As I write this blog, the New Year is just a couple of days away. Like many people, you probably have resolutions to improve your health and your life. So, what’s your plan?
Why do people create a New Year’s resolution in the first place? I don’t think it’s only because it’s a new year. I think it also has to do with the fact that so many people let themselves go over the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas that they have a burning need to reverse all the damage they’ve done in that single month’s time.
Having practiced for a decade and a half, I’ve worked with thousands of patients. My experience has shown me that most people’s resolution generally don’t last long into the New Year. Many either never get started with their resolution or give up on them before they experience any measureable success. Generally, this can be traceable to a series of flaws in the implementation of their own resolution, including:
1. Not having a plan
2. Being unrealistic with their expectations
3. Creating to broad sweeping of a change too quickly
4. Not having a start date
5. Not sticking with it
6. Not outlining realistic goals
7. Not working with a healthcare provider or coach
While many people claim to have resolutions they plan to implement on January 1st, most of these changes turn out to be only ‘pot-shots’ in the dark with no direction or end in mind. Sure, you want to eat better. Sure, you want to get more exercise. But, in order to be truly successful in your lifestyle change, you have to be crystal clear about your goals and have a bullet-proof plan detailing how to accomplish them. Here are some suggestions to help you become more successful at realizing your resolutions:
1. You need a plan
You know the saying, “No plan is a plan to fail.” You have to have a plan. An architect doesn’t build a house without a plan. A CEO doesn’t grow a company without a plan. The Marines don’t invade a beachhead without a plan.
I would argue that most people who say they will eat better really have no idea what that means or how to really accomplish it. They say they will get more exercise but don’t know or understand the types of exercises, the frequencies they should exercise, and how to exercise safely. To just say you’re going to change this or that is not a plan. You need to write it down. You need to write down where you are starting, where you would like to be, and how you are going to get there. You need to set realistic goals and create benchmarks along the way in order to get to your target.
2. Be realistic with your expectations
Unfortunately, many people either give up or never even get started with their resolutions because their expectations are not based on reality. A 50lb. weight loss in 4 weeks is not healthy or realistic. Going from a couch potato to running marathon in a month is not realistic. Going immediately from eating nothing but junk food to eating only fresh foods is also not realistic. Your ability to be realistic with your expectations can determine your success or failure with your plan.
If you haven’t exercises in years, an hour on an elliptical right away may be too much for you. If you only eat junk, a dramatic change to a whole food vegetarian diet is not realistic. If you are under a lot of stress, completely withdrawing is not in the cards. You need to implement the changes you are about to make with slow measurable steps. After all, the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” not a jump off a cliff. Step by step, steady but sure, you can reach your goals in time, but not all at once.
3. Don’t try to change too much too fast
Creating too drastic of a change in too short of a time breeds resentment and will sabotage your success. For example, if you are the type or person who starts the day out with an energy drink and a couple of donuts, an immediate drastic change to healthy foods, while good for you, will create a mental barrier and sabotage your success. You can’t expect to set up something that you may perceive as a ‘punishment’ and expect to develop success from that. Further, the withdrawals from a junk-food lifestyle will make you irritable and lethargic, jeopardizing your success. Instead, from the outset, have a realistic expectation that you can’t just quit your addiction to junk food cold turkey. You’ll have to wean yourself off of them and wean yourself on to healthy food.
Perhaps a good place for you is to start adding rather than taking away. Instead of stopping the donuts right away, add some celery. Add a salad. Start increasing you consumption of good stuff before you get rid of the bad. You’ll definitely be boosting your nutrition, while easing your transition to a healthy lifestyle.
4. You need a start date
Not having a start date is like not having a plan. It will increase your risk for failure. Instead of saying I’ll eat better tomorrow or after the holidays, you need to say “on this date I will start my change.” You also can’t say I’m going to start this when “I get the time.” If you do, you’ll never have the time. Being health isn’t about having the time it’s about making the time. That being said, the time to start isn’t now. It’s on the date that you set for yourself. January 1st is generally a good day to begin.
5. Never give up
Have you ever regretted giving up on something before your success was realized? Have you ever said to yourself, “Maybe I should have given it more time?” Well, being successful with any change requires a small investment of time but a realistic one. In my experience, it generally takes a person about 3 weeks for a lifestyle change to become a habit. In other words, if you decide to take up walking, as an example, it will take about 21 days for that change to become a habit. Have you ever quite on day 3, day 10, or even day 20? You have to stick with it. Just because the results are slow does not mean it’s not working.
6. You have to have clear goals
Not having crystal clear goals is like not knowing where you’re going when you’re traveling. You’ll spend an awful lot of time getting lost and hitting dead ends. Another analogy is playing a sport and not keeping score. You won’t know whether you’re winning or losing.
If you don’t have a clear goal, how will you know whether you achieve it or not? For example, “I’m going to lose weight after the New Year” is not a clear cut goal. “I’m going to lose 20 pounds in 30 days” is far more clear. Here is an example of clear cut goals:
“In 6 months, I would like to run my first half marathon (end goal). To accomplish this, I must hit several benchmarks along the way. To begin, I will move away from my sedentary lifestyle and begin walking daily starting at 20 minutes. As walking becomes easier, I will transition to running but I will set a benchmark to be able to run 1 mile within the next 30 days. I will slowly increase the distance over the subsequent month to set my next benchmark of 3 miles. By month 3, I would like to be running 5 miles. By 6 months, I will have worked my way to my goal of 13 miles.”
You see, setting a clearer goal makes it much more achievable. By setting intermediate benchmarks, you have also established a plan. And remember, no plan is a plan to fail. So, begin with the end in mind. Set your goals and achieve them.
7. You need guidance
I know you think you may have the answers you need. To be true, everyone knows they need to eat better and get more exercise. The problem is, how do you do that safely and effectively and will you stick to the plan? You need a coach. Whether it’s a personal trainer, nutritionist, or chiropractor, a coach adds two critical components to your lifestyle change: accountability and direction.
A coach will make sure you are dong what you’re supposed to do so that you succeed. If you only have to answer to your own conscience, you are more likely to fail. By adding a coach, you are making yourself accountable to someone else. Now, you will not only let yourself down if you quit, you’ll let your coach down. The impact of accountability can be huge.
A coach will also offer guidance. Sure, everyone knows to eat better and get more exercise, but what types of food? What types of exercise? How often should you eat or exercise? What should you avoid? Are you doing something that may be unsafe or unhealthy and not even know it? Adding a coach adds an objective third party that can evaluate your routine an increase your odds for success.
Now, make sure that the person you are taking your health advice from is a reliable health source. Unfortunately, many of the people we turn to for health advice are either unhealthy themselves or really specialize in disease management. Being healthy is not the same as symptom control. Everyone has a provider they turn to when they are sick. Who do you rely on to help you stay healthy?
Stop taking ‘pot-shots’ in the dark, hoping you’ll accidentally find health. Rather, outline a clear cut plan, with realistic goals, and stick with it. You can be healthier than you know but you need to make the decision to be healthier and outline a definitive plan with crystal clear goals you can realistically achieve. To be sure, health is a journey not a destination, but without a map, how will you know how to get there? Use this New Year to finally realize the truly amazing innate health potential being suppressed inside you. Make this the year of a new you. Healthy New Year!