So how’s your New Year’s resolution going? Have you made it to the gym, quit smoking or stuck to your new diet plan?
If you’re like most people, you’ve already given up on your resolution by now. Am I right?
Not being realistic about the goals you set is one of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing a resolution. But an even bigger mistake is underestimating or not even considering the downside of change and the choices you’re making.
What are you really choosing when you make that commitment to yourself to lose weight or eat better? Are you ready to choose to feel deprived when your co-workers are eating cupcakes to celebrate a birthday? Did you realize you’re choosing to feel the pain you’ll feel when you can’t hit the snooze button in the morning so you can work out before going to the office?
There’s truth to the saying, “No pain, no gain.”
If you’re really ready to change your behavior and work towards your goal, you have to be prepared for the pain you’ll experience before you reap the benefits. Now don’t get me wrong – thinking about the positive aspects of the changes you want to make are important too.
I’m not talking about using fear to motivate you because that won’t work. In fact, research shows that people who set behavior change goals motivated by fear or guilt are the least successful, and people who set goals based on positive motivation are the most successful.
So yes, we absolutely need to be clear about the benefits of our goals and why we are choosing them: if I exercise more regularly, I’ll have more energy and will be more engaged at work and with my kids.
It’s the positive aspects of your choice that can help motivate you in the moments when you’re feeling challenged.
Reminding yourself of the good reasons for starting an exercise program might actually help you decide to skip brunch and take a yoga class instead. However, if you aren’t realistic from the outset about the pain that will be involved in reaching your goal, you aren’t likely to be successful.
Pain is a part of life, and it is certainly a part of the path to reaching any goal you try to achieve. This probably sounds a little crazy coming from a psychologist whose job it is to help people minimize the pain in their life. But it’s the hard truth. People who are successful at meeting challenging goals are willing and able to manage the pain involved in the process.
When making a big decision in your life, like whether or not to take a new job, you’ve probably made a pros and cons list. But did you think about doing this for your resolution? Maybe it didn’t seem “big” enough to warrant writing such a list.
However, in order to make a wise choice about any behavior change, it’s vital to know the pros and cons.
Then you can anticipate the obstacles and remind yourself of the positive benefits to keep you on track.
So here’s your homework assignment: after choosing a resolution, I’d like you to sit down and write out all of the pros and cons that go along with it. And don’t skimp on the cons side! Really think through about what’s going to be hard about sticking to your resolution.
After looking at your list, decide if you’re still ready to work on the resolution. If so, you’re going to need some strategies for managing and coping with the pain and challenges you’re going to face along the way.
How will you push through when fatigue is making you want to ditch the gym and watch the latest episode of Downton Abbey instead? How will you deal with your cravings and feelings of deprivation when your boyfriend is eating chocolate chip cookies in front of you?
Here are eight tips for managing the pain you’ll inevitably face when starting a new resolution or trying anything that is hard to do:
Problem solve ahead of time. Figure out your obstacles and determine how you’re going to overcome them. If you know you can’t stop at one chip or one bite of chocolate don’t buy those foods and avoid them when you’re out.
Remember your strengths and past accomplishments, and how you managed to do tough things in the past. That could be remembering the time you hiked Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park. Or reminding yourself that yesterday you got out of bed at 7am to go to the gym—and felt energized the rest of the day!
Remember why you’re doing this and focus on the positive motivation. What is the payoff when you achieve your resolution? “I’m doing this because ____________________.”
Create a positive affirmation or mantra and be your own cheerleader every day. Maya Angelou’s quote, “Every journey begins with a single step,” and Nike’s classic tagline, “Just Do It,” both keep me going.
Remember that the pain is temporary and that this feeling will eventually pass. Then remind yourself how good you’ll feel when you achieve your goal.
If you find yourself starting to slip, distract yourself and focus on something else. Instead of having a bowl of ice cream do a minute of jumping jacks or take your dog for a walk.
If you’re feeling any trepidation, just dip your toe in and tell yourself you’ll just do a little. And if you really can’t go on, you’ll let yourself stop. Most of the time just getting over the hurdle of getting there will keep you there.
Make lifestyle tweaks that stick. I love the food and exercise tips that Vani Hari gives here on Food Babe.
Change isn’t easy, but the benefits almost always outweigh the pain it takes to make a change.
Please post your resolution and how you’re coping with the pain. And don’t forget to remind yourself of the benefits you’ll reap when you reach your goal.
Happy New Year,