The New Year is upon us, as well as a new decade, so have you written down your New Year Resolutions yet? If not, good for you—don’t do it!
New Year Resolutions can be overwhelming, especially if they involve stretch goals or big changes. Generally, we are not a species that welcomes change, and when we don’t keep our New Year Resolutions, we get discouraged, label ourselves as “failures,” and give up wholesale. Or, our resolutions start off with a bang and gradually fall by the wayside as we slide back into our comfortable, and sometimes non-productive, routine. If you’ve ever joined a gym on January 1 and stopped going by February 1, you know what I’m talking about.
Resolutions versus habits
Developing New Year Resolutions is entirely the wrong approach for making changes in our lives. Typically, the goal of yearly resolutions is to improve our lives in some way. But why wait until the New Year to start? Every day—every minute—is a chance to begin anew. Also, making sweeping changes (especially too many of them at once), and expecting them to manifest immediately as Life Improved, will guarantee failure.
Self-improvement is a habit, not a resolution. And habits take time to develop and show results.
For example, if (like me) you have a sugar addiction and you consume too much of it, you don’t gain weight immediately. Unless you’re one of those people who can eat anything without gaining an ounce, over time you’ll gain weight through your habit of eating too much sugar. You might also develop type 2 diabetes and other health issues. It’s our habits over time that create who we are today. Likewise, the habit of saving money today isn’t going to make you a millionaire tomorrow. But over time, the continued savings will start to pay off, for better or worse.
In a previous post I mentioned James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and because he’s so spot on, I’m again highly recommending this book. At least sign up for his newsletter. Mr. Clear is passionate about the art and science of how to live better. He writes about how to artfully apply the root causes of human behavior (the science) to help people apply them to their daily practice—their habits.
Approach habits with due care
New behaviors take time to develop into habits, so just like you can’t expect immediate results, you can’t expect to wave your Harry Potter wand and suddenly have a new, easily implemented habit. Creating new habits is an effort. Change takes time, which is why habits are best created in increments you can handle. To get started, follow these tips:
- Start small. Pick one thing you want to improve and figure out what small habit you can develop that will ultimately lead to your desired result. One of my ultimate goals is to be in top health and medication-free into old age. But my sugar addiction creates physical problems, including being at risk for type 2 diabetes despite being fit and within a healthy BMI. A small habit I can develop to reduce my sugar intake is to have a small square of dark chocolate only three days a week instead of seven.
- Be realistic. Make sure that your ultimate goal is achievable, with a little work, and not something out of range. Wanting your 50-year-old body to perform like a 25-year-old body would be unrealistic. But doing weight-bearing and aerobic exercise (within in your capabilities) at least a few days a week can improve bodies of all ages.
- Resist the urge to punish yourself for falling off the wagon. You will fall. And that’s okay. I go through periods of eating more sugary treats than I should (hello, holidays!), but if I punish myself, I’m more inclined to just give in and give up rather than resuming my good habit of limiting sugar.
- When you do fall, pick yourself up again. Every day. Maybe you need to adjust your habit to take things more slowly. Or maybe you just need to wipe the dirt off your hands and jump back in again. Giving up, however, gets you nowhere.
- Be patient and persistent. Remember, new behaviors take time to become habits. And our ultimate goals, through good habits, take time to manifest. Celebrate the small feats, such as not eating anything sugary for one whole day!
- Slowly turn up the volume. As your new habit becomes solidified, add to it. Increase the number of miles or steps you walk every day; or the number of pushups you do; or the number of days you go without eating sugar or drinking alcohol; or the minutes you add to your daily meditation.
Join the self-care revelation
New behaviors require creating better habits, which ultimately lead to our better selves. Whether you want to improve your physical health, practice being more kind and patient, create a peaceful, less stressful environment at home or at work, or whatever improvement you want to see in your life, it begins with self-care. This is a revelation, not a resolution.
I will leave you with a quote from James Clear:
“I believe the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: start with yourself and work your way out from there. If you get yourself sorted out, then that is one less person for the world to worry about. You’ll be in a position to contribute rather than consume. You will add order rather than disorder.”
Wishing you a New Year full of the good things, 2020 vision to see your self-care needs, and the development of the necessary small habits that lead you to your ultimate goal.
For more resources on self-care through retreating, visit my resources page.