How many times have you set lofty weight-loss goals at the start of a new year and given up on them just a few weeks later? Or maybe you vowed to kick poor eating habits once and for all but slipped back into your old ways soon after. Resolutions offer a lot of promise, but they tend to fizzle out when a challenge arises or motivation wanes. So what exactly makes lasting change so hard?
The simple answer is that we are creatures of habit. It takes energy and intention for our brains to pause and think about doing things differently. Consider the behaviors and skills that are so ingrained in you now as an adult, such as brushing your teeth or driving a car. When you first started doing them, you had to really think about how to do them.
Want to start making steps toward real change? Try these simple tips to make new habits stick.
- Ditch the all-or-nothing approach. Grand ambitions may be motivating in the beginning, but trying to change too much at once is likely to lead to disappointment. Instead, start small. For example: If you want to clean up your eating habits, begin by making consistent healthier choices at one meal and build from there. Discover your favorite healthy breakfast foods — oatmeal, eggs, smoothies, Greek yogurt, fruit — and make sure you have them readily available.
- Look for opportunities to make changes. Would you like to be more active? Before you sign up for a 5K, try walking an extra five to 10 minutes a few times a day. Opt to take the stairs when you can. And go for a quick walk when you catch yourself sitting for too long.
- Be patient. Track your positive changes with a food or activity journal so that you can reflect on them. Remember that it may take time to see results, and that's ok. If weight loss is your overall goal, focus on the behaviors that help you get there rather than the scale alone. It's important to celebrate your day-to-day accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Over time you'll reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle.
Although change is difficult, pathways for different ways of thinking and behaving can be created and strengthened with intention, time and effort. With repetition, these new habits get easier and become the norm. So stick with them!
- Try incorporating your new behavior into something you're already doing. For example: If you want to add movement to your day, walk around the block before you bring in the mail. If you'd like to make gratitude a priority, the next time you're in the shower reflect on people or events in your life that you appreciate.
- Determine what your small change is this week, and stick to it. For example: Add one vegetable to your meals each day. Or set aside time at the beginning of each week to create a meal plan and grocery list.
- Reach out to a family member, friend or colleague who might be able to support you in the change you're looking to make. If you have a friend who is a motivating workout buddy or a great encourager, enlist his or her help — you don't have to do it alone!