While most of us would agree that sweeping lifestyle changes can come across as a bit drastic and unwise, New Year’s resolutions, Lent and similar rituals continue to inspire participation from many of us.
Even those who feel like they’ve got their healthy lifestyle on lockdown can find themselves digging deep during these periods. It can be a great opportunity to take a good, long look at ourselves… but it can also be miserable.
A 2007 study by Professor Richard Wiseman, of The University of Hereford, concluded that only one in ten of us manage to stick to our New Year’s resolution. Does improving yourself by kicking a bad habit have to be so impossible? Here are five solid tips to keep you on track:
Set Yourself Tangible and Realistic Goals
Faced with the sudden realization that we might not be as healthy as we’d like to be, we tend to set grand and ambitious goals without working out exactly how we are going to get there. Does “get fitter” mean that you’ll start climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift up to the office, or does it involve running thirty kilometers a week rather than twenty? Breaking a goal down into manageable and, more importantly, tangible steps plots your journey and gets you on your way.
Wiseman’s study found that 22% of men were more successful when they avoided setting themselves a goal that was either too abstract or unrealistic.
Having a clear vision of your end goal and incorporating this into your plan will help. Wanting to quit smoking so you can be healthier is great, but what would you like to be able to accomplish as a result?
Rather than saying “I’m going to quit smoking”, you could try something like: “I want to shave a minute off of my 5km PB by Easter”. You are making your goal more direct and looking towards a positive result as opposed to something that is restrictive.
Build and Maintain Your Support Network
If you are most comfortable around a partner or friends who encourage you to spend a bit too much time on the sofa or cajole you into having one pint more than you’d like, you are definitely going to have a harder time sticking to the change in your lifestyle.
Health habit synchronicity could be normalizing your bad habits, or you could even be the negative influence on those closest to you! Surround yourself with positive and supportive people and share your goals with friends and family; this will be a powerful motivation during periods of change.
10% of women in Wiseman’s study found sticking to their New Year’s resolution easier when abstaining from the usual feelings of embarrassment which surround committing to a resolution.
Your closest friends might crack a joke to begin with if you decide to nurse a soft drink rather than a pint down the pub, but what at first seems like a novelty will quickly not matter. You’ll probably find that people are more supportive than you expect.
It didn’t take long for my mum to not only be accepting of my new lifestyle choices, but to then start emailing me vegan recipes every other evening. The people closest to you want to see you happy and want to see you do well, so lean on them for support when you can. If you feel like you might slip up you can ask for them to keep you on track.
Be Organized and Honest
Be honest with yourself when you have a bad day as that’s when you’ll really be tested. Going it alone will always be harder, as it’s easier for your sneaky brain to talk you into what’s easy, comfortable or a fleeting pleasure.
Giving in is always a one way ticket to Guiltville, and it hurts far more than grabbing your gym bag and spending an hour lifting weights instead of lifting cakes. I know that I tend to make mistakes when I’m unprepared so making breakfast the night before, for example, takes the pressure off.
I know that some evenings I’m bound to feel a little tired and there’s a good chance I’ll want to pick myself up with a treat of some kind. I stash dates in my cupboard rather than chocolate as it serves the same purpose whilst being as convenient and comforting as indulging.
Be realistic: while you may proudly be emptying your cupboards of all the junk in a determined “I’m going to sort myself out properly!” state on Shrove Tuesday, that won’t carry you through in the long term. You need to put safety nets in place.
It’s Supposed To Be Positive!
If you go in shrouded with negativity you are far more likely to throw in the towel.
Relish small achievements. If you’re constantly ruminating over the fact that it’s been four hundred and fifty-six hours and thirty-seven minutes since your last cigarette, you’ll quickly find yourself dwelling on that particular vice and putting constant pressure on yourself.
It can be helpful to take away the “good and “bad” stigma of all the habits you’ve accrued over your lifetime. Sure, habits like smoking and regular takeaways are not the best choices, but they are just that – choices – and they do not make you a failure or a bad person.
Every cigarette that goes unsmoked or takeaway menu thrown in the trash is a positive step and you should allow yourself the chance to feel good about those, because positivity breeds more of the same. By the same token, slipping up does not put an end to your plans. Just concentrate on your achievements to date and soon a small blip will mean very little to what has been a mostly upward trajectory.
When I decided to go vegan the thought of giving up dairy on top of meat seemed daunting. Eggs, milk and cheese were staples of my diet, and imagining them disappearing from my plate was a scary thought.
Once I filled my cupboards with delicious and fresh produce and invested in some vegan protein powders, however, the jump was far easier than I had imagined. I’d turned the whole thing into something far more daunting than it needed to be.
Take Pride In Your Restraint
I have more fun when I go out even though I’m drinking much less and, occasionally, not at all. The things we feel that we are dependent on are just habits and habits can be broken. Fasting for forty days and forty nights in the desert isn’t necessary, as you’ll be better off replacing vices with rewarding and mindful choices rather than suffering.
Make everything into a positive. The point of what you are doing isn’t to “give something up” or deprive yourself of what makes you happy. Booze isn’t what’s making you happy – it’s more likely feeling comfortable and relaxed, or being with friends. Cigarettes don’t make you happy; it’s more likely that they calm you down when you feel stressed or need something to do with your hands. There are alternative and more positive ways to replicate these feelings.
While we may not need the impetus of a New Year’s resolution or Lent to push us towards self-improvement, it is always a good opportunity for reflection. You can apply these tips to ensure that you successfully reach your goal. It does not matter if it’s something that seems small or, adversely, so huge that it appears insurmountable. Break it down into easy and positive steps, keep your friends and family cheering for you and, most importantly, remember that you have the power to make it happen. Getting started and persevering is far easier than thinking about it for weeks and simply wanting to change.
So… What are you waiting for?