It’s the fifth week of 2015. For many of us, this week and next will hear the death knell resolutions nobly made at the start of January. Change is hard, and for many of us, the hardest part is getting out of our own way. There’s an image in American culture that insists that if you’re strong enough, if you’re tough enough, you’ll be able to make a goal and stick to it through sheer force of will.
This image is false. It’s worse than false. It’s damaging. It is the lie that keeps many of us who are not naturally athletes from being as healthy as we could be. It is the lie that many of us tell ourselves in our self-directed reprimands when resolutions fail.
It’s true that willpower can be an important tool in achieving lifestyle change, but it’s not the only one. If you’re ready to try something new, here are 5 tips to add to your arsenal:
1. Re-write your goals. Sometimes called “identity-based goals,” this idea is what we’re calling the “resolution revolution.” The idea is to try to phrase your aspiration into something that is both attainable AND will allow you to come back from set-back. It’s a way of making sure that your emotions and your reason are on the same team. For example, instead of pledging to “Never eat junk food,” decide that you’re going to be “the kind of person who makes healthy choices about what she eats.” That way, if you slip up and eat junk food, it won’t complete derail you.
2. Forget about 21 days. Have you heard that you can make a new habit in 21 days? Yeah, we’ve all heard it—do the same thing every day for three weeks, and you’ll do it forever. Problem is, it isn’t true. The Huffington Post reports the actual time it takes to form a new habit can vary from 18 days to 8 months. The difference depends on the person, the new habit, and other circumstances. This isn’t a bad thing, but knowing that the common myth is just that—a myth—will allow you to put more realistic plans in place to achieve your goals.
3. Fight inertia. When Isaac Newton coined the term, he was referring to a property of matter—a body at rest or in motion will tend to stay in that state, unless acted upon by an outside force. Today, that very specific physical property of matter takes on a metaphorical truth with our lifestyles. You have to be the outside force that causes change. The good news is that the force doesn’t have to be as large as you might think. Trying to quit smoking? Consider taking a different route to work and back. You might find that there are certain points in your commute that trigger in your brain that it’s time to light up. Remove those landmarks, and it becomes easier to avoid the behavior they trigger. They’re called “smoking triggers,” and trying to start (or stop) any habit will have similar landmarks. If you’re trying to make more time for the gym, think about your day. How can you hijack your brain to make it easier to go? Try to create triggers for the habit you want to acquire and disable the ones for those you’re trying to quit. What could your new trigger be? Laying out the gym clothes the night before? Telling lots of people about your intentions, so that to skip would require confessions? Choosing a gym between work and home so that the daily commute becomes a reminder?
4. Embrace imperfection. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes “Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.…Healthy striving is self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused—What will they think?” Whether we realize it or not, many of us allow perfectionism—and the self-consciousness that accompanies it—to keep us from doing what we want and need to do. It affects every realm, from creative pursuits to professional endeavors to, yes, working out. Countering your own perfectionism isn’t easy. To try, work to be aware of it, acknowledge the fear behind it, and then do the scary thing anyway. You might try asking yourself “do I really want this fear to keep me from being who I want to be?” With a firm grip on your answer, get into your gym clothes, ignore the screen on the treadmill next to yours, and work your way toward a healthier you.
5. Ditch the shoulds. When it comes to fitness, people are always shoulding all over themselves. “I should work out” is possibly the least compelling reason to go to the gym. Even if the 21-day myth were true, “should” wouldn’t be enough to form a new habit. Figure out what you enjoy doing, and do more of it. Do you like moving to music? Check out a group fitness class like Zumba or Barre Body. Do you revel in seeing your body change when you work hard? Make time for a strength training class, like Les Mills Bodypump. Or, if you prefer one-on-one coaching and attention, find a personal trainer. Is reading a good book more your cup of tea? You can make that work for you, too. Try reading or listening to audiobooks or podcasts while you workout. You might even try making the treadmill, elliptical, or stair machine the only place you’re allowed to listen to your favorites. All of a sudden, your “should” will become “want to,” and you’ll get healthier in more ways than one.
The Simon Family JCC is a great place to work toward your goals and resolutions.