By Jill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS
It happens every time we turn the last page of the calendar and you see that unfamiliar year printed on that new calendar page called January. You see the excitement of the New Year’s Eve crowd on TV, remember the good times and the bad of the year gone by, and wonder what the next year will hold.
Then you see the interviews that predictably start with, “What is YOUR New Year resolution?” We all know the common answers that inevitably follow the question. A recent poll summarized the list, and we’ll print it for you here, in the rare case that any of them are news to you…
- Spend more time with family and friends.
- Get fit.
- Lose weight.
- Quit smoking.
- Enjoy life more.
- Quit drinking.
- Get out of debt.
- Learn something new.
- Help others.
- Get organized.
So go ahead, pick whichever items on the list appeal to you, and you can join the 45% of Americans who typically make a New Year’s resolution. And then you can hope to be one of the lucky 8% of those who actually succeed in following their resolution. Or you can be one of the 38% of folks so afraid of failure that they never, ever make a New Year’s resolution. And if you are one of the pro-resolution people, you would now effectively make the point that 0% of the people in the latter group succeed.
While committing to positive change in your life should be commended, resolving to change can be overwhelming, like an unavoidable sentence of doom and failure just lurking around the corner. Why attach fear and dread to the equation of improving your life? Break away from the chains of expectation and the January 1st deadline on everyone else’s calendar. Because once you “fail,” you now have an excuse not to try again until the next January 1st, and the procrastination will perpetuate year after year.
So what should you do if you desire true change in your life this New Year? Don’t make a resolution. Develop a plan. First, make a list of all of your accomplishments in the past year, however large or small. You want to build on that success.
Next, make a list of what you would like to see altered, areas in which you can improve in your health, personal, or professional life. Don’t skip the next step, and that is to prioritize your top 1 or 2 items that you would like to address now. Attempting to change more than one or two things at a time in your life will most likely prove to be overwhelming, and remember, we want to optimize your success.
Next, examine the barriers to changing your habits or behaviors. Actually write them down. For example, if you are always too tired at the end of the day to exercise, this would be a perceived barrier. Once you have written down each barrier, problem-solve the answer to each one with creative thinking. Enlist the assistance of your loved ones or co-workers if you get stuck. Using our exercise example, if you could get up early, but find you are not a morning person, perhaps you can start work later, and get up at the same time you wake up now and exercise then. Or maybe your husband can take your kids to school. Or you can walk or bike with your kids to school. Or maybe you can start work just 30 minutes earlier, and you can take a morning break or extend your lunch hour to fit in a workout. You get the idea.
After examining your barriers, be honest with yourself and be proactive in getting help in a particular area if you feel that you will need it. If your goal is to exercise, but you feel that you don’t know anything about exercise, consult a friend or professional who can help. Or maybe you suffer from fibromyalgia or chronic pain that makes you hesitant to “go it alone.” Find a great physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, and/or personal trainer with experience in helping people through the pain and other issues that may arise when you start an exercise program or that have been problematic when you have tried to exercise in the past.
Finally, develop a plan, based on your priorities, which will effectively avoid any barriers. Your plan will start with 2 measurable goals with a specific deadline for achievement for your one or two priorities. For example, if my priority is to exercise, my short term goal might be to accumulate 800 minutes of exercise by February 15th, while my long term goal might be to lose one pants size by March 31st. It is important to craft your first goal so that your second goal is more attainable if you see early success by meeting the first goal. Then complete your plan by scheduling a specific time in your schedule every day to address your goals in some way, while working around your barriers.
As you begin executing your plan, be careful to follow these helpful guidelines...
- Keep your goals realistic. Have others read your goals and agree that they are attainable before you start.
- Find a creative way to reach your goal that suits your lifestyle and personality. Starting to run because that’s what all of your friends are doing even though you don’t enjoy it is the perfect example of what works for others may not work for you.
- Be flexible if you get off track due to things not in your control, i.e. illness, injury, major life stressor; however, also remember that these might be the best times to continue along your original plan to give you some sense of control when other areas of your life are spinning out of control.
- Do not find or create new (but artificial) barriers.
- Expect hurdles, and be ready to overcome them with a positive, can-do attitude.
- Find professional help if you identify issues that need to be addressed before you can even begin your plan, i.e. medical clearance or medical care, vocational testing if pursuing a new career, counseling to get yourself in the right frame of mind, etc.
- Forgive yourself for small missteps and move onward; no throwing in the towel if you get sidetracked here or there.
- Tell your loved ones about your goals; you will thrive on their encouragement, and they may be able to help you with potential barriers.
- Reward yourself (in a healthy way), not just when you meet your goal, but also for steady progress along the way.
- Remember that no great achievement in life comes without great sacrifice.
With these guidelines and a sound support team around you, you just may find success this year as you commit to your “un”resolution. Once you reach your goals, don’t wait until next year to make new ones. Keep upping the ante, or address another priority that was further down your list. Who says change can only happen on New Year’s Day? Make your plan today!