You rang in the New Year resolving to follow your healthy habits list to the letter in 2015. Now that we’re into January, that list seems more daunting and far less doable than you initially thought. Before you ditch your resolutions entirely, why not take a few minutes to tailor your resolutions into a realistic plan that works with your lifestyle? Social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy cautions, “We’re really bad at setting reasonable goals. And when we don’t meet an unreasonable goal, we fill ourselves with feelings of anxiety and lower our self-worth.” One of the keys to creating healthy habits with staying power is to start small and set yourself up for success.
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Rather than focusing on what to eliminate or things you dislike about yourself, start by making a list of the goals you want to accomplish and think about what healthy habits you should adopt to help you reach those goals. Make sure your list is only will make you feel healthier. In an effort to make everyone happy, many of us get caught up in what we think we should do. Every year, just about everyone who’s not a supermodel or professional athlete makes a resolution to lose weight and go to the gym. Both are great for you, but don’t put them at the top of your healthy habits list to please or impress anyone else or you’re just setting yourself up for failure. If you’re constantly feeling stressed and overscheduled, forcing yourself to squeeze exercise in on top of everything else may actually raise your blood pressure! Instead, set aside time for relaxation or meditation. Your newfound serenity could help you get organized enough to have spare time for the gym.
Once you’ve found a positive direction, try to identify negative patterns that are holding you back: smoking, eating too much junk food, procrastinating, etc. Take a look at what habits you need to make, and what habits you need to break, in the coming year. Remember, exercising more doesn’t mean you have to start training for a marathon and losing weight doesn’t require going on a two-week juice fast. Start by making small changes in your daily life—take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, only allow yourself soda on weekends. Give yourself a pat on the back for each accomplishment and raise the bar a little each week. Before you know it, you’ll have begun to incorporate more and more healthy habits seamlessly into your lifestyle.
Another key to crafting the perfect healthy habits list is finding ways to make those habits feel more like treats than chores. Get creative! If you want to get more vitamins each day, don’t just buy a bottle, schedule regular Epsom salt soaks. You’ll enjoy a relaxing bath, relieve sore muscles and de-stress while absorbing the essential mineral, magnesium. Getting in better shape doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to spend monotonous hours on the treadmill. Volunteer as a dog walker in an animal shelter, you’ll get moving, get the bonus of helping others while helping yourself and you may get a few wet kisses too. If you still hate eating your vegetable as an adult, invest in a Vitamix or NutriBullet and find the perfect smoothie recipe.
If you slip up now and then, don’t beat yourself up about it—tomorrow’s another day, right? And don’t be discouraged if your new healthy habits don’t feel like second nature after the first month. The conventional wisdom says it takes about 22 days to create a new habit but new research indicates it may actually take 66 days or longer for some. It’s also much harder to break a bad habit than to make a new healthy one so be patient and persevere.
Finally, there really is strength in numbers and it’s so much easier to succeed in making lasting changes and conquer your entire healthy habits list with a great support system. Join a club or Meetup group and find friends or family to get healthy with you. Make it a competition, give each other passes to whine freely and cheer each other on as you reach your goals.