We all tend to at least think for a moment this time of year about a New Years Resolution. They tend to be either STOPPING habits or STARTING habits that feels like it will make a positive change in our lives. Sometimes, we talk about them in terms of the end goal, i.e., “Get Organized” or “Get Healthy” or “Get Out of Debt”, but in order for resolutions to stick, we need to focus on the behaviors and incremental change we can focus on, not just the outcome we’re hoping to achieve. So, how do we do that?
1) Make it specific, and focus on what actions you can take.
Think about something like “Get Healthy.” You may even be more specific like, “Lower My Cholesterol” or “Lose 15 pounds” or “Quit smoking.” Okay, good; now we’re getting a bit closer to understanding what we can do (or not do) to get there. But you may need to get more specific. These might involve changes to your diet, or starting or increasing an exercise regimen. THESE are actions you can focus on to generate results.
2) Draw up a reasonable plan.
You won’t get to any big goal that requires behavior change overnight. Consider how to tie your resolution to a reasonable timeline. For new habits, this means creating them to generate For breaking habits, you may have to frame it in terms of the consistent abandonment of behavior over time, which may LEAD to forever, but isn’t what you’re shooting for. “Quit smoking and stay off cigarettes for at least six months” may sound more achievable than “Never Smoke Again.” Or something like “Reduce my screen time” could be “Turn off screens by 8 pm each night” and then eventually you might move to “no screen time after dinner,” but you’ve built towards it. Losing 15 pounds this year could be “Lose 5 pounds by the beginning of spring, another five by the end of summer, and five more before Christmas.” This becomes something you can work towards, and a reasonable plan of how to get there can be developed.
3) Put it on your calendar.
If you’re trying to create a new habit or have to put in time or energy towards behavior change, you need to figure out exactly how and when you’re making that happen. Whether it is exercise or making sure you’re going through the mail every day so that you can achieve a goal of keeping your kitchen cleaned and organized, look to your calendar and schedule that activity in, and HONOR your commitment to that schedule. If you think that behavior change is going to happen without you making the space in your day for it to do so, you’ll find yourself back where you were on December 31st pretty quickly.
4) Reward forming new (or breaking old) habits.
It’s simple: Habits form because some part of us likes the outcome they generate (even laziness has its reward of relaxation, right?). But sometimes, the desirable outcome can take some time, and our need for immediate results or reinforcement can get in our way of building up to that point. So, what if you could trick yourself into reinforcing that habit until the results you want show up? What if you could satiate that craving for immediate feedback with something else you really value? “If I do this habit for a week straight, I’ll reward myself with ____,” is a way to keep your eye on smaller prizes until the larger payoff shows up.
5) Eliminate triggers.
I remember seeing Alton Brown speak a few years back, and he’d recently lost a significant amount of weight. He shared the secret to his success: He stopped drinking milk. Wait, what? How did that work? Well, he explained that he LOVED a cold glass of milk with cakes and cookies and desserts… without the milk, he just wouldn’t enjoy them as much. So, no milk, no real desire to have a less-than-satisfactory dessert. It was the not-eating-dessert part that helped bring about the weight loss, but the milk was the trigger. What are the triggers related to the habits you’re trying to achieve? I know that people looking to quit smoking talk about how certain social situations just compel them to have a cigarette, so changing that social situation helps. When you hear yourself say, “Oh, I always eat a bowl of ice cream when I sit down to watch TV at night,” you might question whether you’d still eat that ice cream if you read a book instead of watching TV. Find those relationships and see how you could change the trigger to bring about a new result and success for your resolution.
6) Get support.
Whether you’re announcing to the world on Facebook that you intend to make this change, or you’re just telling one person whom you know will help keep you accountable, putting our intentions out there in the world can help us feel like, “Well, I made it public, so now I *have* to keep up with it!” Maybe we’re tricking ourselves into avoiding the public shame of failing, or maybe we just really know that feeling that someone else cares about our success can go a long way.
7) Remember your “Why”.
The most important step for me is making sure we’re rooted in understanding the big picture of WHY we wanted to make this change in the first place. When it is meaningful and clear, we can use it as an anchor for our commitment during the tough times. Heck, the word “resolution” is rooted in “RESOLVE,” and heck knows, resolve means a will and a commitment larger than we’ve taken on thus far. Remembering why you’ve resolved to make this change can help you forgive yourself when you slip up and then need to get back on track. Behavior change is HARD, and we need all the help we can get!
Consider these steps as you build YOUR plan to success in 2019! Remember: we all struggle with this, which is why only 8% of people achieve their resolutions! Let’s all do what we can to put ourselves in the WIN column this year, shall we?