A fresh, new year is here, bringing with it the opportunity for new beginnings. It's a great time to commit to making changes that improve your life, whether it's by losing five pounds or living more mindfully.
While it’s easy to think of ways to improve, it might not feel as easy to stick with your resolutions. Here are some tips to keep you motivated and focused through 2012.
1. First, make a plan. Your plan should include one long-term goal and several short-term goals that will help you reach your long-term goal. Your goals should be as specific as possible, measurable and realistic. For example, if your resolution is to “lose weight” decide how much is reasonable to lose and in what period of time. Maybe you’ll decide that to lose 10 lbs. in 5 weeks is a reasonable long-term goal for you. Then you can make your short-term goal to lose 2 lbs. per week. Your plan to reach your short-term goals might be to exercise 5 times per week for 45 minutes, replace junk-food with fruits and veggies and to drink at least 2 liters of water per day.
2. Once you have your plan fleshed out get support. There’s nothing better than having like-minded people around you to cheer you on as you work toward your goal. Say you decide to start a meditation practice in 2012. Find a group that meets regularly to meditate. If you want to save money and have a friend who needs to tighten her budget as well, make a plan to do it together. If you decide to take up a new hobby, find a people who are already into it and who do it regularly. Having support will keep you motivated on those days when you’re temped to give up. You’ll be hooked into something bigger than just you and that’s likely to keep you going.
3. Reward yourself! If you’re making strides toward your goals, give yourself a pat on the back. When you reach those short-term goals give yourself a healthy, relaxing treat. Maybe it’s a massage or freeing up an hour from a hectic schedule to take a walk in the park. You deserve it--and it will keep you motivated.
4. Get rid of your inner-critic. No mental self-berating, please. It won’t help you reach your goals and in fact, could sabotage your chances for success. If you’re trying something new like yoga, for example, don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t seem to be as stretchy as the other people in your yoga class. Remind yourself that trying something new isn’t easy for anyone and that you’re just starting out. That kind of self-compassion will keep you from giving up—and will keep you in a positive frame of mind.
5. Don’t go to extremes. Watch out for what therapists call “all or nothing thinking”. An example would be to categorize your efforts into terms of either success or failure. Therapists often teach clients that the way they think about things can cause them to feel bad unnecessarily or to give up on their goals. To understand the concept, let’s use the above example of losing 10 lbs. in 5 weeks. Let’s say you weigh yourself in at the end of the first week and see that instead of losing the 2 lbs. that you set out to lose as your short-term goal, you’ve only lost 1. You adhered to your plan all week: gave up junk food, exercised 5 times, drank your water but you didn’t see the results you’d planned on. Those who use all-or-nothing thinking might believe they have failed on this first short-term goal despite the good efforts they made, and the loss of a pound. If they feel they’ve failed, versus recognizing that they simply fell a bit short, they might feel discouraged about the resolution in general. When someone uses this type of thinking to evaluate themselves they are likely to give up easily and to see their plan as having failed despite the positive things they’ve accomplished.
6. Ask yourself, “What needs to change in my life to reach my goal?” Basically, trouble shoot. If you want to save a certain amount of money per week by going out less, you might need to spend more time with friends who are like-minded. If you want to eat more healthily, you’ll need to get your live-in boyfriend on board to make sure junk food stays hidden away (or better yet, out of your home!)
7. Ask yourself, “How will my life change if I am successful in meeting my goals?” Although you might come up with a lot of good things that would happen if you were to make a positive change, sometimes it can be scary to do so. Often we’ve built our identity around our habits and we’ve made certain behaviors habits for a reason. So thinking about the things that might be holding you back can help you to be more successful. For example, if you’ve always been the “life of the party” and tend to over-imbibe, you might have to look at all of the reasons you’ve taken on that identity in the first place, and let go of those old ideas of yourself. When people really struggle with this, they often benefit from therapy to help loosen their grip on the things that hold a bad habit in place.
8. Dig deep. Recognize all of the reasons you need to make a certain change and see if any of them are about something bigger than just you. For example, maybe you initially think you want to lose weight to fit into the jean size you wore 5 years ago, but as you bring awareness to why it’s important to lose weight, you see that you’d also be a good role model for your kids, showing them how important it is to take care of their bodies. Or, let’s say you initially want to start meditating because you feel it’s a way to improve your concentration and focus at work but as you bring awareness to other ways your life would change from meditation, you see that it could also improve your relationships with other people, which sometimes suffer because of stress at work. When you’re motivated by big things like health, well-being, connection or personal growth you’re much more likely to stick to the plan versus say, losing weight to look good in a pair of skinny jeans.
Good luck with your resolutions and keep these tips in mind to be on your way to a healthier, happier, wonderful 2012!