By Emily Blake, MS, RD, LDN, Clinical Dietitian, Department of Nutrition
The New Year is a time of great hope and expectation. As the festivities of the holiday season wind down, we fill our minds with images of the new and improved versions of ourselves that will come to fruition once the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1. We insist that this year will be different from all of the preceding ones! We’ll work out five days a week, meditate every morning, eat only healthy foods and be better friends, parents and spouses. Yet, despite our best intentions, the excitement of a fresh start that accompanies the new year often leads to disappointment and frustration when we can’t live up to our own great expectations. Again, we tell ourselves that next year will be different.
To avoid falling into this all-too-common cycle of high hopes and big disappointments, try these six methods to set yourself up for a healthy, fulfilling year.
- Know your personality. This is the single most important factor in making sustainable changes. If you are a night owl by nature, how likely is it that you will rise at 5 a.m. to work out several days per week? A more reasonable goal may be an at-home exercise class (check out YouTube or OnDemand for a wide variety of options) after dinner a few nights a week. I recommend reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Four Tendencies,” which offers suggestions and tools to implement change based on your personality type.
- Start small. Sustainable change almost always comes about gradually. It’s tempting to try and move more, eat better, sleep more and stress less beginning the first week in January. Yet, the odds of all those things happening at once — and continuing to happen consistently — are slim to none. Choose one goal and work toward achieving it. Once you’ve mastered better sleep, it’s easier to tackle increasing your vegetable intake. Even small achievements are motivating, and motivation spurs further action.
- Set SMART goals. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals are a great way to track success. Instead of simply saying you’ll eat better, be specific: “I’m going to eat a vegetable with dinner three nights this week.” The ability to monitor your success is an invaluable tool for creating and maintaining sustainable habits.
- Think of the big picture. We don’t live in a vacuum in which we can funnel all our time and efforts into achieving our goals. We get sick, take vacations, go to social events, eat from our kids’ plates and sometimes don’t have time to exercise. We will not keep every resolution every single day. That is part of being human. It’s what we do most of the time that leads to sustainable change. Missing a week of exercise or indulging more than usual every now and then does not make or break your overall trajectory.
- Don’t focus on the New Year. You may find it stressful to think about making a change under the weight of expectation that arrives on Jan. 1. Change is possible any day of any week. Think about making small changes when it feels right for you.
- Focus on how you feel. When we think about change, we tend to focus on external factors, such as the number on the scale. Challenge yourself instead to focus on how you want to feel. If you eat in a balanced way, sleep more, etc., you will feel so much better in your day-to-day life that the importance of the external factors will fade, giving you the freedom to truly enjoy the year ahead.
Wishing you a wonderful 2020!