Why You Shouldn't Be a "New Year, New You" Kinda Person
The start of a new year—a new decade even—might seem like the perfect time to start fresh with your wellness commitments. But, after the first blush of that thought fades, you may want to reconsider. Read on to see why you should consider not syncing your resolutions to the drop of the crystal ball.
Ahhh! New Year’s Day, Time to Conquer the Resolutions!
Or not. Maybe.
There have been several studies on why New Year’s resolutions (NYR) fail. Most of the reasons nod to poor or non-existent planning, lack of commitment or readiness, or unrealistic or ill-conceived goals. Usually, it’s some combination of these factors. But, hey, we’re human. We’re fallible. BUT, we’re also capable of higher reasoning and making changes to beat our self-sabotaging imperfections. There’s a lot that’s in our control—we can create and maintain healthful habits that serve our well-being and honor ourselves. More on this below!
When to Start Your Healthy New Behaviors
So, if you’re not supposed to start your NYR on New Year’s Day, when should you? You might not like the answer: It depends.
The key is having the right goals set for the right reasons, determining the proper habits to move you towards attaining your goals, and then establishing a solid roadmap. And this is going to be different for every single person. (Hence the “It depends.” Answer.)
That person-to-person specificity and variability aside, one article I read suggested that it can take up to 8 weeks to get all this pre-work sorted out. That’s two whole months before you even hit that start date.
I’m sure there are other schools of thought on how long it should take to prepare for your habit-changing endeavor—but I think the point is clear. You need to do some serious soul-searching and other prep before you pouncing on those new and improved behaviors.
If you want to increase your chances for lasting and meaningful success.... Sound like you much? (If you're going to put in the effort—REALLY put in the effort—don't you want to reap the benefits?!)
How to Make Healthy Habits Happen?
Now that you have the concept of what needs to be done, and an idea of a timeline, you may be wanting some concrete info and approaches to put it all into ACTION. We're going to dive into details to help you create that strategic healthy habits plan and the tactical tasks to accomplish your goals.
Bear in mind that, according to various sources, forming a new habit or routine can take anywhere between 3-10 weeks to become truly ingrained. The odds of you cruising through that transition period to the promised land go way up if you heed the tips below.
29 Tips for Getting Healthy Habits to Stick
This listicle is compiled from things I found around the web, plus some of my own experience-/education-based insights. If some of them seem like something you've seen elsewhere—it's probably because you have! They're eternal nuggets of wisdom that get repeated because they are gold!
Goal Setting & Habit Creation
Create a theme. This gives you something to rally around. It makes it easier to express and focus on your goals and habits. It can facilitate making all the tangential lifestyle and environmental changes that help promote your goals.
Keep it simple. The plainer and less complicated your goals and habits are, the better. Each goal or habit should be its own line item. One sentence for each unique idea. The simpler you make things, the easier it is to identify and adhere to the core function of the goal/habit.
Heed your priorities and values. You're only going to keep habits that are truly aligned with who you are. Your goals and habits need to take your ethics and morals into consideration. For example, if you aren't a pill person, perhaps taking a diet aid to hit your weight loss targets isn't a new habit that's appropriate for you. You'll need to find new behaviors and routines that lead you to the same goalpost without the use of supplements. Habits that aren't authentic to your true self are not sustainable or will force you to compromise in ways that are detrimental to you in other aspects of your life. Be true to yourself. Period.
Make sure your goals are SMART. Articulating what you want to do and how and how much and when is critical. You can't accomplish something you haven't thought about or defined! There are tons of resources that explain the ins and out of what SMART goals are and how to create them—use them!
Chunk it out. Nothing is more daunting than being at the base of a mountain, looking to the summit and knowing you gotta climb way up there. Instead, try thinking about finding the trail head. When you get there, concentrate on getting to the next cairn. Along the way, enjoy your companions, the amazing scenery and your healthy homemade GORP. Dissecting your goals and habits into small bite-sized pieces makes them seem more doable. You'll feel like you can see progress quicker. And this can encourage you to keep on keepin' on.
Set intention-based goals. Orient your goals around what you want to accomplish, what "success" means to you—not around something you "have to" do. The idea here is that you'll work towards something (your objectives) rather than reject something (rules or edicts).
Create compound goals. What I mean by this is see if you can come up with some goals or habits that feed into one another such that when you accomplish both (or all), the result is even better than reaching each one on its own. This is the concept of synergy, or the total is greater than the sum of the parts. This kind of goals inherently spur you on and feel so amazing when you realize them.
Enact positive behavior change. Some research indicates that people are more likely to stick with habits that are framed in the affirmative. So, instead of saying "I'd like to eat less junk food between meals.", you might say "I'd like to eat more fruits and vegetables as snacks." It's human nature to respond better to things we're "allowed" to do rather than "forbidden" to do.
Forget sacrifice. The road to failure is paved with denial! This goes hand-in-hand with #8. If you never let yourself indulge in chocolate, all you'll ever want is chocolate...and one day you're gonna snap. You'll binge on chocolate—and probably the crappy kind—and end up feeling horrible. You'll feel like you failed and get sucked into a vicious, self-defeating cycle. Alternatively, if you have a really decadent bonbon once in a while, it won't feel like a treat or a taboo. You'll learn to fit it in to your life in a healthy, in-control kinda way that's sustainable and attuned to your goals for the long-run.
Prepare for surprises. When you're creating your goals and habits, try to build in some flexibility and contingencies. See if you can insert creative ways to plan for the unexpected so it doesn't all devolve into chaos when the slightest thing goes awry.
Document your plan. Writing down your goals cranks up your likelihood of crushing them, by something like 500%. There's something absolutely magical that happens when you put pen to paper.... It makes the plan seem more "real"; it gives you a tangible thing to reference along the way. There are tons of ways to document your goals and habits: journaling, vision boards, outlines and more. Find an approach that you can stick with and that resonates with you.
Create positive triggers and reminders. Everyone can use little tricks and prompts to make it easier to stay on track. Stack the deck in your favor by establishing these cause-effect cues. For instance, let's say you love books-on-tape but only let yourself listen to them when you exercise, and your goal is to exercise more. A positive trigger in this scenario might be "When I finish my audiobook, I'll buy a new one." A positive reminder might be to leave a picture of the book you're listening to taped to your bathroom mirror or fridge. You just want to make sure you're promoting a good behavior in an affirmative way rather than demoting a bad habit in a negative way.
Make it automatic. This one generally comes with time, and more so if you've drafted your goals and habits in with the other tips in this list. Wink wink, hint hint. The gist is to make it so you have no other choice but to submit to you new healthier habit. Like when you park as far away from the grocery store door and have to walk the extra distance. Or you stock you snack drawer with only organic-salmon safe-artisnal-non GMO-PETA approved-vegan-small batch-certified Fair Trade cucumber crisps and air-"fried" lupini beans.
Don’t create false equations. People do this all the time, me included. This is easiest to illustrate with an example from my life: If my goal is to get to a healthy weight, a false equation would be thinking that if I exercise more I can eat more. It's like saying that because I did one thing I can do the other, event though this is an untrue and unhelpful premise. Really the two habits (exercise and eating) are separate, and impact my goal (healthy weight) differently. Once I disassociated the two habits, I found SO MUCH MORE success, with both habits!
Variety is the spice of life. Boredom works against you. Create opportunities for you to include diversity in your routines so that you don't fall out of healthy habits from sheer ennui. How? If your goal is to eat a more whole foods plant-base diet, consider learning a dozen vegan recipes that you and your spouse will salivate over. Rotate through that WFPB roster and you'll be dining on something different every night for almost two weeks!
Reduce barriers and increase facilitators. Set yourself up for success by creating a goal-/habit-friendly environment. This means, for example, if you want to eat healthier and you know you have no willpower—don't keep cookies, candy and chips in your home or workplace. If you want to start exercising in the morning—make sure you have your workout clothes and gym bag ready to go the night before. If you want to improve your sleep hygiene, hang some blackout curtains and get rid of that crazy-bright clock.
Find a support network. People are social beings. With a support group or other network of folks to help lift you up, you're better positioned to be faithful to you goals and habits. This support can come in many forms: online or in person, affinity groups (e.g., WW workshops worked well for me) or family and friends, even a dog!
Put your $ where your goals are. Essentially, don't spend money on stuff and experiences that run counter to achieving your goals. If you want six-pack abs, buy a gym membership not a case of beer.
Get some hobbies. Hobbies are essential. They provide distraction, so you get a break from trying so hard not to think about food/being a couch potato/smoking/insert other unhealthy habit here. They shift your focus to activities that are constructive or productive. You're engaged in learning, doing, socializing, creating. Your mind/body is firing on all cylinders!
Go outside. One study I looked at found a correlation between time spent in nature and staying power of healthy habits. It has something to do with the calming effects and one-with-the-Earthness of escaping the confines of four walls. Plus, you're less distracted by screens and other tech—so you can focus more/better on engaging in the healthful activities that propel you towards your wellness goals.
Go with the flow. Accept that we don't control everything. We can't anticipate and prepare for everything. Sometimes you just have to roll with it. And that's ok. It DOES NOT mean you have to chuck your plans into the toilet and revert to your sub-optimal old ways. It means you do what you can in the now and re-commit to your new healthy goals and habits asap.
Check in periodically. On a regular basis you should assess how you're doing in terms of meeting your goals and adhering to your healthy habits. What’s working? What's not working? How do you feel about yourself and your life with the changes/progress you've made thus far? How could you improve? Are there areas you need to relax on? Evaluating your sitch and giving yourself feedback are essential for success. Otherwise, you'll have no idea how far you've come—or even if you're heading in the right direction!. It gives you a solid place from which to address any issues and make necessary tweaks to your plan.
Celebrate accomplishments! Never let hitting milestones go unnoticed. Reward yourself for a job well done. This is great for self-esteem and positive re-enforcement of good behaviors. Just make sure your "prize" isn't counterproductive to your goals. (i.e., Don't treat yourself to a donut for losing that last 5 pounds! Get a manicure or new swimsuit instead.)
Take advantage of available resources. There are infinite books, blogs, videos and people out there to help you on your wellness journey! You are so lucky to live in this day and age of info and expertise at your fingertips. Go claim it and use it to your advantage. Do web searches, check your library, ask friends and your doctor/trainer/coach/counselor for referrals, scan social media. You are bound to find checklists and worksheets galore to help you with all aspects of goal and habit making.
Remember it's a journey, not a destination. As they say, the struggle is real. Wellness is a lifelong adventure. Your new habits help you get to the next mile post along the route. And as time goes on, you may have detours or different destinations. That's totally normal and ok. Just stick with it and take a few moments here and there to appreciate the trip.
There's no need to race. Because it's a lifelong journey, there's no finish line or time record to beat. Take your time and make sure you're setting the right goals and habits for yourself. If you slow down a bit, you're more likely to embark on your lifestyle changes more thoughtfully and with greater self-care. You'll provide yourself the opportunity to periodically take stock of how you're doing and adjust course as needed.
Don't compare yourself to others. Everyone is unique. We all have different things impacting our lives and health. So it doesn't make sense to use the same metrics to assess or success. What's good and works for me might be terrible and harmful to you. If you must make comparisons, opt for comparing yourself now to yourself then.
Stay connected to your Purpose. Keep your "why" in mind. If this is at the forefront of your thoughts, your actions might come more readily. For example, it may be easier to stick with your plan to eat better to lower your A1C so you don't get diabetes because you want to be around to see your son graduate college. Your Purpose is to be healthier so you can enjoy your family. Some people treat their Purpose like a personal mantra, something they say out loud or write/rewrite in a journal daily. It's an incredibly powerful tactic.
Anticipate the learning curve. A couple things here. One, you can't unlearn old/bad behaviors. All you can do is replace them with new/good behaviors. Two, all habit formation has a natural arc. You'll go through stages of initiating, learning, stabilizing (or forming-storming-norming-performing). This will be followed by revision if you're doing those recommended check-ins.
Some More Reading on Habits & New Year’s Resolutions
Should you want to do a deeper dive into the topic, here are some articles and studies to get you started. I referred to many of these when creating this post. You can also do a simple web search or see what’s available on Google Scholar or one of the governmental health agencies’ websites (e.g., the NIH).
3 Common Reasons So Many People's New Year's Resolutions End In Failure
Green Mind Theory: How Brain-Body-Behaviour Links into Natural & Social Environments for Healthy Habits
How Psychological Science Can Create & Maintain Healthy Habits
Making Health Habitual: The Psychology of ‘Habit-Formation’ & General Practice
Making New Year's Resolutions that Stick: Exploring How Superordinate & Subordinate Goals Motivate Goal Pursuit
Cheers & Auld Lang Syne
Wishing you and your family, friends, colleagues—and anyone else who matters to you! 🥰—a very healthy, wealthy, wise and HAPPY new year and beyond. Making lifestyle changes and creating enduring healthy habits isn’t easy; so remember to be kind and gentle to.
Feel free to share the love and support in the Comments section below. Or let us know what your goals, healthy habits, strategies and tips for 2020 (and beyond!) are. The Crowd always has good stuff to say!