Calendar by Snow & Graham

Here we are. Nearly on the edge of 2015 and 2016. My, how the years seem to whip by lately! Ever since I turned 25 I have noticed a serious switch in how quickly each year seems to pass. Le sigh. 2015 was an interesting year for me, as I know it was for everyone reading this. I grew in many ways, became more myself in many ways, and have found greater joy and peace within the everyday.

I know it’s commonplace to despise New Year’s resolutions, and ubiquitous to assume they’re all doomed for failure. I have often found the start of a new school year (being a teacher) is a great time for a fresh start. Regardless, there’s something that comes over me each late December that has me subconsciously making plans to live an even better life in the coming year.

Although not all of my past resolutions have been successful, I have noticed a distinct pattern of behavior in me that supports the ones that are. Here are a few simple tips to stay positive, keep your resolutions, and turn them into habits in 2016.

  1. Begin before the January 1st. Starting something new, or even worse trying to stop something bad, on a high-pressure day like January 1st fills us with unnecessary anxiety. Why not start a few days early? It’s low stress, and you’ll inherently feel like anything you do is just a jump-start, not the real deal yet. Think about it. Come January 1st you’ll already have a couple days of your new routine down. Even if it was messy or not entirely successful, you’ll have those first bumpy days under your belt and will be that much better off when the pressure is really on.
  2. Start over a weekend or better yet, during your holiday break. Another sabotaging thing people often do when working on fresh, new resolutions is to begin Monday morning when they return to work after the holiday break. This is problematic because you’re trying to focus on something important to you, but also dealing with all of the stresses of work and your complex daily life. In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessCharles Duhigg explains that the best time to develop new habits, or replace old harmful ones, is when you have most of your day to focus on results. Getting started over a holiday break or even a weekend sets you up for success because you can plan your whole day around what you’d like to accomplish, rather than splitting your focus between your goals and your life. Once you return to the reality of a hectic first week back in January, you will already have an idea of what supports you need to be successful.
  3. Stop trying to break bad habits; replace them with better ones. Whether it’s smoking, overeating or overspending, we generally fall into bad habits most during times of stress. It’s important to break up with the idea that you will break that habit. The problem with this line of thinking is that your habits are so deeply ingrained into your psyche that, as human beings, it’s our natural instinct to fall back into what feels comfortable, even if we know better. Your brain is thinking, “Well, it worked before so it will work again.” Instead of banishing an old habit, try replacing it with something new, especially something good for you that feels like a reward. If smoke breaks allow you to visit with friends during your work day, try taking a walk around the office to catch up with friends instead. You’ll still get the social rewards and will likely still enjoy having the opportunity to stretch your legs in the middle of the work day. Craving a change of scenery? Try walking around the block and window shopping. Inserting a new habit into the time when you’d typically go for your old habit trains your brain to crave something new instead of forcing it to deal with perceived deprivation.
  4. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid So many of us try to work on lofty goals all at once. The problem with this kind of thinking is you subconsciously get into an all-or-nothing mindset that is impossible to maintain. After years of planning elaborate, super-strict eating plans and exercise schedules I quickly wore myself out within a few short weeks when the stress of my everyday life always seemed to get in the way. In his book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, Stephan Guise teaches us to focus on something small. More than small; mini really. Want to start a regular exercise routine? Instead of planning to work out six days a week for an hour and a half each day, make it your goal to walk for five minutes. Five minutes is so mind-bogglingly simple that you can’t talk yourself out of it. Just five minutes. The trick to mini habits is that if you do your five minutes, you’ve done the hardest part: gotten started. From there you’ll likely want to keep going and blow your five minute goal out of the water. Pure genius.
  5. Remember, mistakes are proof you’re trying, and each day is a fresh start. Speaking of that all-or-nothing mentality, please remember that one, two, or even ten slip ups does not negate all of the work you’re doing to achieve your goal. I learned this tough lesson at Weight Watchers. As mentioned above, I spent years trying to make drastic, over the top, health and fitness goals that were impossible to keep. As soon as I slipped up, I shamed myself relentlessly and ended up feeling like it was impossible to achieve my goals. At Weight Watchers I learned how to create an achievable goal, monitor my progress, and give myself a little leeway if I slipped up on occasion. One of my favorite pieces of wisdom that I often share with my second graders is, “What we are learning about is challenging. Give yourself permission to be a learner and make mistakes.” Approaching each new day as a new opportunity to do my best helps me to realize that I’m not perfect, I’m human. Now I take things one day at a time, try to put in my best effort, and allow myself to make a few mistakes on the road to success.

Whether you’re one for resolutions or not, we’re all trying to live our happiest lives, and improve ourselves everyday. I hope these simple tips help you to pursue your goals with a growth mindset. Good luck out there, friends!  I believe in you!