By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD
The New Year is finally upon us, giving us a chance to collectively take a deep breath, take stock, and take the first steps toward fresh new goals.
Is this the year you finally kick that bad habit, or finally develop new good habits? Whatever changes you would like to make in your life in 2021, I have some key tips for making sure these are changes that last.
Watch my video or keep reading below to get my tips..
5 steps toward lasting change
[This video transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]
When we make New Year’s Resolutions, it’s usually this laundry list of things we want to magically show up in our lives. The secret to real change, however, is understanding that change is rarely an instant transformation; change is a process.
There are generally five steps to lasting change. So, for any change that you want to make happen, you need to first figure out where you are on this path. How can you keep your changes moving forward?
Pre-Contemplation. In this first stage of making a change, you’re still pretty much in denial that you even have an issue that needs to be changed. You’re still smoking cigarettes, but only on the weekends so you’re limiting damage, right? (Wrong!) You’re on social media all the time, but so is everyone else, so how can you the one who is addicted? Your finances are a mess, you’re eating way too much sugar, and you’re in an unhappy relationship. In the back of your mind, you know you need to make a change, but you can’t or don’t want to take action. It feels overwhelming and you’re just kind of stuck. If someone close to you even tries to bring up the problematic issue, however remotely, you tend to become very defensive. As you think about making change, this first step really just calls on you to sit with these difficult feelings.
Contemplative stage. This is where you start to think, “Maybe I do need to look at this differently…maybe I am holding on to negative patterns and habits that aren’t quite serving me.” The lightbulb goes on and you realize, “I need to change this situation.” In this stage, it’s really important to be aware that your mind is often resistant to change. So, for example, if you want to exercise more in 2021, your brain might light up and say, “But I don’t have time!” This is an inner defense mechanism to block change. Be aware of this and tune into that other part of your mind that gives you good ideas like, “Okay I’m going to contemplate exercising more and I wonder what it would look like if when I got home from work at 6:00 pm instead of flopping on the couch, I put on some sneakers and went out for a brisk walk?”
Preparation. This is the fun stage of getting ready for the change. If you want to exercise more, maybe you buy yourself some really cool sneakers and you keep them by the door so every time you come home, you’re ready to make the change. If your goal is to lose weight, stock your fridge with healthy foods, chop up carrot and celery for an easy snack and make a menu. Most people love this part of change because it’s so tangible and exciting.
Action. This is you going for the walk instead of vegging on the couch and eating the healthy food and ditching the sugar. It’s okay if you start by walking around the block a few days a week or eating healthy most days of the week. When you set out to do something and accomplish it, it sets up these wonderful neural pathways and you feel good about yourself. So don’t overestimate what you can do; better to start small, complete it, feel good, and give yourself that pat on the back rather than feel like a failure because you unrealistically said you were walk three miles every day of the week when that’s not really realistic. Achieve smaller goals first and you’ll have the momentum to set and achieve larger goals!
Maintenance. After making a positive change, you will inevitably have moments where you fall off the wagon. When this happens, go through the phases again, evaluating why you fell off the wagon and what you can do to get back on. Was it something as simple as you kicked your sneakers under the sofa and couldn’t find them so you skipped the walk? Put them back next to the door. Is it a deeper issue, like slipping back into “Pre-Contemplation” mode and thinking you don’t have a problem? (One cigarette won’t hurt. Umm…yes, it will!) You need to sit with your issues again and get back in touch with contemplative side.
Tips to make your changes stick
Share it! When you give voice to change you want to make by sharing your goal with your friends and loved ones, it becomes more real and you feel a little more committed to it. The people you share your goal with can become your support system and hold you accountable. Social media is great for this! I remember I did a 30-day yoga challenge where I went to hot yoga every day and I committed to blogging about it. Because I put it up on Facebook and on my website, I felt like I had to keep going. That public accountability made me keep up with the challenge and blogging and posting about it. People cheering me on made a huge difference in my motivation.
Journal. A more internal way to support yourself and hold yourself accountable is to write down your goals and progress. When it comes to food, there is just no substitute for keeping track of what you eat by writing it down. A lot of my patients will say, “I always eat vegetables, I never eat sweets!” But when I have them write it down and then we highlight in different colors the things they’re eating it’s like, “Oh I feel like I always eat veggies, but I guess I don’t!” From there, we can keep making and monitoring changes. Write down your goals and keep a log every day of what you did to reach the goal.
Reward yourself. This isn’t just about buying a new pair of jeans when you have reached your end goal. You can use the power of rewarding yourself at every step in process of change. Reward yourself for being in a contemplative state. Reward yourself for buying the sneakers. Celebrate your wins — each and every one of them — the big ones and the little ones! Find rewards that are healthy. So maybe it’s getting a manicure, or taking a bubble bath, or buying a new snazzy water bottle — whatever it is, think about what makes you really happy, what makes you squeal with joy and excitement. Start to reward yourself on a regular basis.
I hope this was all beneficial for you! I’d love to hear what you’re working on, what you’re changing, what your successes have been, what your struggles have been.
We are all in this together and so I hope this was helpful, and I hope you have a wonderful start to 2021.. Be well, and embrace change!