I don’t know how the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions began, but I know how it will end. It will end sometime in January when millions of people stumble from their firm resolutions and fade back into the behavior they sought to change. By February, those well-intentioned resolutions will be but a guilty memory, and the new exercise equipment purchased in anticipation of the fulfillment of the resolutions merely a convenient clothes rack cluttering up the bedroom.
This year, instead of making the same old resolutions you’re sure to break, make positive, lasting changes instead. Vow to rid yourself of resolutions and instead, agree to practice your new behaviors day by day. It’s a little trick that can yield powerful results.
The Problem with Resolutions
The problem with resolutions is that they focus on some distant, nebulous point in time, and lack definition around the actions needed today to achieve them. Resolutions merely state the desired outcome without taking into account the daily steps needed to reach the goal. Without specific daily tasks in mind, it is easy to lose clarity and focus, especially when the going gets tough and the calendar pages turn to February.
Practicing a New Behavior
What if, instead of focuses on the end result, you focused on practicing a new behavior instead? Adults are notorious for pressuring themselves into instant success. We want the results now, without the daily work that goes into achieving the results. In other areas of life, we understand and accept that results cannot be achieved without plenty of practice. But when it comes to changing poor health habits such as giving up smoking, alcohol or other compulsive behaviors, we believe in an almost-magical quality of instant success. As anyone who has achieved these goals can tell you, success is anything but instantaneous, and the efforts far from magical.
Practice Makes Perfect
Instead of putting pressure on yourself to success, why not simply call the new steps you are taking to improve your health “practice?” To teach a child to ride a bicycle, you don’t put him on top of a 10-speed that’s far too big for him and roll him into busy traffic. Instead, you start a small child on a tricycle, so he builds his pedaling and steering skills. When he enters preschool or kindergarten, you give him a bike the right size for him fitted with training wheels so he gets the hang of balancing while pedaling. At some point, the training wheels come off. But an adult is there to guide, steer, coach and cheer on the youngster while he struggles to achieve the balance necessary for riding a bike. Soon the child is pedaling away, and soon he is old enough to manage riding in traffic.
It’s a progression from beginner to expert that we intuitively grasp with such common events as riding a bicycle. Yet achieving new, healthy habits is akin to riding a bicycle; we must learn new actions, new thought processes, new actions that lead to the desired outcome. Instead of accepting the occasional tumble, as we did when we were learning how to ride a bike, we mentally berate ourselves for failure, give up, and return to our unhealthy habits before the calendar page turns to February.
Is it any wonder people fail in their New Year’s resolutions?
What if, instead of pressuring yourself for immediate perfection, you simply tell yourself, “Today I will practice this new behavior?”
Practice Today for Results Tomorrow
Just for today, tell yourself you will practice a new behavior that leads to your desired outcome. Make a list of the outcomes you wish to achieve. Do you want to quit smoking, give up drinking, eat better, and exercise more? Each of these outcomes requires many steps before the goal is achieved.
For example, if you want to eat healthier, what do you need to do? You may need to use an online calculator to determine your calorie needs for the day. You may need to make a menu for the week and buy healthy foods. You may need to clean your cupboards out of the tempting junk foods. You may need to write down what you eat each day so that you feel accountable.
Each of these steps leads to the desired outcome of weight loss just as surely as riding a bike with training wheels can lead to the Tour de France. It won’t happen overnight, but practicing today, over and over again, will eventually lead to results tomorrow.
This New Year’s Eve, resolve to give up on resolutions, and embrace practicing new behaviors instead. Practice makes perfect!