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Redefining resolutions: Tips and tricks to turn your good intentions into habits that stick




It's January, and the air is filled with the promise of a fresh start and new beginnings. Can you feel it?!


You've been here before…excited and motivated to tackle your New Year's resolutions head-on.


The initial surge of inspiration and motivation gives you a kick start, but by the end of the month or into February your enthusiasm declines and your plans...fizzle. And so starts the familiar cycle of starting and stopping. We’ve all been there. This year, let's try something different!


In this month’s blog, I’m sharing common pitfalls and dishing out some practical strategies to turn your good intentions into habits that stick!   


1.     You work toward too many goals at the same time.

 

You have multiple goals that you’re working on at a time and you’re constantly shifting your focus, never making much progress in any one area.

 

For example, when we decide we want to take better care of ourselves, it’s usually multi-faceted: exercise more, eat “healthier”, cut down on alcohol, get more sleep, etc...

 

But, trying to address ALL of those areas at once is overwhelming to our brain.  When one thing gets hard, we bounce to something else. This approach makes it difficult to gain momentum and see progress. And then we end up quitting and restarting. Rinse and repeat. It’s a cycle that doesn’t really get us anywhere.

 

Do this instead: Pick one goal to prioritize at a time.

 

Focus on that one goal. Stick with it even if it feels hard, even if it feels boring.

 

Once you nail it, you can move on to the next one.

 

2.     You try to do everything at once.


When we initially set a goal we’re excited, and we dive in headfirst.

 

For example, you haven’t been exercising regularly and you decide you want to get into better shape. You plan to work out 6 days a week, 1 hour a day, incorporating a mix of cardio, yoga, and strength training. What could go wrong?

 

When we try to do all of these things at once, our brain either gets overwhelmed and confused about what to do first OR we try to do too much too soon and end up crashing and burning because it’s not sustainable.

 

Do this instead: pick one action to focus on at a time and do it.

 

When you start building that habit, keep doing it even if it feels hard, even if it feels uncomfortable. Think from the perspective of the future you. That person who moves her body, and takes time for herself, regularly. You have to act like her to become her. And it happens one action at a time.

 

For example, if your goal is to maintain a consistent workout routine, consider lifting weights for 20 minutes a day a few days a week to start and then you can add on once that habit is solid.

 

Lean in to the practice… Practice is how we establish new habits. Practice it until it sticks. Practice it until it becomes your new identity.

 

3.     You want fast results.

 

This is especially true for health goals, like losing weight, getting stronger, and running faster. We want results NOW and when we don’t see immediate proof, we think it’s not working.

 

We live in an “Amazon prime” world where instant gratification is the norm. And, our survival brain’s natural tendency is to want fast progress (with little effort). In fact, that part of our brain is programmed to seek joy, avoid discomfort and conserve energy.

  

Do this instead…trust the process!

 

When it comes to any goals, especially those that are health-related, slow + steady = sustainable.

 

Let go of the “I want it now” mentality. Stop chasing the quick fix. Practice patience and keep doing the simple, boring, unsexy actions to move you forward (even if you think the progress is “slow”).

 

4.     You don’t plan ahead.

 

It’s Sunday night and you’re planning to workout tomorrow morning, but didn’t plan exactly what you would do. The alarm goes off at 6 AM and you lay in bed deciding whether to go for a jog or lift weights. You eventually look outside and realize it’s raining, so running is out. You start scrolling your workout app and by the time you settle on one (after getting distracted by social media), 30 minutes has gone by. Your take 15 minutes to help your kid find her favorite sweatshirt, which was under her bed (!), and then realize your spouse is leaving early for work and you’re on “bus duty”. There goes your morning exercise.  

 

Result: you skip the workout because of an obstacle you didn’t plan for.

 

Do this instead: plan ahead in detail.

 

When we plan ahead, we avoid the need to make decisions in the moment and we have a much better chance of actually completing the “task”.

 

Let’s say you plan to walk outside…

 

-Decide exactly when will you walk and for how long.  

-Consider how your plan factors into your family’s morning routine and communicate with them ahead of time.

-Lay out your clothes, and other gear, the night before.

-Plan your walking route.

-If you get bored, choose some music, a podcast or walk with a friend ahead of time (in-person or virtually).  

-Consider what other challenges you anticipate and how you will overcome them. For example, decide on a “plan B” in case of bad weather (and pick your workout ahead of time).

 

5.     You rely on motivation to take action.

 

We think we need to feel motivated or inspired to take action. While the initial desire is strong, it’s not consistent. And when we don’t feel motivated, we tend to get stuck in inaction.

 

Here’s the truth…

 

You don’t have to feel motivated or inspired to take action. You don’t even have to like the activity itself. Really, it’s true!

 

Do this instead: take action even when you’re not motivated.

 

Take one step forward. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t even have to be “good”, it just needs to be one step forward so that you don’t feel stuck.

 

Sometimes simply doing one thing to move forward (like working out for 15 minutes when your brain is giving you 50 million excuses to NOT do it) is enough to build momentum. And momentum cultivates motivation.

 

Being persistent and consistent is the key to reaching your goals and neither requires motivation.

 

6.     You give up when it gets hard.  

 

Remember, the natural default of our survival brain is to seek joy, avoid discomfort and conserve energy. 

 

When that 6 AM alarm goes off and it’s time to exercise, your brain will rattle off excuses, “It’s too cold to get out of bed, my legs are too sore, I need more sleep, I’ll just rest for 20 minutes and then exercise”. And then you fall back to sleep and miss your window.

 

Do this instead…expect it to be hard sometimes and do it anyways.

 

It’s not always going to rainbows and daisies. There will be times when it’s going to feel hard, when your brain will resist, when you have a million other things to do.

 

Commit to sticking to your plan and following through!

 

7.    You get stuck in the “all or nothing” cycle.

 

When we make a plan to do something, especially health-related, we think we have to be “all in”.

 

And, if we’re not following our plan perfectly, we think we’re “off the rails” or that we “fell off the wagon”. And sometimes we just give up.

We think, “This isn’t working, so why bother” or “I’ll just start again on Monday”.

When we fall into absolutes, we sometimes end up feeling stuck and that doesn’t drive us forward.

 

Do this instead…consider that something is better than nothing.

 

There’s a whole lot of options in the middle of ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. Scale back instead of stopping completely. It’s about adapting, not abandoning your plans. Didn’t set aside enough time for your 45-minute walk? A brisk 15-minute walk still counts and can be a big mood boost!

 

Consistency trumps perfection all day long.

 

8.     You beat yourself up when you don’t follow your plan.

 

My inner dialogue is awful sometimes and I’m sure you can relate.

 

We are our own worst critic.

 

“I suck at this”; “I’m never going to figure this out”; “My body is never going to change”.

 

NONE of this negative self-talk is helpful and it just generally makes us feel like sh&%.

 

Do this instead: observe and evaluate without judgement.

 

Be aware. Notice every time your brain offers you an unhelpful narrative. You will be amazed how often it happens!

 

The next time you start sh&$-talking yourself, pause, interrupt your brain, and practice talking to yourself in a way that you would your best friend, your daughter or your 10-year-old self.

 

Take time to notice what IS going well. Look at the big picture, rather than hyper-focusing on the negatives.

 

9.     You quit after a setback.

 

Setbacks happen!

 

When things don’t go the way we expect, it’s okay to be bummed, discouraged, or annoyed.

 

Too often, we beat ourselves up when things don’t go as planned (see #8). Or we think something is happening TO us to sabotage our efforts.

 

Do this instead: evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and tweak your actions moving forward.

 

Sometimes knowing what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what does! Remember that you’re not starting from scratch when you tweak your plan and move forward…you’re gaining knowledge and experience each step of the way.

 

“Failures” are simply learning opportunities and every attempt we make is one step closer to success. Be patient with yourself and trust the process.  

 

10.  Thinking it all needs to be perfect.

 

We get stuck in the chase for “perfect”. We want the timing, the environment, our actions, and everything in between to be perfect.

 

The reality is that we’re chasing an ideal that doesn’t exist, except within our own misguided brain.

 

Shooting for perfection is the quickest way to burn out. Trying to be perfect doesn’t serve us. It slows us down and steals our time, our energy and our joy.

 

Do this instead: consider that perfection is not necessary to be successful.

 

Not everything needs or deserves our best effort! Messy action is better than no action.

 

Try on these thoughts:

 

“I’m learning that I don’t have to do things perfectly to be successful.”

“Doing half of what I planned is better than nothing at all.”

“I’m taking this one step at a time and that’s progress.”

 

Let go of perfect and instead focus on being consistent and persistent!

 

Conclusion

 

As we gear up for the New Year and dive into those resolutions, let's acknowledge the bumps in the road and learn from previous attempts.

 

Keep it simple, tackle one goal at a time, and work through the “hard”. Gradual steps, a bit of planning, and trusting the process is key. While you’re at it, ditch the all-or-nothing mindset, be ready for setbacks, and keep your eye on the big picture.

 

Cheers to a year of making those resolutions stick in a way that feels good for the long haul!

 

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my free resources, including my goal setting {and goal getting} guide!


For expert advice and accountability, get on my calendar for your free session (Tracey@TraceySmithLifeCoach.com). At the very least, you'll leave with a blueprint to move forward!

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