It's that time. The start of a New Year fills us all with optimism and renewed resolve to begin new projects and make positive changes in our lives. Not surprisingly, the top resolution for Americans in 2014 is to lose weight.
According to research conducted by the University of Scranton and reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans usually make New Year's resolutions. Of those who make resolutions 24% fail every year, 49% have infrequent success, and only 8% are successful. Those numbers may sound discouraging until you hear that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't make resolutions.
There's plenty of good advice available to you about how to set achievable goals and keep your resolutions, but I'm going to suggest that you pay close attention to the language you use when you talk to yourself about your choices.
I often hear people say "I'm trying to lose weight," "I'm trying to eat better," I'm trying to work out more often," or "I'm trying to manage stress better." But implicit in all that trying is the looming likelihood of failure.
When you say "I'm trying," you're not giving your full commitment. You're leaving the door open for failure--or excuses. But if instead you say "I'm going to lose 15 pounds," "I'm going to have a small salad instead of fries at lunch," I'm going to go to the gym four days per week," you've set more specific goals with more determination--but you've left yourself no psychological breathing room for your human imperfection.
So how can you describe your goals in a way that is positive and productive but also forgiving of your essential humanness? I like the word "practice." Try it out: "I'm practicing making healthy food choices." "I'm practicing a new exercise program." "I'm practicing mindfulness techniques to manage my stress."
Do you see the difference? Practice implies that you're not perfect, but that you're determined to keep working and learning from your mistakes rather than writing yourself off as a failure at your first miss-step. Practice implies a long-term process of ongoing improvement rather than a one-shot success or failure. Practice implies a lifestyle choice that you make over and over again.
Look, changing your habits is hard work. It's not as simple as waving a magic wand and suddenly having the willpower to resist your favorite sweets and the time to get to yoga class four nights a week. Changing habits takes practice, and lots of it. You're managing new logistical challenges, changing ingrained behaviors, overcoming resistance from friends and family. Heck, you're even rewiring your brain!
You wouldn't say "I'd like to play golf or take up guitar playing" and expect to just be good at it right off the bat. You'd expect to put in a lot of effort and a lot of practice to develop the skills you need to become good. You might get frustrated by how hard it is sometimes, but you'd know that the only way to get better is to be patient, learn from your mistakes, and keep practicing.
So this year, don't get caught in the black and white trap of trying and failing. Consider yourself a student of healthy choices and begin your practice today, with the intention of forgiving your imperfections and continuing to improve with each day's practice.
What techniques do you use to maintain a regular practice of healthy choices?
(image credit: Neeta Lind)