We are already well into January. How are you doing with following your proposed New Year’s resolutions? Not great? No worries. Truth is, many of us feel that the arrival of the new year would somehow magically provide us with the wherewithal to reinvent ourselves. Alas, that’s not exactly how it works!
First off, like most of us, you have probably made a ton promises to yourself that you vowed to finally keep. Yes, everyone wants to lose weight, get fit[ter], drink more water and less wine, hold less grudges, manage our stress, sleep better, and help the planet go greener. But, between us, the first of my best goals and good intentions seem to be forgotten faster than old acquaintances.
I’ll never forget Philip Galanes, who writes the “Social Q’s” advice column for The New York Times, telling me: “I’ve been giving up bread every year for approximately 15 years now — along with processed white sugar, dairy, and red meat—other than liver, which would eliminate pâté and, as a result, would be unimaginable.” And those are just the dietary components of his annual resolutions. There are also work resolutions and relationship resolutions, and of course, the most common and popular resolution of all: the resolve to exercise more frequently and rigorously, thereby leading to the loss of a collective literally millions of pounds of excess body weight.
That’s all well and good. But can any of us change our entire life or lifestyle in one fell swoop? You know, become thinner by dinner and all. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure by making huge resolutions that are so unreal they are bound to fail, throwing us into a tailspin and causing us to just give up before ever seeing them realized. For example, are we really going to run a marathon? I mean, seriously! Or would we possibly fast one day a week? No solid food for twenty-four hours? If I’m twenty-four minutes late for a meal, I get so irritable nobody wants to be around me. My friend Barbara, who vowed to lose ten pounds in ten days by subsisting on eggs whites, grapefruit, and apple cider vinegar shots, ended up gaining them all back — plus five more, courtesy of a Whoopie Pie fest.
So why is it so hard to keep our resolutions?
Dean Karlan, Professor of Economics & Finance, Kellogg School of Management weighs in: “What makes goals tough to accomplish is, well, life. It has a bad habit of always getting in the way,” he says. “We get busy, we get distracted, we follow temptation. While you can’t change the challenges that life presents you, you can change your perspective. Normally, when you decide on a goal, you don’t stand to lose something tangible if you fail. Sure, someone might give you a hard time, or you might be disappointed in yourself, but that’s often not enough. But what if failure had a real price to it? What if not reaching your goal meant losing your hard-earned cash? What if that cash was then sent to an organization you hate? What if we also told all your friends about it on Facebook?”
According to Professor Karlan, money and reputation are powerful motivators, so he advises turning your goal into what he refers to as a Commitment Contract. “A Commitment Contract,” he explains, “allows you to choose how much money you want to put on the line (if any), a friend to keep you honest (a “referee”), and Supporters who find out if you succeed or fail. Then, report your progress over time. Regular reporting breaks your goal down into manageable and quantifiable steps to make measuring progress easy. So instead of trying to lose 15 pounds by swimsuit season, just try to lose one pound by this Friday. Reporting also ensures a constant interaction with your goal, so that no matter how busy life gets, there is always a point each week when you stop to think about the goal you set for yourself. Both of these elements ultimately lead to positive habit formation in the short and long term.”
Here are few more tips and tools, gleaned from some of the experts I have interviewed over the years, for slowly starting to live a healthier, happier and more beautiful life. Starting now. The net-net is to create goals that support your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Paying attention to all four ensures that you have a 2019 that is dramatically Better Than Before.
We don’t need a behavioral scientist to tell us that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, many of us have learned this lesson time and time again. So, what can behavioral science teach us to improve our chances of resolution success? Many things. First, lasting change results from many small changes over time. Taking small steps toward a goal is the way to success. And it is just as important to reward yourself when you take these small steps as well as when you take the big ones. Second, it is important to be flexible in your approach. Think: I will work out at least 3 days a week; not I will work out every day. Remove the “musts,” and “have tos” from your vocabulary, they do nothing but add pressure. Third, it is important to realize that slips and setbacks are part of the process. The biggest difference between those who fail by February and those who succeed is getting back up after a slip.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Set a specific and realistic goal, such as “I plan to be 25 pounds lighter by the end of the year,” rather than, “I will quit smoking, start exercising, and be healthier by the end of the month.” Instead of telling yourself, I am going to lose weight and be healthy next year, it is better to say, “I will lose five pounds by February 15 by walking for 20 minutes three days a week and no longer drink soda.” The more specific, measurable, and attainable a goal is, the more likely it can be reached. Therefore, it is best to focus on small steps within a reasonable period of time (e.g., five pounds in 45 days) as you work toward the ultimate goal (e.g., losing weight). You will feel better attaining these smaller goals.
Eat Your Vegetables
Your body can accomplish amazing feats of good health when you eat “clean.”. Make a list of the foods you should eat and should not eat. Should-eat foods include salads, bright-colored, above-ground vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, asparagus, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, squash, avocado, eggplant, and barley greens), organic, free-range eggs, super berries (cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries), organic chicken, turkey, and grass-fed beef and lamb. Should not-eat foods and drinks include fried food, pork, shellfish, farm-raised fish, hydrogenated oil found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snacks, and processed foods, soft drinks, sports drinks (too much sugar hidden inside), sweet drinks (ditto) and fruit juices (same – eat your fruit, don’t drink it)). Also, minimize all sugars (candy, cookies, cakes, and syrups) and chips. By eating better, you will feel better. After all, good health is what you put in your mouth.
Walk don’t Run.
Unfortunately, some of the biggest failures in our resolutions are found in the fitness department. We all vow to join a gym, take a Kettle Bell or Spin class at lunch, swim laps, go for a long run with the dog, or hop on the at-home bike that we bought with all good intentions and is now the receptacle of our husband’s socks (at best) that hang on the handlebars. Yes, it’s admirable to want to do all of the above. But truth be told, we probably aren’t going to do any of them long-term. So, I will make this advice very simple: Just resolve to include one physical activity that you love in your day to get your blood flowing and exercise your muscles, heart and lungs. No excuses. A Navy Seal once told me: “There are twenty-four hours in a day. You can find 30 minutes to exercise.” Promising to get in shape by not making unreasonable fitness goals will be one resolution that is very possible to keep.
When you look good, you feel better, that goes without saying. Here’s some easy-to-follow advice. Start by debunking that critical inner voice. I want you to look in the mirror and see beyond any perceived flaws. Nobody notices them anyway, until you point them out. So, don’t! More importantly, be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, love yourself. After all, you are the only self you have. It is also extremely important to remember that beauty starts on the inside. If you aren’t beautiful on the inside, you will continue to chase something that you won’t ever find. Besides, happy people have a glow to their skin that undeniable, and a lack of enthusiasm for life, as my mother used to say, wrinkles the soul!
If you paint a crystal-clear mental picture of how you would like your life to be, you have taken the first step toward getting there. To that end, set aside 10 minutes of quiet time per day to think about your health and life. Write out your goals in a loving way that reframes them into present time. For example: “Every cell in my body is radiating good health.” Choose a realistic time frame to achieve the first mini goal. Practice what you want to achieve during this time and then renegotiate a new time frame when that one is up. By doing two, three or four legs on the journey to your desired goal, you will end up with better results.
Don’t try to make changes in your life all by yourself. Gather supportive people around you, such as family and friends. We all need motivation and encouragement when the going gets tough and we feel like giving up. Share your goals with your support network and make the journey together. You will find the strength you need to keep going when you feel discouraged and enjoy celebrating your successes and build closer relationships on the way.
Forgive and Forget.
Have you been able to forgive the people who have hurt you in the past, or, do you ruminate on your feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt or loss? When we hate someone, they own us because every day our energy is depleted by this negative emotion. If your emotional roadblock is with a son, daughter, ex-spouse, lover, employer or friend, if you can’t bring yourself to meet with them to resolve the conflict, try to forgive them in your heart and let go! Really let go! All of us want to be forgiven for our transgressions and how can we hope to be forgiven, if we don’t forgive? Think about who can you forgive in 2019, and what actions will you take to do so? The forgiveness will set you free!
Do the Write Thing.
Daily journaling to write down your objectives, whatever they may be, is a great way to reduce stress and help you stick to your goals. Set aside some time each day to jot down your thoughts. Try to make it a priority. Often you ignore your resolutions simply because you get so caught up in day-to-day life that stress takes over. This type of creative activity will help take your mind off that stress, especially if you keep a “gratitude” journal to keep track of all the things you are thankful for in your life. As Oprah says, “if you don’t appreciate what you have, you will never have enough.”
Go with the Flow.
The power of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of improving your life by creating harmonious environments which foster the best possible health, wealth and relationships, can transform not only your home but also can lead to your being more balanced, functional and energetic as you go forward. Start by de-cluttering and reorganizing your home and office. By emptying your closets and cabinets, you will enable fresh new energy and opportunities to flow to you. No need to take on the whole house at once. You’ll just be overwhelmed after one drawer and won’t do anything else. The secret is to take baby steps. The Japanese have a word for it. Kaizen. It’s really two words –Kai for happiness, Zen for change. In other words, continuous change for the better is what counts.
Accentuate the Positive.
I have found that small rewards with each milestone encourage me to keep going. That doesn’t mean that if you lost five pounds the first week that you should indulge yourself with a large slab of red velvet cake. Instead, treat yourself to something nonfood related, like a long nap, a trip to the movies or a hot rock massage at a day spa. Later you can change the rewards to monthly and then at the end of the year, you can pick an anniversary reward, something that you’ll truly look forward to. Perhaps a trip to a destination spa – or, better yet, to Paris. You will have deserved it, and you will have earned it!
One of my favorite guests, whose advice very much resonated with me, was the distinguished Dr. Michael Roizen, the head of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, and Chief Medical Advisor to the Dr. Oz Show. He told my listeners that we have two choices to make each day —Make excuses or make something happen. The choice is ours!
So, let 2019 be the year that you decide to make something happen. To live the life of your dreams. It’s doable. Remember: Anything and everything is possible if you believe in YOU! Just stay focused on your goals with laser-like precision — and great things will happen. I promise!