BPF Blog

Happy New Year! Let's talk habits.

How is your new year going so far? I really love January ( I mean, not the snow, but...) because it has a “blank slate” feeling. And yes, we can have that anytime we choose to, but there’s something a little magical about a brand-new year. Possibilities seem a little more possible. Maybe that’s why we tend to make grandiose resolutions around this time.

Do you know 70% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions give them up after just 2 weeks?

That’s 2 days from now, and if that’s you, that’s ok!

I’ve talked about SMART goals before (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time-Bound). Most folks make vague or unreasonable resolutions, leading to a quick spurt of activity and almost immediate burnout.

It’s part of the “all-or-nothing” attitude most of have about our fitness and nutrition that ends up making us crazy and results in our goals remaining unmet. “I’m going to work out hard for an hour every single day and not eat any carbs ever” is not really a reasonable goal for someone who’s starting out completely sedentary and loves pasta. Yet that’s the kind of thing we do to ourselves all the time!

We doggedly pursue our unreasonable goal for a short period of time. It hurts, or disrupts everything else in our lives, or bores us to death, or just sucks. We skip a day. Just this once. Then another. Then we decide we’ve gone completely off the rails, and that’s it! No exercise until next January!

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t!

First off, January isn’t the only time of year that it’s ok to state goals or intentions. Driven, successful people review, modify and renew their goals frequently. They write them down and keep them where they will be top of mind. And they break them into manageable pieces.

Lately I’ve been LOVING habit tracking. You can do this with a paper planner, with an app, tally marks on your jail cell walls, or whatever works for you!

Let’s say my goal is to lose 20 pounds in 3 months. Great – that fits the SMART criteria.

Before we break it down into pieces, it’s really a good idea to know WHY we want to achieve our goal at a deep level. Most people want to lose weight or get more fit, but a vague desire is not very compelling when it comes time to exercise self-discipline, which working toward any goal will entail. So, maybe your true desire is to be able to get up and down the stairs in your house with ease. Or keep up with your kids. Or not feel so tired all the time. Or be able to hike the Appalachian trail with minimal pain. Or feel a renewed sense of confidence. Whatever it is for you, get really clear on it. Acquire a picture that represents it that you post on your bathroom mirror or wherever you’ll see it daily, preferably multiple times a day.

Then, think about what pieces will need to come together to make the goal happen. There are a lot of potential puzzle pieces to weight loss. Pieces can include drinking more water, eating less overall, eating less junk food and more vegetables, walking every day, making sure to get enough sleep, managing stress, cardio, strength training, etc. etc. etc. Some of these may be realistic and reasonable for you; others may not. PICK A COUPLE. When we try to overhaul our whole life at once we get quickly overwhelmed and return to our old way of doing things. Don’t try to change everything at once.

Then, KEEP TRACK.

So let’s say in order to support my goal of losing 20 pounds in 3 months, I decide, after taking into account my general habits currently, that I will start by walking for half an hour each day (which can be all at once or broken into parts) and paying attention to portion sizes in my meals (this can be done in a number of ways, but an easy one is with your hands – see this article for how).

Then, I need to track how often I successfully do this. I can make a printed or handwritten tracker like this or this (this works well for people who use a paper planner), make a spreadsheet on my computer (Google Docs works great for this) or use an app on my smartphone such as Productive (this works great for folks who are on the go all the time and feel they won’t have time for this – set it up once and just check stuff off or not as your phone prompts you to).  

For the walking habit, that’s relatively easy. I can check that off once each day. For the portion sizes habit, I’ll need to check it off for each meal. So, I can make a space or column or checklist for each meal I typically eat (like breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack).

Tracking is helpful for a couple of reasons. It helps us see our successes and associate positive feelings with each time we check off something we’ve done. It helps so much more to feel good about something we’ve done than to dread it! It helps us see where we’re having trouble. Do our checkmarks fall off on the weekend, or during stressful times at work? If so, we can plan ahead to help ourselves be more successful (oh, I’m having trouble getting y walk in when I work late; maybe I’ll get in in before work on those days!).

Understand that you will miss checkmarks. Maybe even several in a row! It’s ok! Coaches say to aim for 80% success. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t do your habits; negativity and kicking yourself just contributes to the all-or-nothing cycle! Just get back on track the minute you can. (Not “tomorrow” or “Monday”, unless it’s 11:59pm on Sunday night!)

After month 1, look at your track record. Re-evaluate. If you’ve begun doing these things as second nature and feel good about them, maybe add another habit, like limiting sweets to a few times a week; or upgrade a habit, like adding another 10 minutes to your daily walking total. If they’re still a challenge and you still feel they’re the right goals, keep them up. Are they helping you reach your ultimate goal of losing 20 pounds (have you lost weight)? Perhaps you need to consider changing them to something different. Portion control feel like it’s ruining your life? Maybe try drinking a big glass of water before each meal to help you feel full sooner. There are no right or wrong answers here – it’s what works for you. Have an attitude of doing an experiment, not one of success or failure.

Hope this helps. Happy January! Here’s to a year of possibility!