Here we go again. It is time to make your New Year’s resolutions.
Most New Year’s resolutions have to do with health: lose weight, eat healthier foods, exercise, stop drinking sugary or caffeinated drinks, etc. Meaningful New Year’s resolutions involve making lifestyle changes.
To make a lifestyle change, you need to replace a bad habit with a good habit.
To be successful, pick one significant lifestyle change that you want to accomplish and follow these six steps to success.
Understand that a lifestyle change is a commitment with yourself to change your life for the rest of your life. Make sure the change that you choose to make is the one that you are committed to continue for the rest of your life.
For example, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Do not start on a weight loss program unless the program is something you are willing to do for the rest of your life; otherwise, you will slip right back into your bad habits and regain the weight you just lost – and usually more.
A popular weight loss program, which offers noticeable short-term results, is a strict diet involving prepackaged, calorie-counting meals. Is this something you are willing to continue for the rest of your life? If not, it is obvious you are putting yourself into the yo-yo diet syndrome, which is unhealthy and in the long run unsuccessful.
Remember and understand the lesson of the Elephant and the Rider. This metaphor paints a picture of a little Rider either at the mercy of the Elephant or directing the Elephant to make great things happen.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, says that our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Any time the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He is completely overmatched.
Our old habits are the Elephant. New health habits are the Rider. Reason (the Rider) knows what is best, but emotion (the Elephant) hungers for shortcuts, instant gratification, and the familiar. The Rider has the ability to think and plan ahead. It’s up to the Rider to water the Elephant before it gets thirsty.
Keep a journal. Frankly, I was slow to warm up to the idea of keeping a journal. Journaling, to me, seemed too girlish, too emotional (Yes, teenaged diaries are a form of journaling). However, it is an inescapable fact that journaling is one of the most thoroughly evidence-based techniques in making successful lifestyle changes.
There are all kinds of journals. Great artists keep daily journals of just sketches; successful songwriters keep a journal by their side to write down bits of lyrics that come to their mind; scientists keep journals of day-to-day physical observations. You may recall in the Academy Award winning movie Dances with Wolves, the key character, Lieutenant John Dunbar, kept a journal of his activities and observations at his outpost.
Keeping a journal for ten minutes a day can change your life.
If you are making a (New Year’s) resolution and you are serious about accomplishing it, then, according to the American Psychological Association, journaling is a valuable tool needed to make tough lifestyle and behavior changes.
If you are serious about making a lifestyle change then make a commitment to yourself to keep up a daily journal. The purpose of your journal is to record your observations and actions of your life in relation to your goal.
In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, a group of 1600 obese people were asked to concentrate on writing down everything they ate at least one day per week. They discovered that food journaling is a key habit that helps other habits flourish. Six months into the study, people who had kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else.
Write down your motive. Why do you want to make this lifestyle change? Why is it important to you? The stronger and deeper your motive, the more certain your results. Perhaps the fear of a life-threatening illness gives you the will to develop the skills for successful lifestyle changes. Perhaps a doctor’s warning that you are at high risk for heart disease or a stroke is your motive for change. Perhaps a desire to rid yourself of cancer motivates you.
Write down in your journal the benefits of making a lifestyle change as compared to not changing. For example, several studies have demonstrated that women with breast cancer who participate in regular physical activity reduce their risk of breast cancer death by 50% or more compared with those who remain physically inactive. This creates a strong motivation to begin an exercise program.
Write down, in your journal, your action plan and record your daily activity. Nothing significant happens without detailed, organized planning.
I am sure you have heard the motto: Plan your work and work your plan. This is a rule of success. To make a lifestyle change, you need to have a detailed organized plan of how you are going to achieve your goal; then, you need to instill the discipline in yourself to do what it takes to accomplish it.
A common element of success is discipline – the ability to take action regardless of your emotional state. Keeping track of your daily activity, writing it down, is part of the discipline that you need to follow to ensure success.
In your journal, write down your inspiration. We all have emotional setbacks. An important part of getting past these emotional setbacks is to write down in your journal – and review daily – positive affirmations, quotes, verses, and stories that offer inspiration and hope.
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” ~ Jesse Owens, Olympic Gold Medal Winner.
“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…self-discipline with all of them came first.” ~ President, Harry S. Truman
“One painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier.” ~ Helen Keller, blind and deaf before age two.
“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” ~ Beverly Sills, noted opera star.
Collecting and reviewing inspirational slogans, stories, quotes, and verses are emotional vitamins for your soul. They give you the ability to take action regardless of your emotional state. It is a way of staying focused on your goal.
We all have bad habits we can’t seem to shake. We know the consequences of our behavior. Yet, it seems to take more than a life-threatening wake-up call to be able to turn these things around. Follow these six steps and you will be able to replace a bad, unhealthy habit with a healthful one. Without following these six steps, your ability to keep your resolution is less than 5%.