As we turn the calendar to a new year, we often think of turning over a new leaf and starting or resuming healthy habits that may have been ignored during the past year or even just the past few months. While most successful change involves “resolve,” simply stating a few New Year’s resolutions may not be enough to ensure success. Here are the five keys to making New Year’s resolutions that you can actually stick with throughout the year and beyond.
1. New Results Require New Thinking
People often seek change when they are at their wits end. When problems loom, we look for ways to be and do better, but this desire is often rooted in frustration and fear. Judging past attempts and failures may actually sabotage our success. Therefore, a first step toward success is to release discontent as the impetus for change. When we begin to simply notice our thoughts and feelings (about current fitness level or weight, how we compare to others, our story about past successes or failures), we make room for new thoughts and new solutions to emerge.
In a fast-paced world, we may be more accustomed to answering urgent demands for our immediate attention than waiting, watching and being in the present moment. With patience and practice, we can learn to still the busy mind chatter (mindlessness), be vulnerable rather than reactive, and be connected to ourselves rather than cut off (mindfulness). Instead of thinking and saying “I want to lose 20 pounds…but I said the same thing last year,” we think and say, “I am willing to learn how to accept myself, including my mistakes, as I move toward my goal.” Mindful change means completely approving of ourselves and being present with who, what and where we are and wish to be, as our next step is revealed with ease and clarity.
Formal mindfulness practices include Zen meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. However, those new to meditation and mindfulness can start with a simple, regular practice of observing the breath for a few moments. From a quiet mind, we give ourselves the option of making thoughtful decisions based on our inner wisdom.
2. Connect Resolutions With Things You Value
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
Do you wish to grow in awareness, develop a new skill, expand your knowledge, live a healthier lifestyle, master a sport, overcome a physical challenge or create a support network? So often, people begin with action rather than contemplation. However, after huffing and puffing, people often discover that activity disconnected from vision and values is short-lived.
Awakening your own motivation for behavior change is best supported with an exploration of your values and vision for what the future may hold. What do you aspire to achieve? What drives and motivates you? What do you hope the future will hold in one year, five years and even 10 years?
Ask yourself: What’s my image of fitness and where did it come from? How am I being influenced by family, friends and the media? How have I allowed criteria from the past (e.g., my weight in school) to dictate what is right for me now? How will my life be different once I’ve made this lifestyle change? What new activities will I be able to enjoy?
3. Break Them Down
Avoid the pitfall of vague, broad, general goals. Intentions that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (SMART goals) are more likely to be achieved. Be sure goals and action steps are connected to your values; then ask how much, how many, how often, when, where and with whom. Hold onto your larger vision for the change you want to experience and then focus on each next step.
4. Build in Accountability
The best means of accountability is the one that you choose. Ask yourself: “How would you like to be accountable?” and then create an accountability process that will work for you. For example, keeping a food log or creating a weekly exercise plan may be helpful. While some people feel comfortable being accountable to friends, family members or smartphone apps, you might considering working with a health coach or personal trainer to help keep you accountable. The key is to find something that helps you gain awareness, perspective, wisdom, ideas or data that help you stay on the path to fulfillment and be able to check in with your intentions.
5. Celebrate Efforts and Successes
Incorporating accountability provides a built-in opportunity to celebrate your efforts and progress. Seeing progress will give you the confidence and momentum you need to continue your efforts. Remember to encourage everything in the direction of your goals…all attainment, all attempts, all discoveries and even all set-backs. Awareness is curative!