What better time to reflect on building healthy habits than the first of the year. The New Year can motivate us and give us hope of an improved life. I love how this season brings out our intention to thrive!
However, if your experience has been anything like mine, New Year’s resolutions have become a disappointing joke. For me, they have often turned into the perfect opportunity to fail — and feel awful about myself. As a result, I have refused to make a New Year’s resolution for years. The truth is I feel sad about this. This time of year naturally motivates and inspires us. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater this year and reject change altogether. Instead, let’s capitalize on our instinct to thrive but this year finally engage in change in a way that forms lasting habits.
Here are some tips to help you make your healthy lifestyle intentions become a permanent part of who you are:
1. Get Clear on Your Intention
One’s intention for making health-related changes significantly impacts the long-term outcome. A health and wellness based intention has a much higher likelihood of long-term success. An intention related to physical appearance is less likely to take lasting hold. For instance, if your intention is to lose weight and look smokin’ hot in a bikini for an upcoming beach vacation, the likelihood of lasting change is slim — ha, no pun intended. However, if your intention is to feel better and improve overall health and well-being, the chance of lasting change improves significantly. This year, ask yourself why you want to make this change.
2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Sustainable change and quick fixes are usually contradictory concepts. Any fad diet or best-selling exercise program may get you short-term results, but it rarely makes the cut for the long haul. However, taking small steps along a healthy path will make long-term habits feel manageable.
Try not to have lofty expectations or to make too many changes too fast. Change is evolving and we often need to integrate modifications in pieces. Introducing more vegetables and water to your diet might be the perfect place to start. I was recently talking to a friend who is treating her Hashimoto’s with nutritional modifications. She shared that the life she is living now would have felt drastic and extreme two years ago — in fact unimaginable. But because her dietary and lifestyle changes have been incremental, one building on the other, the evolution has felt natural even though she now lives a completely different life.
3. Find Support
I can’t tell you how many of my clients say, “I am so surprised how easy this is. I have tried to do this for years by myself and I couldn’t do it.” Having someone’s support and being held accountable can be a game changer.
Some people find this support in a group and others just need one other person to hold them accountable. Health coaches are a great way to get individual support and accountability. Groups provide support by bringing together people who are motivated to make the same changes, like Autoimmune Paleo’s “SAD to AIP in 6 weeks” group that supports those who are trying to heal autoimmune illness. No matter the program, individual and group health programs work because they support, inspire, and bring an accountability factor in ways that we cannot sustain ourselves.
4. Build Self-Awareness
Developing the ability to self-reflect and have curiosity about your experience is a key component in making life-long health choices. For change to be sustainable it is important to know your strengths and shortcomings, to be curious about why you do things, and to reflect on what other alternative behaviors are possible. I love watching my clients start their journey looking for answers from the media, books, and me but then eventually begin asking themselves questions out of self-reflective curiosity. By observing themselves, they learn how to troubleshoot problem behaviors and make changes at the root cause level.
When we can incorporate curiosity and gentleness in our self-reflections, health experiences that we would have previously labeled as failures simply become experiments to learn more about ourselves and our needs.
5. Identify Your Individual Balance
A healthy balance for me is going to be different than a healthy balance for you. My husband can be much more black and white than me when it comes to health. He can eat healthy food 98-99% of the time. He just does it — and, actually, he finds it easier not to have to choose. I, on the other hand, do better when I have choice and flexibility with my food options. A 90/10 eating rule works better for me. 90% of the time I eat clean and healthy options, and for the other 10%, I give myself leeway to eat a little more leniently. Some people do better with an 80/20 rule.
Many individuals who struggle with sugar addiction find that a small amount of sugar sends them into relapse and so they do better by completely avoiding certain forms of sugar. Individuals with food allergies or sensitivities may find that the symptoms caused by their food triggers are not worth the ingestion at all. We each have our unique balance that keeps us on track and feeling our best long-term.
6. Structure is Key
Plan ways to structure your new habit into your routine. For example, meal planning and grocery lists create structure around nutritional changes. If your goal is exercise related, setting a reoccurring exercise schedule is a structure that creates consistency and predictability. Planning sets you up for success because it doesn’t leave the new habit to chance or throw off other important rituals in your life. Structure creates an opportunity for the new habit to exist regularly — and successfully. Over time, planning and scheduling allow changes to become second nature.
7. Enjoy the Change!
Find ways to make your new habit enjoyable. I love helping people make nutritional improvements because they are almost always surprised about how delicious their new foods tastes. Most people think they will be eating rabbit food and never get to enjoy another meal again. When I show them what they get to eat they end up telling me how incredibly easy the change was and how much more delicious their meals have become. Currently, I am working to make exercise a more regular part of my life and I am acutely aware that I need to make it a fun task — or it surely will not be sustained.
This New Year, don’t be afraid to dream big about how you want your life to be better…healthier. But, this year use these tips and find yourself living a different, revived life ten years from now.
What are you inspired to change in your life right now?