Bad habits that keep you from reaching optimal health, such as smoking, drinking or overeating don’t have to follow you into the New Year. However, if you don’t want these habits hanging around for another 12 months, you must prepare yourself psychologically.
Experts agree that no matter how stubborn a habit you’ve developed, there are ways to break those negative patterns and keep healthy resolutions throughout the New Year. The trick is to keep everything in perspective. Perspective, now I like that!!
“Focus on realistic goals with measurable results,” says Jill RachBeisel, M.D., director of Community Psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “You need to break things down into small steps that you can manage.”
For example, Dr. RachBeisel says that, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds, you should focus on losing five pounds at a time. Instead of trying to lose five pounds a week, focus on losing one pound a week.
“Create bite-sized jobs for yourself that you’ll be able to accomplish,” states Dr. RachBeisel. “If your goal is too big, you’ll feel defeated before you even get started.”
When deciding on your New Year’s resolutions, it is easy to get swept up in hopeful yearning. As the clock ticks away the final minutes of the old year, the excitement can be intoxicating. You believe that you’ll be able to tackle your goals effortlessly. But, after the initial rush of New Year’s celebration fades and reality sets in, your ambitions can once again seem insurmountable.
According to Hinda Dubin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the key to achieving even your most lofty goals is to get started immediately.
“Action precedes motivation, not the other way around,” said Dr. Dubin. “People often think that they should wait until they are motivated to start doing something good for themselves. They say, ‘I’ll start that diet or fitness program when I’m really well rested and have a lot of energy’. But it doesn’t work that way.”
Dr. Dubin says that instead of waiting for inspiration to act on your goals, you need to take action first and inspiration will follow. Your initial action doesn’t have to be anything big. Just by putting on your sneakers and hopping on the treadmill for 10 minutes, you will make that energy you are “waiting” for materialize.
“Once you initiate an action — even the smallest of actions — you pick up momentum and you realize, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad,’ and it becomes a lot easier to keep moving forward and to stay motivated,” says Dr. Dubin.
University of Maryland experts offer these additional tips to help you reach your goals:
- Avoid perfectionist thinking. While we certainly always want to better ourselves, it is healthier to think in positive terms than it is to focus on how much we fall short of our aspirations. In other words, students should view the grade of an A- as better than a B, rather than not as good as an A.
- View setbacks as lessons for growth. Mistakes can be, and usually are, opportunities for learning. If you fall short of your goals, ask yourself what kept you from achieving them and then try to make corrections. People who like to sail understand this navigational concept. You almost never go directly from point A to point B. You set a course and periodically take readings of your position then make adjustments as you go along.
- Don’t make absolute resolutions. Keep them realistic. For example, Dr. Dubin suggests that instead of saying you won’t yell at your kids anymore, resolve to yell at them less often.
- Don’t keep your resolutions to yourself. Tell someone you trust about your resolutions. Dr. Dubin says that it helps to share your goals with friends, who can gently nudge you in the right direction when you veer off course.
- Give them some meaning. According to Dr. RachBeisel, people sometimes make goals that aren’t necessarily meaningful to them. Your goal should be something you really desire to change or achieve, not something that society says is good for you to do or your family members would like to see you do. If you don’t have strong, internal motivation within yourself, you won’t be successful.
- Take baby steps. Set realistic goals that are attainable and then take small steps that are likely to be met with success toward those goals. Don’t try to lose 10 pounds in a week or quit smoking cold turkey with no preparation. Instead, try joining a weight loss program and try to lose a pound a week, or join a smoking cessation group.
- Fine-tune your spirituality. Dr. Dubin says that it is important to add a spiritual dimension to your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to get fit, you may also resolve to get outdoors more often instead of going to the gym. Time outside will help you get in balance with nature, and will honor both the physical and spiritual sides of yourself.