Jump-Start New Year’s Resolutions & Healthy Habits

 “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa

Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? Many people view the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to make positive behavioral changes and let go of unhealthy habits. According to research conducted at the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. Were you of them? Even if you’ve gotten off track with maintaining healthy lifestyle changes, there’s no time like the present to hit the “reset” button and start fresh.

What Would Your “Ideal Self” Do?

Visualize each new day as a blank slate… a clean piece of paper… the dawn of becoming the best “you” possible. The mental image of your ideal self represents all of your positive traits, hopes, and dreams. Your ideal self is unique… unlike anyone else. This “version” of you is not a reflection of someone you admire or aspire to become. It’s your untapped potential, free from the bondage of fear, doubt, and self-criticism. Imagine this part of yourself as the realization of your greatest virtues, values, and talents… pure and untouched.

The way you view yourself, with your real or perceived strengths and weaknesses, affects how you think, feel, and behave in the world. This subjective sense of “who you are” is your self-image. It’s likely that you have a mixture of accurate and inaccurate perceptions of yourself and how you are perceived by others. If you have developed a overly harsh or negative view of yourself or your abilities, it can be especially difficult to motivate yourself to maintain New Year’s resolutions… or healthy habits in general. Difficult, but possible!

Each time you assume a proactive stance toward behavioral changes that align with what your ideal self would do, you are moving closer toward self-actualization. One caveat is that it’s a tad unrealistic to maintain a state of total congruence between your real-life experiences and ideal self. This is a small reminder to be kind and compassionate toward yourself if you stumble along the way.

Even though you probably won’t feel like your version of “Superman” or “Superwoman” all of the time, you can achieve greater overlap between your self-concept and ideal self. As you increase similarities between your self-image/self-concept and ideal self, you’re likely to feel more confident in your ability (i.e., greater self-efficacy) to recover from temporary setbacks in building healthy habits.

Jump-Start New Year’s Resolutions

If your New Year’s resolutions have started to feel like distant memories that you might get around to later, then listen up! There’s no such thing as “later” when it comes to building consistent healthy habits. There is only the present moment… really. For instance, what were you doing yesterday? Did you happen to plan on doing something tomorrow? Well, tomorrow has arrived! It’s always now.

Sometimes it can feel difficult to know if you’re on the right track, or if you’ve taken an unintended detour. If you notice yourself feeling as if something isn’t quite right, listen to what your intuition is telling you. When in doubt, pause to ask yourself this simple question…

Are the choices I am making today moving me closer to or father from my goals?

The liberating aspect of fully embracing the magnitude of living in the present moment is that you need not be bogged by negative thoughts from the past or anxiety about the future. All you need to do is think and behave right now in ways that are consistent with your values, goals, and principles. If you notice yourself going down the wrong path – no matter how far you may have gone – turn around and go back… one step at a time.

3 Quick Tips to Maintain Healthy Habits

(1) Reassess Your Goals: Take a few moments to clearly articulate your behavioral goal. If you’re not sure how to clearly explain the goal in a brief sentence, it might be too complex or vague. Successful goals tend to be SMART…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

(2) Accept the “Gray” Areas: It’s not uncommon to view behavioral changes in absolute or dichotomous terms… consider how easy it is to tell yourself that your goal was a success or a failure. I assure you that this type of rigid thinking has resulted in people eating the whole container of ice-cream because they had already “failed” their diets by having a spoonful. Now… I think we would all agree that there are more calories in a container of ice-cream than there are in a spoonful. When you notice yourself veering off track, don’t panic… the idea is develop flexibility and comfort with small missteps. This comfort leads to a more sustainable inner balance.

(3)Pre-commit” Yourself: This strategy for maintaining healthy habits is incredibly simple… the point is to preemptively make the healthy choices that your ideal or future self would make. For instance, let’s say that your goal is to stop eating dessert at home. Let’s also say that you’ve had difficulty with this goal in the past and that you just “can’t resist” having dessert… you can practically feel your self-control draining. You can “pre-commit” yourself to this goal by removing all of those sugary foods from your house. One other thing… no more purchasing sugary foods at the grocery store. Altering your environment in ways that make it more challenging (i.e., requires more effort) to engage in unhealthy behaviors is a quick and easy way to set yourself up for success.

If you’re having difficulty getting back on track with healthy habits or resolutions, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, only 8% of Americans claim to have successful New Year’s resolutions. I’m willing to bet that a considerable amount of failed resolutions involved some kind of magical quick-fix or demanded unrealistic/extreme behaviors. Lasting change isn’t a passing fad, it’s a lifestyle adjustment. This is good news because it means that long-term change is completely possible when you choose to make healthy behaviors a part of your regular routine and who you are as a person. Don’t throw in the towel and wait around for next year to get it right, adopt the core beliefs of high achievers and become an active participant in creating the life you want to live today.

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Markman, A. (2014, February 15). 5 Secrets to behavior change. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/15/how-to-change-your-behavior_n_4791184.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living

Featured image: Energy by Kara Allyson / CC BY-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

1 Comment

  1. Eva Tortora on May 26, 2014 at 9:01 am

    New Years resolutions are so very easily broken. im still breakin’ mine- ha! but after many monthes, i also accomplished a few. i did manage to lose some weight, which is really good. i also managed to be more greatful. thank you for this very cool article! EVA. *

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