for not following through.
- Practice self-compassion. When you don’t live up to your goals and intentions, when you fall short of whatever ideal you set for yourself, give yourself some self-compassion. Acknowledge that change is a struggle, and instead of berating yourself, use it as a learning experience. Recognize the triggers that led to your disappointment, and imagine the good feelings you’ll get from starting again and doing better next time. It’s okay. Keep the long view in mind.
And it always helps to have extra support! If you need affordable and inviting group fitness options, Roper St. Francis Advantage offers great options, all open to the community.