The beginning of a new year is often a time when people take stock of their day-to-day lives and decide to make changes. However, they often find that their desire to do things differently doesn’t easily translate into actual long-lasting changes. If you are hoping to create some healthier habits in the new year, here are a few tips to help you along the way.
1. Make Your Environment Work for You. Research has suggested that people who are successful at making changes to their behaviors don’t necessarily have more willpower or strength of character. Instead, they focus on removing triggers for the habits they are trying to
change and/or adding in cues that facilitate new habits. For example, if you want to be on your device less, set it to power off at given times of the day, or remove it from the room periodically.
If you want to read more in the new year, find a book that looks interesting and put it by your bedside. If you want to exercise more, plan when it will happen and lay out your workout clothes
in advance. If you want to eat fewer sweets, don’t bring them into the house. In other words, successful change isn’t about resisting temptation or being “strong” – it is more about removing temptations and making change easier.
2. Break Goals Down into Steps. No one starts out a new exercise program by running a marathon. In this same way, healthy habits that last are best built gradually. Set goals that are
attainable, meaning: start small. If you want to read more, try reading a page or two a night. If you want to exercise more, try to just walk outside for 10 minutes a few times a week. If you
want to eat healthier, aim for adding one salad/week into your meal planning. Most people find that getting started on a new path is the hardest part – once you get going, often you can build
momentum and work towards the ultimate goal that you are striving for.
3. Pull in Others to Support You. Often times if we are only accountable to ourselves, it is easier to let goals slide and maintain the status quo. Building healthy habits can be more
successful if others around us help out. If you are hoping to read more, it might help to join a book club. If you are wanting to exercise more, it may help to make plans to meet a friend for a
4. Build on Routines that you Already Have. New habits are more easily formed if we can tie them to routines that already exist. For example, if you drink coffee every morning, you could tie a new meditation habit to your morning coffee ritual. If you take your kids to the bus stop on school days, you could add a walk around the block to that outing. Here’s to striving for health in the new year!
Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist