Everyone loves New Years. It's a time for us to erase the shortcomings of last year, as well as allow us to open a fresh book filled with blank pages of opportunity that allow us to fill the pages of whoever we hope to be. New Years day is a day dedicated to mass reflection and positivity because with a New Year everything seems possible. It is common to set personal goals that reflect the healthy habits we have always wanted to incorporate into our own lives--eating healthier, exercising more, spending more time with loved ones--however, these goals are often difficult if not impossible to stick to.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 46% of people who made New Year’s resolutions were successful. Due to this large margin of failure by the end of February that “new” and exciting feeling of a New Year has transformed into something else entirely, acceptance, but also largely disappointment. Why is this so common? Why are resolutions so incredibly hard to stick to? It all comes down to habits, why we have them, and how we change them to fit a more healthful pattern in our lives.
Many times we attack creating new healthy habits as a complete overhaul of ourselves. We look at every aspect of our life and pick apart everything that could be different. We compare who we are currently to our own interpretation of our “best self.” We use those ideas to construct a list of healthy habits to get us to our goals. Sadly, intentions and motivation most of the time are not enough to create healthy forever habits in our own life.
Stanford Professor and behavioral researcher BJ Fogg has dedicated his life to the investigation of human habits. Part of his findings have unveiled the key to turning New Year's resolutions into lasting habits that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
1. Start Small
Oftentimes we set lofty goals for ourselves that may be impossible to achieve without great sacrifice. For example going to the gym may entail getting up an hour early. Healthy eating and food elimination will require an extensive amount of meal prep and planning. Setting small goals such as “On my lunch break I will now go on 15 minute walks” is something that may seem smaller, but in actuality will have a larger pay off a year down the road. This is because setting the small goal of taking a daily walk is easy to stack into your current routine. Fogg speaks specifically of this in his Ted Talk “Forget big change, start with a tiny habit,” in which he speaks about his own “tiny habit” that has helped get into shape. Every time after he would use the bathroom he would do two pushups. Overtime he slowly increased the number of pushups he would do. He didn't commit his life to becoming a frequent flyer at his local LA Fitness, but instead set a small reasonable goal that he could incorporate into his life.
2. Low motivation?
The term low motivation is frequently associated with a considerable amount of negativity. Typically when we think of low motivation we pair it with unsuccessful endeavors. In creating healthy habits, finding an area in your life of low motivation may be the key to success. For example, let's say you make a resolution to cut all sugar out of your diet. In doing this you will have to plan your meals around your new restrictions, change your shopping routines, as well as work your way through many uncomfortable social situations. In order to stick to removing all sugar from your diet your motivation must be high. The problem with high motivation is over time it may slip, or decrease entirely due to fatigue. Slipping up and eating a small handful of your child's M&M’s could leave you feeling like a failure, and abandoning your healthy habit entirely. Instead, setting a goal that requires a lower motivational starting point such as “I will start bringing salads for lunch instead of driving through my local fast food chain” requires significantly less restriction. You are not committing to never enjoying a piece of birthday cake, but you are committing to making a daily healthful change that you can easily incorporate into your life without a lot of stress or difficulty. Simply put, eating a daily salad requires considerably less motivation than avoiding sugar for a lifetime. Hitting this area of low motivation Fogg attributes to being the key to long term success in changing your old habits into a more healthful long lasting lifestyle.
3. Celebrate success
It is easy to think of success as a momentous occasion, or a large goal reached. Celebrating success usually comes after hitting one of your major goals, or settling into a healthy habit for a long period of time. Rarely do we celebrate the successes that come with small victories, and daily achievements. Acknowledging a daily healthy habit was achieved gives confidence and motivation for the future. If you were able to achieve your healthy habits for the day simply thinking “I did it, and that's awesome!” can have a lasting impact on your ability to keep to these healthy habits over the course of a lifetime.
This Applies to Children, Too
Using this 3 step guide to creating healthy habits is also beneficial with children, who as we know follow our examples. By demonstrating small and simple changes, and then praising yourself for a job well done teaches children that small steps towards healthful habits can have the greatest impact. By implementing healthful habits using this model also furthers a child's understanding of moderation, and making choices that one can stick to. Both of which are important life skills that will carry with them throughout their lives.
Lastly, when implementing healthy habits into your life it is important to remember that good things often take time. In our society we are so tuned into instant gratification, that the small changes do not “wow” us as much as monumental commitments. It is important to remember that “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step.” Keep moving forward with simple changes in order to create healthy habits this year and the years to come.
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