With the New Year almost here, you may be considering a plan for eating better, exercising more, worrying less, smoking less or any number of positive changes. If past disappointments in achieving change discourage you from trying again then consider rethinking New Year’s resolutions for change as an evolution rather than revolution. Just as eating an elephant can only be done one bite at a time, trying to change lifelong habits can also be overwhelming unless divided into manageable bites. As for other people’s elephants, best to fry your own first.
Perhaps, losing weight is your goal for the New Year. If so, start small with realistic short-term goals like losing four pounds in the first month. Then divide your longer term goals into small, manageable steps that have specified times for accomplishment that can be measured. For example, if your ultimate goal is to lose 40 pounds by this time next year, then a reasonable weekly goal would be to lose one pound a week. This allows for an early success and time to recover if you fall off the wagon. Next, add to the plan a diet of less addictive foods and modest daily exercise. Finally, add a wall chart to track progress, reinforce feelings of success and alert you if off track.
Trying to eat two elephants at once would be a silly thought and so would an attempt to change two lifelong habits at once. Best not try it. Changing behaviors acquired over a life time is challenging and one is quite enough to take on. Only after you have success with one behavior should you try to take on another major change. Granted some have the willpower to take on multiple lifestyle challenges. Unfortunately, willpower as the sole power has a bad track record for long term success.
Having a friend share your journey is helpful. Perhaps you have a coworker, neighbor, friend or family member that shares your lifestyle objectives. Having a buddy helps us stay on track and remain accountable to our plan. If no one in your social circle measures up to your need for a buddy then join a local support group. Many local groups would be delighted to have you join. Never underestimate the value of having others to share your adventure, your struggles, and your successes. Supportive friends in your plan help make your journey more than a destination.
If difficulty in coming to terms with a plan you can believe in is holding you back then it’s time to seek advice. Having knowledge that you are on the right path helps provides the resilience and commitment to succeed. Advice from a physical fitness trainer at a local gym is a good start. For nutrition advice, groups like Weight Watchers and TOPS may be your best choice. For certain conditions, a nutrition coach may be recommended. Certainly, bibliotherapy I’ve offered in previous letters is recommended reading if you are new to my wellness program. For a list of past topics click here.
Making change requires believing in your plan and yourself. For most, that belief begins with knowledge about what is realistic and a reason to change. While there is something to be said for willpower, there is much more that favors a good plan – especially one in bite size pieces. Success is seldom a straight line to the goal. More often life happens in unexpected ways and the path zigzags. With a plan in hand we right our ship, reset the course and continue the journey of life.
Nancy Neighbors, MD