How to Create Habits that stick for the New Year
Happy New Year friends!
I hope you all had a delicious and relaxing holiday and that you’re ready to kick off the New Year feeling rejuvenated and ready for action. I absolutely love this time of year because a brand new year feels full of possibility and possibility is the gateway to change.
I don’t think of it as “New Year, New Me” because I like the me that I am and I’ve worked hard to become her. That said, change and growth go hand in hand and I’m all about growth.
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which often don’t last through the month), I prefer to approach the idea of change as cleaning out some of the inside clutter.
I start by thinking about which habits or behaviors don’t fit anymore or are no longer useful to me. After deciding what I want to let go of, I focus on what new habits will help me feel the way I want to feel. I pick 1 or 2 to add in to my newly de-cluttered space and make a plan try them on to see how they fit. I think of these more as intentions or goals rather than resolutions, but whatever you want to call them, be patient and set yourself up for success. It can take time and effort to integrate new change into your life.
Here are a few tips to help you add in those new habits and try them on for size.
1. Be specific and start small.
Many of us want to add in lifestyle changes that will help us feel better in our bodies and that’s fine. But saying “I will eat better” or “I will exercise more” doesn’t work because it’s too broad. Why does it feel important to you? Get specific. Write down your answers and keep them handy. You may need to remind yourself along the way!
Once you’ve gotten clear on your why, make your goal be more tangible. Start by trying it on for 30 days or 6 weeks, giving yourself an opportunity to reevaluate after that time frame. Saying “I want to practice yoga every day in the month of January to feel stronger and more mindful” is different than simply saying “I will go to yoga more often.”
Research says it can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to create a new habit that will stick. That’s why programs like the Whole30 are so successful. Think of the defined time frame as an opportunity to “rewire” your brain and create a new neural pathway - kind of like forging a new path through the woods instead of taking one that’s visible and well-traveled. It may be difficult or less instinctive at first, but the more you travel the new path the more defined and accessible it becomes.
2. Practice accountability.
Daily check-ins with an accountability partner or group can help keep you on track to your goals as well as offer additional community and support. Accountability can be live and in-person or via phone, text or a virtual forum. There’s something especially bonding about sharing a challenging experience with friends and/or strangers. I’ve had enormous success facilitating and participating in things like private Facebook groups for this exact reason. It’s a great way to share everything from strategies and recipes to commiseration and empathy.
It’s also important to stay accountable to yourself. One of the most effective ways to turn your goal or intention into a habit is to plan ahead. Whether it’s dedicating a few hours each week to meal planning and prep, dedicating 10 minutes a day to learning Spanish or making a commitment to walk 30 minutes a day for 6 weeks, schedule it into your calendar as you would with anything that you consider non-negotiable.
Do whatever you can to support yourself!
3. Change your story.
You’ve heard me talk about this one before and that’s because it’s a game changer. You may not always be able to change the circumstances in your life but you always get to choose how you respond to them. How are your old stories keeping you from the growth you desire? Stories like “I’m just a stressed out person” “I’ll never be able to save enough money” or “I suck at exercise” (or cooking or anything else you may whisper to yourself) can be edited to truer, better feeling stories like “I’m open to learning new stress-busting skills,” “I can learn 5 simple recipes this month” “If I put away $5 day I’ll end up with over $1800” or “I’ll start by walking 15 minutes per day for 3 weeks.” Find the tale that’s holding you back from where you want to go and how you want to feel and then do a little story editing. Notice the difference in energy between the two stories. Take your new story and put it on repeat!
4. Don’t forget self-compassion.
In case you haven’t heard, being kind is where it’s at - and that includes being kind to yourself. If you miss your workout, forget to practice your Spanish or accidentally dive into pan of brownies, try and avoid the self-flagellation. For one thing it won’t help. If talking smack to ourselves actually worked then the whole diet industry would be out of business. Negative self-talk is just another form of shaming ourselves and thanks to Brené Brown we all know how poisonous shame can be. Y’know what does work? Self compassion, patience and a sense of humor. In fact, self-compassion is actually more motivating than self-criticism. Take it from Kristin Neff, the expert on all things related to self-compassion. She says it’s important to remember that imperfection is part of the shared human experience and that we need to learn how to talk to ourselves the way we talk to other people. She also says, “Self-criticism is very strongly linked to depression and depression is antithetical to motivation: You’re unable to be motivated to change if you’re depressed. It causes us to lose faith in ourselves, and that’s going to make us less likely to try to change and conditions us for failure.” In other words, being nice to ourselves can help us keep the faith and stay motivated and on track to the things we want to achieve.
5. M is for Mindful.
Yes, I am going to invoke the M word (not to be confused with that other popular M word, Meditation). In order to make lasting change it’s helpful to be aware, present and conscious - aka mindful. While one part of us may crave change there is an equally powerful part of us that doesn't want to rock the proverbial boat. It’s that unconscious fear of change that often keeps us stuck. It’s an inner safety mechanism. Challenging old and deeply rooted beliefs can unconsciously scare the crap out of us. Recognize this and act accordingly. If negative thinking tries to sabotage your progress, take a mindful pause. Take 5 deep breaths and then remind yourself of why you wanted to change on the first place. Go back and review steps 2-4. It could be time to reach out to an accountability partner, do some story editing or simply give yourself the verbal equivalent of a hug.
I wish you love and luck on your way to creating some new and satisfying habits in the new year and beyond.
Stay curious, be kind to yourself and go forth and be awesome.
Happy New Year!