Week Two – How Are You Doing?

Are you still resolved? There’s no shortage of headlines this month screaming for you to Change

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Resolutions can be fun, and heaven knows the collective energy of New Year’s can give you a rocket-blast of energy to get you started on a new, healthier path. However, resolutions that are doomed to fail can lead to shame and despair. Shame and despair are two emotions that worsen the very things most people are trying to change – addictions, unhealthy eating, and physical inertia. So how can  you avoid falling into this crevasse of failure, while still taking advantage of our nation-wide energetic focus on change? Charting your path is very important. Behavior-change research shows that the challenge of sustained change is often the difficulty we all have with knowing how to get from here to there. It’s important to see the connection that threads from who you are now, to who you will be in a year. That means the whole path, including the bumps and digressions along the way. Here are some science-based behavior-change tips to help you progress toward your goals:

a) Pace yourself – Don’t think of yourself as rocket-blasting off.  Instead, you’re beginning a long, steady, beautiful mountain climb with predictable vistas along the way. You’re deliberately going to be the turtle who succeeds, instead of jackrabbiting all over the place until you’ve lost your focus. Start by planning your change to last until March, taking each week and day (admit it, you know what’s coming) one day at a time.

b) Assess your past – what undermined your efforts when you attempted to change? Identifying those weak spots, and addressing them, is like surveying the terrain before you start and making a plan for when  you’ll need back-up. It’s very important to your long-term success.

c) Create your team – if we all had a personal sherpa, we’d be much more likely to make it to the top. So how do you find or create your base camp? While this info from Harvard University Press is titled tips for overcoming addiction, these tips about creating your support team apply to anyone attempting to make a sustained change to their life. Seek a support network, set a quit (start) date and tell people about it, then change your environment with the help of those closest to you. If you want success, don’t head off on your mountain climb without letting anyone know where you’re going.

d) Plan your relapse – Relapse happens. Relapse planning is like hammering in your pitons and attaching your safety ropes before you hit the steep part of your climb. Don’t get me wrong, good intentions are great. But studies have shown that having a realistic plan in hand for when your resolve wavers makes a huge difference in your long-term success. What will you do about exercise when, inevitably, your kids get sick? How will you manage “re-entry” when you falter – whether it’s a healthy-eating goal or a stop-smoking pledge that stumbles from a night out on the town? Who’s going to notice and help you get back on track? How will you let them know you need that help?

e) Plan your rewards – often we try to accomplish our goals through sheer force of will, fueled by that most toxic of energies – self-hate. For long-term success, plan your self-nurture as part of your itinerary along the way. Don’t neglect the positive. Listen to the audiotape of your reaction to change – is it always negative? [I hate sweating, this instructor is evil, I’d kill for a soda…]. Your psyche doesn’t let go of past behavior without a struggle. Becoming resentful is actually a documented, necessary step toward sustained change – it proves that what you’re doing is working! Recognizing your reaction, and even honoring it, is important – but you must resist letting the hostility- and anger-step of change undermine your efforts. Consciously say out loud the daily benefits you discover [What a privilege it is to spend time at the gym, I love the way water quenches my thirst…]. It will be hard to be consistent, but re-enforcing the positive will give you a new burst of mini-energy each time you do it. Also, plan to acknowledge and reward your healthy efforts at regular intervals. How will you enjoy the vistas that your new-found health brings you? What will you do if you make it to March? Then June? Then September? These are the smaller summits rising up toward your peak goal. Take a day at each pinnacle to stop, reflect, and from your new perspective, re-do each of these steps.

Being your healthiest self should be an on-going source of celebration in your long steady path to sustained, sane change.

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