The clean slate of a new year is seductive.
The over-indulgence of December is behind us. We want to overhaul everything we perceive as imperfect or flawed about ourselves and the blank new calendar feels like the perfect opportunity. So how does it work? How can you make resolutions that you'll keep past February and have meaningful change in your life?
A few tips for a change that sticks:
1. Choose a positive way to frame the habit.
Our brains are funny this way. Ask a child to stop jumping on the bed and you'll probably have to say it several times before she stops. Ask the same child to sit down, and you may get the outcome you're looking for faster. It's easier for us to integrate an idea like, "I want be fully present during meals," instead of "I want to stop multitasking while I eat." Shifting your focus to the behavior you want is a small but significant difference.
2. Add habits instead of removing them.
If you'd like to drink less coffee, start by adding more water or green tea. If you want to quit smoking, add a short walk at a time you normally smoke. It's human nature to rebel. The minute anyone tells you that you can't have something it immediately becomes more attractive. Add in positive behaviors that make the negative ones less comfortable.
3. Know your "Why".
Is this something you want to include in your life, or something you think you should do? Is it something your partner wants you to do? Is it something you read about and think would be good for you? All of those reasons are valid, but you are more likely to stick with things with an internal motivation. Wanting to drink less coffee because it's affecting your sleep quality is an internal motivation. In terms of a goal you'll stick with, that's a very good thing. Wanting to drink less coffee because Gwyneth Paltrow just quit coffee...not so much. It's great to look to friends or role models for inspiration, but in order to set a goal that you will reach, the motivation needs to come from within.
4. Build on a current positive behavior.
Most people don't have to work at making eating chocolate a habit. Or sleeping late on weekends. Or watching one more show on Netflix before bed. Our amygdalas are wired to move us towards pleasure and avoid pain. If you you want to really make a habit stick, build it into something you already enjoy doing. Love relaxing with your tea in the morning? Use that time add a meditation practice. Love taking pictures out in nature? Plan a hike around it to fit extra exercise in too.
5. Place visual cues where you see them often.
A bedroom or bathroom mirror, bulletin board or the refrigerator are all great places for this. When I first started shifting to a daily yoga practice, keeping my mat and a favorite quote about yoga where I would see them when I first woke up was a huge help. There are also plenty of apps designed for this purpose, especially for fitness-related habits, but using something simple like an alert on Google calendar works well too.
6. Treat it like an experiment.
I am the master of trying something for a day and a half and deciding I hate it. Or at least I used to be. Now, if I want to do something new, I try to approach it with curiosity instead of commitment. What would it be like if I didn't drink coffee? What would it be like if I started unplugging earlier at night? If you treat these things as experiments instead of something that must be adhered to -- or else! -- that inner rebel that kicks in and immediately wants to quit takes a break.
7. Think mantra rather than makeover.
Every year for the past ten years or so, I've found a word or mantra emerges that affects my year. This year, my focus is "comfort and joy". Other years have been "surrender", "gratitude", "trust"; you get the idea. Sometimes a word or phrase can be very instrumental towards positive change, because as you make choices and reflect on what's going on in your life, you can ask yourself whether it fits with that focus. Find a quote, or even a single word that moves you. Write it up. Paint it. Make it your iPhone background.
Whatever changes you are making in your life, enjoy them and be patient with yourself!