The year seems to have flown. Having 1/3 of 2021 in the rear-view mirror provides a good opportunity to review the goals and intentions set a few short months ago.
Where are you now?
For many, the best part of 2021 was that it was leaving 2020 behind. The beginning of the year is filled with starry-eyed hope and determination to accomplish a bucket-load of new year resolutions. Statistically, these fall by the wayside with great speed. According to a classic study, only 19% of people actually sustain their resolutions and create meaningful shifts in their lives. You can buck the trend, however, and keep your resolutions, revisit them, reformulate them slightly and recommit for continued growth throughout the remainder of the year.
Beginning in ancient Rome, renewed plans were part of festivals celebrating the god Janus (think: January) who looked to the past and to the future honoring home, family, friends and civil life. People worked only in the morning and had the afternoon off for parties, gift giving and offering blessings to each other for success in the new year.
For the 81% who have struggled to keep resolutions, understanding that the brain is working against you is important. Recent research revealed people are more likely to repeat pleasing and familiar activities due to the release of dopamine (the feel-good neurochemical) when previously-positive activities are approached. Even seeing a delicious dessert causes the release and can thwart your efforts to select the Paleo friendly options you may resolved to eat instead.
The big question becomes how can you succeed where you’ve failed before? How can you finally sustain your new year resolutions – even if you may have veered off the path momentarily this year?
Tie Your Actions To Your Identity
Fascinating research has identified people have more success shifting their behaviors when they are linked to their identity, rather than using the ever-elusive willpower. Perhaps you prefer to take a Saturday afternoon nap rather than the long walk you promised yourself. If you simply apply willpower, you may be more likely to take the nap instead of the walk. On the other hand, reminding yourself that you are not a person who shirks your responsibility to fitness, or that you are a person who keeps my commitments to yourself and values taking action over slacking, you will be more likely to effectively recommit to your goals and make strides toward your new, preferred behaviors.
You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating: ensure your aims are attainable. If your goal is to compete in the Crossfit games this summer and you are only just starting a strength-based training program now, you may be reaching a little too high. Set ambitious targets that are attainable and keep in mind you can build over time. This year, you may begin to build your strength, muscle mass and endurance. Next year you may look at competing locally, if the opportunity arises.
Make It Real
Distinguish between your overall vision and habits. Focus on your ultimate goal but be specific about the daily habits which will accumulate toward success. Be sure your habits are specific and actionable. While your aim may be to ‘maintain your Paleo diet,’ a powerful habit will be to create a schedule to ensure you have Paleo friendly foods on hand each week. Perhaps you want to move more. Great, but you’ll be more likely to achieve this desire by committing going for 30-minute walk five days a week. Be specific about the actions you’ll take, rather than simply the end you want to achieve.
Link Your Habits
Another powerful way to successfully adopt a new set of habits is to link a new behavior to an existing one. For example, if your big goal is to expand your cooking skills and you have decided you want to learn new recipes and cooking techniques, link your gourmet goals to another habit that is already part of your daily repertoire. Perhaps add a creative or new side dish or main once or twice a week to your meal rotation or choose a new vegetable each time you go grocery shopping and learn how to prepare it.
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Write down your goals (and if you did this already, it is an exercise that is worth repeating). This will help you be accountable to yourself. In addition, share your goals (again if you have shared before) and ask for support like checking in with you and giving you feedback. If your goal is to create a more restorative bed-time and sleep routine, ask your family members to give you a little nudge when you are still on your devices past a certain time. Or if you want to do daily push-ups, ask your roommate to give you a gentle reminder if evening is approaching and you have yet to drop for 10.
Share The Process (Or The Pain)
One of the best ways to recommit to your resolutions is to make them mutual. Partner with others who have the same aims. If your goal is to get outdoors more, find a friend with whom you can go for regular, scheduled walks. Or if your objective is to run a marathon, find a partner to train with daily. If you want to lose your Covid weight gain, establish a small group of similarly-minded folks with whom you can commit and commiserate.
Celebrate Small Steps
An important strategy in maintaining changes in behavior is to reduce your perception of effort. An interesting example is a study which found people maintained their exercise programs for longer periods of time when they drank coffee (which you can choose to consume on your Paleo diet). The caffeine provided bursts of energy and reduced the perception of exertion. Smaller, incremental, effort works this way as well. Take small steps. Track your progress over time. Use a calendar and mark off the days through which you have accomplished your new goals. Make the tracking visible to give yourself an important, tangible sense of accomplishment. Perhaps really want to start a meditation practice. Plan to start with a few short minutes a day, download an app and schedule the time. Give yourself credit for every small step you take and reward yourself along the way.
It is important to stop, reflect and reassess – just as you are doing now! Long term success includes built in days for celebration. If your goal, for example is to incorporate intermittent fasting into your routine, perhaps plan for one day a week when you eat throughout the day. If you plan for small moments of reprieve from your new behavior, you cannot beat yourself up for ‘cheating’ or ‘failing’, encouraging you to continue strong rather than throw in the towel (which often happens when a stumble occurs). Taking a break gives you the opportunity to recharge for the next bout of following your new rules.
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Focus On Your Mindset
Changing behaviors is challenging. Your current ways of doing things have carved pathways in your brain, and establishing new linkages can be uncomfortable. Get comfortable with discomfort and reassure yourself you can do it. You have some exciting aspirations and if they were easy, they would probably not be worth doing. Those who achieve their resolutions are distinguished from those who don’t by the ability to put aside short-term satisfaction for long-term gain. Consider the feelings of instant gratification compared with the trade-off over time. The chocolate cake may be delicious in the moment, but the discomfort in your belly is an unfortunate trade off. Remind yourself of the benefits and lasting goodness of health and fitness, compared to the momentary delight of chocolate bliss.
Revisit Your Why
Perhaps most important for your renewed motivation is to remember your overall purpose. You want to acquire a new skill and habits, so you can make supportive changes to yourself, your family and your environment over the long term. The big picture is always motivational. Try to avoid placing the focus on laying bricks, keep in mind the architectural wonder you are building.
The last year has provided many situations and changes that have been terrible and horrible. These challenges have also provided the opportunity to learn, grow and become more resilient. Simply because you may have lost focus on your initial goals, recommitting to your resolutions now provides you with the opportunity to accomplish so much as you go forward. You can achieve your new year resolutions. You can succeed. You can make this year and those to follow, years of progress and positivity.