Intentions not Resolutions

With every New Year comes the tradition (and sometimes pressure) of the New Year’s Resolution. Did you make a resolution this year? At the end of the first week of the New Year have you been successful at implementing it? Are you stressing about whether or not you will be able to stick with it throughout the year? If you struggle with making these lifestyle changes, you are not alone. It is hard work! There is a reason the regular gym goer will tell you to wait a few weeks if you can't stand the traffic in January. If you are looking to make some lasting changes in your life, I have written ten simple tips to help you make successful changes no matter when you implement them.

I believe we must start any plan for change with a positive attitude and perspective. When we frame that which we want to change as a positive, it becomes more palatable and approachable. Really! Which sounds better to you? I need to lose 20 pounds this year. Or, I will engage in a healthy diet and physical lifestyle this year. I personally think that latter is not only easier to digest, but also carries a tone of confidence. Language is powerful. I encourage you to state each sentence out loud and listen to the natural difference your tone of voice takes when reading the I need and the I will sentence. These subtleties send strong messages that impact our self-perception. Our perceptions influence how we feel and how we behave. Framing our change by emphasizing the positive aspects actually help to motivate us to engage in that change. Whereas, the need to do something or an emphasis on what is wrong makes it much harder to get started and to stick with it. 

Using a journal is a valuable tool for developing personal insight and clarification. When setting your intention, I encourage you to take some time to journal about why you want to make the intended change. What benefits will you experience by making this change? How might this change improve your life? How might you feel if you are successful in making this change? Once you have answered these questions, use the answers to craft your intention. I prefer to use the word intention over resolution or goal. The word intention carries with it a sense of commitment, not present in the other terms. I intend to _________ is more convincing than my resolution is to_______ or my goal is ______.

Now that you have your intention, here are some tips to help you stick with your intention throughout the year.

1.)    Make sure your intention is realistic and achievable. For example, if your intention is to increase your physical health and well-being, a realistic expectation may be I intend to increase my physical health and well-being by working out 3 times per week for 30 minutes, not I am going to the gym for 90 minutes 5 days a week.

2.)    Make sure you include specific measurable language within your intention. How much/many, when, where, how, etc…  I intend to establish a daily art making practice by creating for 15 minutes per day at the breakfast bar with my morning coffee.

3.)    Start small and build your way up as you go. Keeping with the fitness example, once you have shown up 3 times per week for 30 minutes, you may find that you are naturally spending 45 or 50 minutes working out. Perhaps you even add another a day to the mix as your confidence builds.

4.)    Schedule time for your new routine. New activities and behaviors will not make it into your daily activity unless you schedule it in! This appointment with yourself will also help you maintain personal accountability. Example: From 1-3pm on Sunday’s I intend to create at least 3 healthy meals and prep at least 2 healthy snack options for the week. Or, I will go to the gym from 5:45 - 6:30AM every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

5.) If it is a larger goal, break it down into smaller parts. List out what you need to accomplish and by when. This will help you get it done. For example, my husband and I renovated one of our bathrooms this year. It took almost 4 months since we did most of it ourselves. We broke it down into 4 larger parts, and then we broke down each larger part into smaller tasks. Part one- remove and dispose of everything except the studs, wiring, plumbing, and tub. Part two- hire someone to re-drywall. Part three- shop for everything that goes into the bathroom. Part four- re-install everything that goes into the bathroom. The little lists for each larger goal were extremely helpful for us to remain on track to get it done before the end of 2016. 

6.)    Create a secondary way of reinforcing your achievements. Yes, there are long term benefits to making these lifestyle changes; however, peppering small rewards along the way will help keep you motivated along the way. Whether we like to admit it or not, our behaviors are based upon a system of reinforcements. Most people would not go to work every day if they were not getting a pay-check. The pay-check is the reinforcement. How you treat yourself is up to you. It may simply be indulging in a small cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop after a good workout, or purchasing your favorite magazine after a week of healthy eating, or buying a new pair of pants after 3 months of regular workouts. The important factor here is that the reinforcement is rewarding to you.  

7.)    Monitor your progress along the way. Chart it. Note in your planner. Keep track of it! This simple act of tracking your progress is reinforcing. I use a chalkboard in a pocket-door to write out my annual intentions and frequently make notes about how I am doing throughout the year. 

8.)    Find a friend, family member, or colleague with a similar intention. Work together as a source of mutual support and source of accountability. Sharing a change experience with someone else helps produce lasting change and alleviates change isolation. If you don’t have someone with a common change goal, find a social group or club in your area and join. Meet-up is a great place to look. Do you want to play more tennis, read more novels, or try new restaurants? There are meet-up groups for all of them and many more. 

9.)    Review your reasons for making the change and the benefits of following through regularly. This will help maintain motivation for change. 

10.)    Finally, don’t get stuck in an all-or-nothing mindset. Do what you can when you can. If your intention is to write for 30 minutes a day and you only have 15, use that 15 minutes! If you can only get to the gym twice this week instead of four times, go twice! If you get thrown off your new practice, resume as soon as you are able!  We will all experience things that throw our routine out of wack-- illness, family visiting, travel, work obligations, etc... Accept this pause and resume your practice as soon as you can. This may mean that you revisit tip #3. Try not to get frustrated for having to take a step back or two. You will get back to your practice as long as you intend to do so. 

I hope you find these tips helpful in creating lasting healthy changes in your lifestyle! 

What do you intend to do in 2017? Please tell me about it in the comments. I would love to hear about the changes you are making in your life.