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How to set yourself up for success with New Year’s resolutions

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You know how it goes. There is the resolution crescendo as we approach New Year’s Eve, and we promise, we really do, that this time we can make it work. It’s not for lack of trying, yet come mid-January, we find ourselves unable to keep resolutions alive. Is there a secret code that needs to be deciphered by mere mortals?

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Is resolution-setting a thing of the past?

Perhaps the word has a negative connotation, but don’t give up on setting New Year’s resolutions. Call them goals if you want, but hold on to the concept. After all, that’s how we achieve better health, improved fitness, or perfecting a new skill. However, there are goals and … goals.

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Push goals

“Push goals are the ones you have to push yourself to do; for example, going to the gym after work,” says Kira Lynne, a Vancouver-based life coach and registered professional counsellor. You do it one day, or a few, but consistency may drop. That is true especially when you start from being entirely sedentary.

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Pull goals

“Pull goals, on the other hand, pertain to activities you enjoy doing (dance class, yoga in the park, walks with a friend), which makes it easier to stick to your plan, because you love the activity and look forward to it,” says Lynne.

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But before you get started

Do you drink enough water? Do you get enough quality sleep? Is your food intake adequate for your needs, no matter what life stage you’re in?

Certain nutritional deficiencies or lifestyle habits can affect our energy levels, which ultimately undermine our progress and get in the way of the most carefully set resolutions.

If it feels like a lot, there’s good news: good habits “stick” to one another. Better sleep enables healthier eating habits, improved energy levels, and a happier mood too.

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Failure comes with nuances

Inspirational stories or occasional social media posts (more on this one below) can fire us up. We get a routine going, but then life happens, and we don’t show up for a whole week, or two months. Cue shame and feelings of inadequacy.

But there’s another way to look at it. “It is okay to fall off the wagon, and it’s not a sign of not putting enough effort or not being good enough,” says Lynne. “It’s important to know that when we want to make a change, it’s not [always] smooth sailing.”

However, the opportunity to restart is always there. “Keep chipping away at it and show up with self-compassion, knowing that sometimes life gets in the way,” says Lynne. Also, she adds, it may seem counterintuitive, but “self-compassion proves to be a better motivator than negative self-talk.”

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Small steps for long-term goals

Resolutions, no matter how exciting, can appear daunting when we foster the all-or-nothing mindset. “There is a higher risk of failing when we think of our resolutions in those terms,” says Lynne.

Break up a goal into doable, achievable steps (yes, even big, challenging goals). You were hoping for a half-hour jog, but you only have 10 minutes. Do it anyway, mark it as a win, and keep your big running dream alive. A challenging resolution can have a better chance of succeeding than settling for an easy one, because it pushes us to find ways to accomplish it.

Small, doable steps work for adopting healthier eating habits too. Instead of overhauling your entire meal routine, swap one thing at a time with a “I will have (fill-in-the-blank)” mentality, rather than “I must not have …”

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Keeping track of things

Having an accountability partner is a great way to keep ourselves going, but, says Lynne, “rather than having that someone berate you for not keeping up, think of them as someone to have fun with.”

If you’re better on your own, go right ahead, but have a reward system in place. “Whenever you fit activity into your day, make a checkmark on the calendar using different colours for different activities, or different coloured beads that would go in jars,” suggests Lynne.

When you reach a certain number of checkmarks or beads, reward yourself with something you like. It makes things fun while also creating positive brain conditioning.

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Social media—friend or foe?

Social media can provide inspirational stories (the before-and-after photos) and show us what’s possible. But there can be a dark side to it as well.

“Social media takes us away from living inside our bodies, shifting our attention to looking at ourselves and our bodies from the outside,” says Lynne. While there is inspiration to be gleaned from other people, focusing primarily on social media content can create a disconnect that makes it harder for us to understand our own needs.

“The more we can come back to ourselves and filter out the messages that play on our insecurities, the more we can trust our bodies and pursue wellness in a healthy way,” says Lynne.

When we are extrinsically motivated, we rely on external rewards, including other people’s praise and acknowledgment, while intrinsic motivation has us look inside to pursue goals. They both can work, but intrinsic motivation fuelled by curiosity and enthusiasm keeps us on track for the long haul.

When it comes to pursuing health and well-being, it’s the small changes we make to our daily life, the self-compassion we employ when things go sideways, and the courage to pick ourselves up and start again that will take us to where goals become reality. Oh, one more thing: say “yes, I can” often; it’s the secret glue that holds everything together.

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Small but mighty—micro-habits that can improve your well-being

·         Have a glass of water upon waking, after brushing.

·         Turn on your phone’s sleep mode at least one hour before bed (a greyscale screen is less gratifying, thus easier to set aside for the night).

·         Start a “daily wins” journal. Before you go to bed, write down one or more wins, no matter how small (a 10-minute walk, three push-ups, gentle stretches, less screen time, etc.)

·         What your mom said: an apple a day ...

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Research shows …

·                     The most popular resolutions involve physical health, weight loss, and eating habits.

·                     Having approach-oriented goals (replacing half of dinner carbs with a green salad or choosing carbonated over soft drinks) makes it easier to succeed with New Year’s resolutions, compared to those who proceed with avoidance-oriented goals (staying away from the morning cupcake office offerings or refusing an occasional treat for fear of adding calories).

·                     Having a support system in place drastically increases your chances of success.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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