This month’s theme for self-care Sunday fits perfectly for the end of 2018—preparing for the New Year. I find that the beginning of December provides a space for reflection and planning before the hectic holidays begin.
Preparing for the New Year: Why I Hate New Year’s Resolutions
Let’s talk about New Year’s Resolutions. I hate them. Why? Because the gym overflows with earnest exercisers for two weeks every January (and my workouts take longer). By the third week of January, the crowd starts to clear out. By February, only a few who made resolutions remain. Based on the evidence at the local gym, New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Well, they work to sell gym memberships, but little real transformation happens. I hate things that don’t work.
The whole preparing for the New Year by making resolutions reminds me of the scene in Pride and Prejudice where the regal Lady Catherine insists that her daughter would be one of the best piano players…if she had learned to play; the best dancer…if she had learned to dance. We easily see ourselves as one of the best…if only we took the time to put in the work required to achieve that goal.
We let the hype surrounding New Year’s resolutions charm us into believing a fairy-tale version of ourselves. And we all know what happens to castles in the sky. They vanish in February. How then, do we reconcile the desire to change with actually changing?
We like new starts—new years, new decades, and first days of the week. But we also need to understand that unless we have intrinsic motivation for change, our resolutions will evaporate faster than an ice cube on asphalt in August in Austin. According to Greg Chertok in an article published in U.S. News and World Report, “When we work out for intrinsic reasons, we gain feelings of self-control and empowerment, since our reasons are our own.” In other words, don’t rely on the New Year’s Resolution hype to bolster you through changes you’re not ready to commit to.
How to Find Lasting Solutions
Instead of falling for the resolution hype, spend time (it doesn’t have to happen in December—any month works fine) reflecting on areas in your life where you would like to experience transformation. Don’t get hung up on whether the transformation seems doable, just jot down a list of changes you’d like to make.
Once you finish your list, take time to write out WHY you want that transformation. For example, a little over a year ago I realized that I wasted immense amounts of time playing Candy Crush. It got so bad that I would pull out my phone during lulls in conversation at the dinner table. Candy Crush is not inherently evil, but for me, the relationship had gone from casual to too intense. I didn’t want to exclude people and shut them out because of a stupid game on my phone.
I knew I needed to make a change, and why I wanted to make it.
Problem: I spent too much time on a mindless app.
Why: I wanted to be present when I was around people and stop wasting time doing something that stressed me out.
Solution: Stop playing Candy Crush, and choose a healthier habit for waiting in lines.
When I identified the problem and discovered my why, I found it easy to come up with a solution and quit cold turkey. I had high intrinsic motivation.
Sometimes, you’ll need an interim solution to help you change a habit. For me, I decided to do something mindless that would at least earn airline mile points—answer surveys. After three months without Candy Crush and using the survey crutch, I started using Pinterest for my blog and discovered an even better habit. Now when I need a mindless activity, I pin things to my boards that will help my readers.
The Science Behind Preparing for a Change
Research bears out my formula for finding solutions instead of just making resolutions. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D, explains in an article for Psychology Today ()that when you institute a change that you know you need to make, “you will handle the situation more successfully if you employ problem-focused coping.” She suggests that planning small steps towards accomplishing the goal and keeping track of your progress will also help you ultimately reach your goal.
I’ve also found it helpful to give myself an alternative to the bad habit. In my personal Candy Crush saga, I substituted something that would help me (by building airline miles and then serving my readers through Pinterest boards). If you don’t have an ‘instead of’ already planned out, it’s easy to fall back into the undesirable habit.
When I started my healthy weight odyssey back in 2010, emotional eating had me firmly in its grip. I made a commitment to drinking a big glass of water and going for a ten-minute walk before I ate anything. This diversionary tactic worked like a charm. After ten minutes of walking, the cravings disappeared. The time out in nature gave me a fresh perspective on whatever problem had made me emotional in the first place. I eventually lost 40 lbs.
In both instances, I had a crutch in place to help distract me. We all need crutches at times to help support us through a transitional period—whether it’s a physical or emotional transition.
Take these steps for preparing mentally for the New Year:
- List new behaviors you’d like to develop.
- Brainstorm the reasons you want to make those changes.
- Choose two or three behaviors that have a high intrinsic value for you.
- Plan out solutions.
- Use interim crutches.
- Celebrate your victories!
How Will You Prepare for the New Year?
Do you have any new behaviors or habits that you’ve successfully changed? What worked best for you? We can all learn from each other (and cheer each other on)!
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