For many people, this past season has been full of celebrations, vacations, and excesses. Usually, January hits and people are ready to focus on their health again, perhaps lose the extra pounds that came on during the holidays, and commit to new goals and a new routine. December 31st is upon us and it is a time of setting new goals for the year to come.
Here's something you may not know about me--I love setting goals for myself. I have set goals ever since I was a little girl. I even recall checking out The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and taking it to heart when I was in middle school. I am all too familiar with the process of setting high goals and routines for myself, exhausting myself, allowing my life to fall back to "the way it was", and repeating the process all over again. People often see me as "super organized," but truthfully I ebb and flow between "sometimes organized" and "sometimes wallowing in chaos."
I know I am not alone. I see all too many people who set resolutions for improvement, only to see them later fall away. Many resolutions will be set for tomorrow; most of those resolutions will not survive until February. Does it mean that it is pointless to make resolutions? No, absolutely not. From my own personal experience and from what I have observed in others, I feel it is more about how we make the resolution that matters.
First and foremost, begin with compassion for yourself when you are trying to make change in your life. As you set goals for yourself, also think about where you are now and the process involved in getting to your desired end point. For example, if you do not exercise at all now and your goal is to exercise for an hour at the gym every day, please don't expect to be exercising an hour on January 1st. You can try it, but if you are like most people you may get hurt/sore/exhausted, experience set back, and give up. Instead, break it up into smaller steps and feed on the successes. For example, you could do a 5-10 minute walk in your neighborhood, park or back pasture once a day to start with. Maybe you think this is puny, but I daresay it is not, because you are doing the major step of starting a consistent routine. (Also, I find it helps if you make the first step free; that way if you change your mind you are not out a lot of money.)
Second, know that life happens. Trauma and/or loss might happen from time to time. A big project might be due and you'll experience crunch time. There will be vacations, birthdays, holidays, travel, disruptions to your routine. Life happens. Some events you will be able to plan for and you can pack your routine with you. Other events come by surprise. Again, have compassion for yourself during these periods. Allow yourself the time you need, but also set a time to get back on the proverbial horse.
Third, I find it helps if I can see my progress. Here's another something you may not know about me--I literally keep a calendar and get stickers for each health goal that I meet each day. Those stickers represent dollars I get to spend on natural healthcare: my supplements, functional testing, acupuncture, massage, yoga classes, consults with other providers, etc. This gives me something visual to see progress and it rewards my progress. I know most people don't find stickers appealing, but find someway to track your progress. There are hi-tech apps, spreadsheets you can create, calendars, quarters in a jar, or simply create a thermometer picture you can color in as you get closer to your goal.
The reward can sometimes be difficult to choose. Many people like to reward themselves with sweets, but it ends up being a counterproductive reward. Try to find something that feeds into your longer goals--maybe a vacation, an adventure, a relaxing massage, or even just a good time at the theater.
Fourth, think about how you can change your environmental cues. When you are trying to break a bad habit, you are strongly triggered by cues in your environment. For example, John is a smoker but he cannot smoke at work. Every day when he gets in his car to go home, he immediately lights up. Getting into his car after work becomes an environmental cue. To change the habit, John has to find something that disrupts that cue. He could lock his pack of cigarettes in a safe in the trunk of his car. Now, the cue is disrupted. Instead of walking to his car, jumping in and lighting up, he now has a whole brand new step of opening the trunk, unlocking the safe, and bringing the cigarettes into the car with him. That disruption in routine/environment cue allows John to become more conscious of the choice he is making in the moment, instead of mindlessly lighting up and forgetting his goal to stop smoking.
Finally, I would recommend social support. Find someone who can help to hold you accountable. Many of my clients set goals with me and they keep me up to date on their progress so they have accountability. I, too, have a health care provider helps keep me accountable to my goals. You can also make goals a team effort--set the same goal with a friend or group of people and do the goal together. For example, many people find having a walking buddy helps keep them active and on track.
By the way, I still like setting goals. I have achieved, lived and experienced so much in life because of the goals I have set. I certainly don't reach them all, and I expect that. However, I get ever so much more done than if I had never set a goal at all.
If you would like to read more about making lifelong changes to your health, I would highly recommend a book by my naturopathic colleague Dr. Judith Boice--But My Doctor Never Told Me That!: Secrets for Creating Lifelong Health (http://www.amazon.com/But-Doctor-Never-Told-That/dp/0967045312/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1451589173&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Dr.+Judith+Boice). If you feel like your resolutions are always falling through, I think this book might be a great read for you.