Many people attempt to begin new healthy habits on New Years Day. Ashley Wooley, LMFT has some great tips for you as you begin your new habit journey.

For the last five years my New Year’s resolution has been to eat healthier. Unfortunately, as my family and probably my co-workers could tell you, that is a resolution that I have yet to keep, and my diet continues to have more spaghettios and cookies in it than green things.  I am pretty sure that I am not alone in this struggle.  Many people make New Year’s resolutions around this time of year, for it is at this time that we tend to reflect on the past 365 days and consider what went well and what did not go so well.  We ask ourselves what we need to change to make the next year better, to make ourselves happier, more satisfied, more fulfilled, and so resolutions are born.  They range from eating healthier to exercising to learning a new language to just being a better person.   Some people succeed in these endeavors but a vast majority of us tend to fail, if not immediately then within a few months of the new year.  But why? Why do these resolutions never seem to stick? Why does real change seem so difficult to achieve?

The main problem with most resolutions is that people come up with too many or their goals tend to be too broad.  For example, the objective of “become healthier” can involve multiple areas from better diet to exercising to getting more sleep, and all of these different aspects can be achieved in multiple different ways and can all be challenging on their own. Where do you even start?  The goal can quickly become overwhelming and stressful and it can start to feel like is completely unattainable for us.  We become disappointed and anxious when it does not work out the way we want and then we usually give up entirely and return to our old habits.  This cycle is very common and normal but there are ways to help break it.  Here are some tips for creating New Year’s resolutions that can actually work:

  • Choose a goal that is actually important to you. So often, we pick resolutions that are based on what others are doing, what is popular, or what others tell us we need to work on. Resolutions are more likely to succeed when they are meaningful to you and will affect your life in a deeply personal way.
  • Pick one behavior at a time! The resolution to eat healthier, travel more, learn an instrument, AND be more social are too much at once and will quickly feel overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Working on one small goal at a time is more realistic and therefore more attainable. Baby steps are ok!
  • Remember to make your goals SMART: S (specific), M (measurable), A (achievable), R (relevant), and T (time-based).  For my resolution of eating more vegetables, I could make it more SMART by planning to pack one vegetable in my lunch every day I go to work. This way, my goal is highly specific and realistic, and my progress can be easily tracked and measured each day.
  • Chart your progress. Keeping track of your how you are progressing towards your goal in a visual way can be rewarding in itself for many people. Make an Excel spreadsheet, create a chart on your fridge, or make a list on your phone. Find what works for you best and use it.
  • Reward or congratulate yourself in some small way when you make progress. We are quick to come down on ourselves when we fail but positive self-talk, acknowledging your accomplishments, and cheering yourself on can be highly effective when it comes to reaching goals.
  • Don’t give up at the first sign of a setback. It is easy to throw in the towel and give up on the whole diet after eating too much ice cream after dinner one day. Instead, accept what happened, label it what is was-just a setback- and get back on the horse. Be compassionate to yourself and realize that perfection is unrealistic.
  • Ask for support. This might look like discussing your goal with a family member, asking a friend to work out with you, or even joining a support group. Not only can this help you not feel alone in your journey but it can also create accountability.

Change is always challenging. It often comes with frustrations and setbacks and stress.  Sometimes thinking about starting the process of change can be daunting in itself, making us want to avoid it all together.  But the anticipation is usually worse than the act, and deciding that change, while scary, is possible and can be highly rewarding can help motivate you to just start.  Pick a goal, begin those baby steps, gather your support, and remember that the journey with all its ups and downs is more important than the destination.  I have a feeling that 2018 is going to be a very good year.  With any luck, I’ll be eating a few more veggies along the way.

Happy New Year!