When you want to make a change, it’s wise to identify what barriers might stand in your way. This is most definitely applicable to adopting healthier behaviors around food and in my experience, the most common barrier is the all-or-nothing mentality. This type of black and white thinking is particularly prevalent at the start of each new year. Unfortunately, all or nothing thinking can completely sabotage well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions.
New Year's Resolutions appear to be a bit of a controversial subject. It seems you either love them or hate them, with strong opinions at either end. I find self-reflection and goal setting inspiring anytime of the year. I believe we all have the innate desire to learn, grow and improve in one way or another...but often past experiences make us believe we can't. I also think attention needs to be paid to what type of resolutions we make to discern what inspires us and what exhausts us. But, whatever side of the fence you are on, and wether or not you decide to set goals at anytime of the year, I hope you find what follows to be applicable or helpful in some way.
While I think the terms will-power and self-control are somewhat misguided terms when it comes to describing our relationship with food and exercise, a sure fire way to exhaust them is to change everything at once. A more effective approach is to focus on one thing at a time, focusing your limited energy and resources on one specific goal. Once you feel able and confident in that, you can move on to the next.
This goes counter to the alluring and seductive promises of a diet where immediate and drastic results are promised in a relatively short period of time. When you aren’t able to stick to this extreme plan, you blame yourself and experience shame, guilt and/or feelings of failure, which lead you to believe that you aren’t able to make lasting changes.
The truth is that it takes all of us time to change deeply engrained habits and beliefs and slow and steady wins the race. Instead of extreme all-or-nothing changes, I would offer a more effective and more peaceful approach where patience, compassion and confidence are fostered.
Right now, take time to think about one thing you would like to work on. You can probably trust the first thing that pops into your head, given it has probably troubled you for a while now. It could be a number of things: improving your sleep patterns, taking time to eat breakfast, or finding time to fit in physical activity. It could also be working on more positive self-talk, having more patience or forgiving someone – don’t forget to include relationship goals and emotional and mental health goals as well. As additional things come up, pull out a piece of paper and make a list. As you identify specific goals, triage your list giving priority to those you wish to work on first. As discussed, avoid the temptation to tackle the entire list at once.
Taking your first item, make a specific plan for how you would like to accomplish it. For example, if you have chosen to eat breakfast more regularly, you will probably need to make a list of breakfasts you enjoy, grocery shop for ingredients and prep any components ahead of time if mornings are typically rushed. Or if you have chosen to work on improving your sleep, you may want to establish a bed time and set a timer for an hour before you would like to be in bed so you can tie up lose ends from the day, get ready for bed, turn of screens and read or find some other way to relax and wind down. Essentially, walk through each step for achieving your goal each day.
As you work toward this single goal, you will find that each day becomes easier and easier. As you stay anxiously engaged, you will come to a point when you feel confident to tackle a new goal. At this point you will choose your next goal and follow the same pattern. You will find this approach to be intentional, thoughtful, systematic, refreshing, encouraging, one that builds morale, and absolutely doable, which is most important.
My favorite Albert Einstein quote is:
That’s great advice. Too often we skip straight to the solving without understanding the problem or thinking through an appropriate solution. Instead of making vague and elusive goals, I hope taking it one a time will prove to be more effective.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD