How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution – 4 Tips for Getting a Healthy New Habit to Stick
Nobody said keeping a New Year’s resolution would be easy— but for many of us, sticking with a healthy new habit, whether it’s regular exercise, eating better, or avoiding drugs or alcohol, seems to require superhuman strength. We want a “new you,” but the distance to that destination can be daunting, if not unfathomable. And it’s that distance that is the critical difference between a fleeting good intention and the kind of positive core change that makes us healthier and happier people.
How, then, do you keep a New Year’s resolution?
Here are some tips for getting a healthy new habit to stick:
- Remember that the journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Knowing what kind of race you’re running is crucial and can help you better prepare, after all. The same is true for sticking with a healthy new habit. You need to have realistic expectations about what you’re trying to achieve, and in this case, a mad dash isn’t going to get you very far in the direction of lasting positive change.
- Think in smaller increments, and take it a day at a time— small changes that gradually change your lifestyle and can lead to bigger, more consistent changes. The smaller the change, the easier it will be to maintain. On the other hand, a big, dramatic change is far more difficult to sustain. Additionally, success at maintaining a small change in lifestyle can build the motivation, morale, and self-confidence that will be necessary to achieving bigger increments of change; whereas failing at a big and dramatic lifestyle change can drain you of any motivation to change.
In some cases, however, the new habit will be inescapably large. Here I’m thinking particularly about abstinence from drugs and alcohol, which for just about anyone in early recovery signifies a major change in lifestyle. In this context, thinking in small increments is really more about breaking down a big change into manageable increments of time. Instead of thinking about a whole lifetime of sobriety, think about just the day ahead or even the next hour.
- “Do one thing every day that scares you,” in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt. Positive change takes courage, and courage takes practice. The more practicing you do, the more courageous you’ll feel— and the more ready and up to the task you’ll be.
- Consider changing your environment. The people, places or things in your environment may need to change in order to help you sustain a healthy new habit. We talk a lot about this principle as it applies to relapse prevention in recovery, but in reality, our environment can be a crucial determinant of success with respect to other healthy habits, too. Say, for example, that you’re trying to kick a junk food habit and eat more nutritiously— but when you’re around your roommate, who is always ordering take-out, you regularly cave. In this case, your living situation may need to change or at least be adjusted, so that it supports your resolution to eat healthier and more nutritiously.
Have you had trouble sticking with a New Year’s resolution? Why or why not? Share your experience with the rest of us!