Remember at the beginning of the year, you made New Year’s resolutions to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, think positively? And then remember how easy it was to slide back into old patterns about six days later?
Why is it so hard to stick to your goals? Because change is big. It’s scary.
But you don’t want to hit next January with the same resolution. How boring. How tedious. How last year!
So what do you do? Put one foot in front of the other for a start. You need to lose weight? Go to the gym. You need to think positively? Give yourself a mirror mantra every day. You need to quit smoking? Buy yourself some nicotine gum.
Change starts in small ways. I don’t expect you to be smoke free by the end of tomorrow. Nor do I think you’ll have dropped those stubborn 10 pounds by Thursday. It took me well over a year to lose the 50 pounds I carried for years. What I do expect is every day you’re on your way to accomplishing your goals—whatever they may be.
Here are some small steps to help you achieve your daily dose of change—to actually stick to your goals:
1. Devote at least 15 minutes a day to your change.
Even if it’s just a walk around your neighborhood, one less cigarette, reading an inspirational article, do it. Mix it up, too. No one wants to be stuck doing some tedious workout regime. It makes it seem so much more miserable, doesn’t it? So pick up the paddle ball set, the tennis rackets or the Frisbee and go spend time with your family or friends.
2. Fork over the truth.
Until I decided to get honest with myself about why I was reaching for chips instead of taking healthy risks, I thought it was all about the food. In reality, I was getting a huge payoff for stuffing food down my face—I got to play it safe. What’s your payoff for not changing? Until you can get real, you’ll never be able to stick with your plan. Behavior modification teaches us that we repeat behavior that makes us feel good. What that means to you is until the goal becomes larger than the payoff, you’re always going to choose feeling good over feeling uncomfortable.
3. Set realistic goals.
Instead of concentrating on losing 20 pounds in 20 days, my goal was simply to begin by eating five fruits and vegetables a day. I truly believe that good choices lead to more good choices (unfortunately it works the other way, too!), and my goal was simply to honor the five-a-day plan. I didn’t expect an overnight miracle or body transformation. Rather, I spent months developing this new pattern of behavior before adding anything else to my plate; in other words, one behavior at a time.
4. Never eliminate. Replace.
When I go to the movies, I want popcorn. My husband only chooses the heavily buttered and salted kind, so I sneak in (hey, I’d buy it if they sold it!) my Jolly Time 94% Fat Free buttered popcorn. If I simply tried to eliminate eating popcorn at the movies while he was munching next to me with sheer delight, I’d probably find my hand coated with grease before the previews were over. If your goal includes eliminating a specific behavior, it must be replaced with a new behavior if you want permanent change. If we don’t substitute a behavior, we end up creating a big void that leads to obsessive thinking, which eventually leads to falling back into old patterns.
5. Find support.
Very few people are able to get where they’re going on their own. We all need encouragement and support throughout our journey of change. For you, maybe that’s a friend to hold you accountable or a group that is like-minded in where they want to go. There is power in numbers, and we can use this to our advantage. Although I had embraced many healthy eating habits over the course of a year, I felt that I needed some added encouragement to keep going.
Change isn’t easy. But it’s something you can achieve as long as you’re not looking for the quick fix, but are willing to make daily choices that will bring you lasting results. Some days you’ll have setbacks, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel. It’s simply an opportunity to recommit yourself to your goal. Have fun with it!