At the beginning of each New Year, we dutifully make our resolutions and hope we will meet them. “This year I am determined to . . . I resolve never to eat fattening cookies or cupcakes. . . I will stick to my diet and lose those pounds. . . I promise to be nice to people I don’t like. . . ” and the list goes on and on. In the end, however, while we may accomplish some of our good intentions, too often our resolutions go down in defeat along with our will power and at the end of yet another year we say, well maybe next year I’ll do better.
We are creatures of habit. We do the things that are expedient, easy and give us some immediate, pleasurable reward that make us feel good in the moment. Those habits usually are not the ones that keep us healthy, happy or successful over time.
To make life changes that will benefit us in the long term, we have to find a way to motivate ourselves when we don’t experience the benefit of the goal right away. We don’t succeed with those long-term goals because the immediate rewards aren’t strong enough. So we rationalize why we didn’t follow through.
Progress of any kind is a process of taking little steps forward. Break your goals down into doable stages.
For example: if you hate to exercise but know you need to, start by scheduling ten or fifteen minute walks every day. Be persistent and consistent with the time commitment and follow through. Everybody can take a ten to fifteen minute time out from the busyness of work. But we may sabotage ourselves if we start out on a grandiose exercise program at the gym. When you start enjoying those breaks, increase time or expand your exercise program.
Habits cannot just be stopped – they need to be replaced.
Give yourself time as well as some kind of immediate reward so you won’t give up. Monitor what you say to yourself. Repeat affirmations regarding your goal every day. When you want to give up tell yourself, “I can do this” or “I only have 5 minutes left”. Replace the “should’s” (I really should exercise more) and the “must’s” (I must lose some weight) with “I want to do this”. Make it a deliberate choice. Work on one habit at a time so you won’t get stressed, lose motivation and quit.
Be honest with yourself.
If you aren’t serious about making a commitment to work on a habit, don’t start. It takes time for change to happen and become a comfortable new habit. In the process, we will stumble and fall short. But we can pick ourselves up and start over each time we do. We do not need to rationalize or berate ourselves. We simply start again.
Marlene Anderson, MA