Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Year, New You: Swap High-Pressure Resolutions with Small Daily Habits

Goals, resolutions, intentions … these are all words that define habits or struggles that we want to break or daily routines that we want to establish for personal growth and an improved lifestyle. Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  Or several?  If so, now that we’re a few days into the New Year, we’d love to hear how you’re doing with your goals in the comments below. Chances are, if you resolved to change too many things at one time or habits that developed over years, you may already be struggling to stick with your goals.  Don’t worry, we have some tips that will help you stay on track.

Photo by Merri Taylor

 About 50% of the population makes New Year’s resolutions, but studies show that nearly 90% of us fail to keep them.  As it turns out, the act of making a resolution might be your first step towards failure.  The main reasons are that people fail to set realistic goals, set too many of them or aren’t ready to change their habits.  Making sweeping changes with long lists of resolutions can actually be a recipe for failure.  Willpower is a finite resource and a very limited one at that.  Professor Roy Baumeister (Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength) says that you should concentrate on one goal at a time. Baumeister explains that willpower is like a muscle that we can exhaust, so to be successful, take one goal and one day at a time.

In that light, while having long-term goals is important, all goals need to be broken down into manageable steps, focusing on changing one or two habits or routines and simply move forward one day at a time.  You are more likely to continue with simple, doable changes that develop into habits over time, than you are to take on a resolution (or a list of resolutions) that feel too massive to carry out long term.  It’s critical to structure your habit changes for success.  Here’s how:

1.  Don’t Try to Keep Too Many Goals at Once

Start with one (or two) attainable and specific goals.   It’s completely unrealistic to make January the month where you start writing your book, learn to play an instrument, and get up an hour early to start that extreme workout program. You might go super strong for a week but by the end of the month you’ll be burned out and down on yourself. Is your goal concrete and doable?  Introduce a simple ‘to do’ into your routine rather than a laundry list of everything you’ve ever wanted to accomplish. Also, this is no time to be vague.  You need to be clear on what your goal is and why you want to reach it.  For example, A goal to lose 20 pounds in January is unrealistic and a resolution to eat healthier is too vague.   More specifically, your goal could be “I will lose 1-2 pounds per week until I’ve reached my ideal weight of xxx by limiting my calories to 1500 a day, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and walking at least three times a week.”

Also, write your goals down.  This simple action solidifies your goal, taking it from a wish to a commitment.

2.  Plan Your Action Steps

This is where you plan and prepare for success.  If you want to lose weight, get prepared by planning your meals, finding a fitness plan that you know you can stick to, gather the tools and support that you need, buy the scale,  join the gym or weight loss program, buy the groceries and toss out the foods that will sabotage your efforts.  Set up your environment for success.   This is also the part where you plan your daily habits that will lead to long-term success.  Tracking your food and exercise daily might be the first habit that you introduce.  Once that’s in place, add something else to your daily or weekly routine until it becomes a habit, like “prepare and freeze all dinners for the week on Sunday so I’ll always have a healthy meal on hand.”  Or, commit to yourself, “I’m going to swap out my daily fast food hamburger and fries with lunch from Tropical Smoothie and get in my daily fruit servings with flavorful smoothies.”  These action steps become your daily habits that you adjust to and expand upon over time.

3.  Start Slow and Keep Going

It takes 21 days to form a habit, so piling on too many changes and expecting your habits to change overnight is another way to get frustrated.  Use this year to gradually develop and build on daily rituals and monthly check points that ultimately lead you to your longer term goals.  For example, if you want to increase your exercise level, this month add a 20 minute walk to your routine.  Next month, make it a 30 minute walk.  Let go of the overwhelming resolutions that leave you feeling like you have to do it all right now.  Get one habit under your belt and use the success and momentum of that small change to move you to the next small habit. Daily successes will lead to monthly successes which will bring more results this year than unattainable resolutions. 

Goals, in general, should have an end date.  You want to train for a marathon that happens on a certain date or lose so many pounds by the end of the year.  The goal might be to lose 20 lbs., but the daily habits are what will get you there.  The focus should be more on the action steps – the daily things that you can control and the goal will take care of itself.   And if there’s a day or two when you didn’t stick to your plan, that’s okay.  Let go of trying to do it all now or doing it perfectly.  Focus on progress not perfection and then there is no failure.  Just keep going.  

4.  Have a Support Network

Accountability, support and encouragement are some of the best tools to help with forming new habits.  Family can be a great resource to help keep us on track.  Other times they can unknowingly sabotage our efforts or become the reason why we run for fried food and ice cream.  If you’re not getting the support you need from your family or friends, there are so many great forums attached to online groups like Weight Watchers Online or SparkPeople where you can find support from people who have similar goals and have more tips for reaching them.  Also, iDoneThis tracks your New Year’s resolutions and matches you with others who have the same goals.  Who are you going to surround yourself with to foster your new habit?

5.  Track your progress

You’ve probably heard of SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, and Timely).  The timely part of the equation means to have a timeframe that the goal will be accomplished by, otherwise there’s no sense of urgency.  Being timely could also mean that we develop check points and milestones for long-term goals.  Action steps should be daily (and manageable), but to know whether our new habits are making an impact toward our overall goal, we should monitor our progress each month or so.  Schedule check points on your calendar throughout the year as a way to measure your progress and make sure that these small adjustments are leading you closer to where you want to be.  If not, make adjustments.  What has worked in the past and what might be tripping you up? Track, adjust and remove obstacles.  It’s the daily awareness and monthly check points that will keep you on track.   There are an abundance of online tools to help you track your progress like Moteevate and FitDay If your resolution is to stick to a monthly budget, is a great resource.  Here are even more Apps for tracking goals.

Another fun resource for your daily habit success includes Zen Habits which has great tips on building habits (make it enjoyable, commit to one habit at a time, and harness the power of a social network).   The easiest way to develop daily habits is to (1) Plan and (2) Get help.   Tropical Smoothie Café has many options for your healthy eating goals and we’re open daily so it’s easy to fit our food into your daily plan.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be January 1st to make a change.  You have today, tomorrow and the rest of your life to learn and grow.  Remember to both forgive and reward yourself.  It’s not about the mammoth changes in the future, it’s about the small daily habits that we can do today – right now.  So don’t get overwhelmed by how to get there – simply enjoy the daily journey.   Are you ready?  Let’s Go!  Let’s thrive in the New Year!