Resolutions and Routines

With the new year upon us, many of us are considering resolutions, ways to achieve our longstanding goals, and ways to improve our lives, health, well-being, relationships and so on. Although I haven’t reviewed it for a while, I believe the research says that most new year’s resolutions don’t work out. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, though, to use the new year as an anchor to evaluate our goals, make new commitments, and so on. And there are ways to make resolutions more likely to stick.

First, it helps to start small with any significant change, whether it involves exercising regularly, eating more healthfully, keeping in touch with people, or working on work or other life goals. So many people want to exercise more often, get a gym membership, take on more than they can handle, and burn out within weeks. A plan that involves getting up at 4am and working out three hours before work is probably only sustainable for someone training for the olympics. If you want to exercise more often, start small. Examples include walking for 10 minutes a day, doing a brief cardio routine in the morning before breakfast, walking to the bus instead of driving to work, taking the stairs, and so forth. I started many years ago doing pushups every morning before breakfast, and I gradually increased this so that now, I have a sustainable 45-50min exercise routine every morning.

Second, start with an activity that has few or no barriers. For example, many people say they’ll start exercising once they can afford a gym membership, have someone to walk or run with, recover from a sprain or injury, are less tired, or are more fit (!!). Avoid putting barriers in front of you from the get-go. Take the path of least resistance – the path that, at least initially, has no barriers. Don’t wait until you have a gym membership to start exercising. Start NOW with an activity you can do in your home, right outside, or even at work. One of my all time favorite quotes is: “Do not wait until all of the conditions are perfect for you to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” (Alan Cohen). Also, choose a time that is barrier-free. The reason I do my exercise before breakfast is that it’s so early that nobody is awake or asking me for anything, and very little can get in my way.

Third, establish sustainable routines. When it comes to self-care goals like eating and exercise, I often recommend that people only make changes they can sustain for a year or more. Further, I’ve observed that people often have the most success when these changes become part of the fabric of their day – when they become regular routines. Consider activities that you do everyday, and try to link those activities with your new goals. If you want to eat more healthfully, establish an eating schedule/routine involving the packing of healthy snacks for the next day as part of your bedtime routine. Choose a day when you can consistently sit down and do some meal and grocery planning. Try to set a consistent meal schedule rather than just eating whenever you’re hungry, in the mood, or when you see food in the immediate vicinity. For exercise, make exercise part of activities that you already do on a routine basis. Do 5 minutes of exercise before you brush your teeth in the morning. Take 10 minutes out of your lunch break to go for a walk. If your goal is to keep up with friends and family, find a dedicated time each day or week when you can do this in a mindful way, rather than hoping the mood will strike you to make calls or send emails, etc. Although I love routines, I know that not everyone feels this way. I do believe, however, that humans are creatures of habit, and that establishing regular, consistent habits can help us all achieve our goals, little by little, in the long-run. ~ Alexander L.Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.