How many ‘New Year resolutions’ have you made over the years? Do you ever wonder why so many promises made with the best of intentions fade away into chocolates and flowers by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around? With the popularity of books like The Power of Habit by James Duhig and Atomic Habits by James Clear, the inevitable social pressures to make resolutions, and the loss of so much routine and normalcy over the last 2 years, the time seems ripe for some intentionality around building or replacing habits with behaviors that will serve us well.
The dramatic and unexpected shifts to working from home, changing jobs, and reduced social interaction have forced many of the routines that once worked for us to be eliminated or drastically changed. Maybe you miss the drive to and from work that you once thought was stressful. Maybe you are exposed to significantly more trauma and environmental stress than you were accustomed to. Maybe you are grieving the loss of a family member you depended on. No matter what has changed for you, you have the power to decide how you want to spend your time and energy going forward. January 1 is not the only opportunity to make a change – if you look around, you just might find there are chances around you every single day to make a new choice.
As we delve into another year of uncertainty, I invite you to consider a few thoughts and strategies to support you on your path. Cheers to drawing nearer to YOUR vision of the healthiest version of you.
- You are the expert on you.
Take some time to yourself to get clear on what matters most to you – not to your family or friends or employer. What does ‘healthy’ mean to you? Health may be physical, emotional, financial, relational, spiritual… any aspect of your life that affects your ability to have your desired experience most days.
- Self compassion is not selfish.
If 2020 & 2021 taught us anything it’s that some days just won’t happen the way we desire or expect them to. Many of your circumstances and situations are beyond your control. The way you respond, however, is under your sole control. This is why it is called responsibility or ‘response-ability.’ When you choose to let go of thoughts about mistakes made by yourself or others, you are free to return that energy to doing the next right thing for you. Name that negative voice in your head and tell it to go away. I like to say ‘Shut up, Sharon!’ (No offense to anyone named Sharon out there.) If you fall short some days, simply begin again.
- Replace – don’t restrict.
Once you identify a behavior that is no longer serving you, consider changing or replacing it instead of trying to quit ‘cold turkey.’ Your brain likes the predictability of your responses to certain things (triggers) in the environment. It is a much smaller effort to alter your response than to just stop responding. If, for example, you want to stop drinking alcohol or sodas the first step would be to notice what comes before you drink the undesirable beverage. Next, choose a more desirable beverage to have when you are presented with those triggers.
- Willpower doesn’t work and motivation is a myth. Mindset matters.
To increase your odds of success in replacing one behavior with another, make the desirable replacement beverage (or other behavior) very convenient and the undesirable ones very inconvenient (not in your house.) Finally, notice and appreciate yourself each time you choose the behavior you were aiming for. For some, a habit tracker – paper or electronic – serves as a useful reward. Making the choice on your own terms makes the ‘stress’ of change into a positive stress. Try to think of it in positive terms like ‘I GET to do this’ instead of ‘I HAVE TO do this.’ Eventually we all have a day when our resolve is not as strong and putting these supports in place will make it easier to endure, or begin again.
- Set yourself up for success.
Do not try to quit drinking alcohol, caffeine and sugar all at once! At most, take on one or two changes at a time. Start with the things that matter most to you and celebrate as you notice the promises you are keeping to yourself. See if you don’t feel so great when you make one change that you want to make another!
Your Partner in Health!