Five steps to sticking with a new resolution
Have you ever resolved to make a major lifestyle change, only to find it really hard to maintain? You probably began with the best of intentions, but over time, your determination faded and other things diverted your attention or made it really difficult to stick with your resolution.
That was my experience when I quit my job. Free from the constraints of an employer’s office hours and required business travel, I expected to have as much free time as I needed to practice the healthy lifestyle I’d long desired. For me, that meant eating robust, fresh salads for lunch, running in the morning before work and doing yoga in the evenings.
Being my own boss meant I’d finally place my self-care and well being first, with work fitting in around these essential daily practices.
However, before long, I was spending 10 hours a day glued to my desk chair, skipping runs, telling myself I “didn’t have time” for yoga class, or would slap together a PB&J sandwich instead of taking the time to make a kale salad.
I had believed that my job was making healthy habits difficult, but it once I’d removed myself from the corporate world and started my own business, I realized that the problem wasn’t my work environment, but myself.
I was holding on to old habits that kept me stuck in a work-horse mentality that made it especially difficult to fit self-care into my day. I was placing immense value on productivity above all else. I felt as though my success as an entrepreneur depended upon it.
It turns out that being one’s own worst enemy isn’t so uncommon. We expect the removal of outside obstacle to make everything else possible.
The flaw in this thinking is that when it comes to making permanent change and replacing unhealthy habits with healthy ones, we expect the process to unfold linearly, making continuous improvement over time.
The reality is that instilling new habits is a practice, and some days we’ll do it well, while other days we’ll fail terribly.
For example, my goal is to run four days a week, though especially in these chilly, dark winter months, it’s easy to blow it off and stay inside where it’s warm and comfortable so I can chip away at my mile-long to-do list. It’s not enough to schedule “Run outside” on my calendar; I have to actually change my clothes and step out the door. And some days doing that just feels impossible.
Here are the steps that have helped me stick with my healthy habits, and will help you stick with yours, too:
1. Focus on feeling rather than doing
The point of a healthy habit like eating a tasty salad for lunch or going for a run is to feel good. I want to feel vibrant, energized, light, radiant, expansive and inspired, and eating well and running let me achieve those feelings.
But because I have psoriatic arthritis, a painful inflammatory condition in my feet, some days it simply isn’t possible to run. That’s when I ask myself what feeling I would get from a run and choose something else that would help me achieve that feeling in place of running. When you struggle to run due to lack of time or energy to complete a planned workout or run a certain distance, ask yourself what kind of a run would be easy, fun and fulfilling. Maybe you don’t need to run 10 miles today when 5 miles feel far less daunting and fits more easily into your schedule.
2. Practice self compassion
If you’re training for a marathon, for example, your goal may be to consistently run 35 miles a week. While a training plan provides structure and a clear roadmap for preparing for a race, that doesn’t mean that you have to be super rigid.
Hold yourself to incredibly high standards and rigid expectations makes it harder to stay motivated. The solution is to practice self compassion. Dr. Kristen Neff, author of the book Self Compassion, has conducted extensive research on the impact of self-compassion on women’s motivation to exercise. “Ultimate health and well-being are achieved by people feeling kindness and compassion for themselves because they are human beings, not because they have some particular trait such as being physically fit,” says Neff.
And she points out that self-compassion differs from self-esteem. “Whereas high self-esteem depends on successful performances and positive self-evaluations, self-compassion is relevant precisely when self-esteem tends to falter—when one fails or feels inadequate.”
As applied to running, self-compassion allows you to organize running around your life in a way that is aligned with your values and what’s most important to you. Self compassion lets you bypass the guilt trips because you’re confident in your choice to run more or run less.
3. Expect setbacks on your path to improvement
Remember how I mentioned that change isn’t a linear process? It’s one thing to know this on an intellectual level, and yet it’s still easy to be caught off guard when something unexpected derails your routine.
Whether it’s crisis at work, a sick child home from school, a running injury or overwhelming exhaustion, the key to weathering a setback of any kind is to accept it as part of your path of change. Take it as an opportunity to practice adaptability and acceptance instead of resistance. Whatever we resist tends to grow and overwhelm, whereas acceptance makes it less of an obstacle and eventually, easier to overcome.
I know this is easier said than done, which is one of the ways our running and wellness retreats help runners develop this kind of awareness and practical adaptability in their training and life.
4. Believe in yourself
This statement has become a cliché, but to me, this simple saying means believing in what you already know and have learned. Too often, we repeat certain experiences (how many bad races have you had? How often does the same injury recur?) because we forget or ignore the lessons they are trying to teach.
Committing to change is really a commitment to learning new lessons. Before settling on new changes for 2017, take the time to remember what lessons you can take from past experiences. Will some of those lessons serve you in the coming year? If so, how will you keep them top-of-mind?
For me, this means remembering how stale, burned out and unproductive I feel at the end of a hectic workweek in which I didn’t get enough exercise or fresh air. Remembering how I don’t want to feel makes it a lot easier to make healthy choices today.
5. Have fun
All this talk around making resolutions and committing to change makes it feel like serious business. And it can create profound and long-lasting improvements in your health and your running. However, don’t let that potential detract from point that life is meant to be fun and running as play. Remember how easy and playful running felt when you were a child?
You didn’t worry about how you looked, whether you were doing it right, how many calories you were burning or if your intervals were on pace. You just ran because it was the most natural thing you could possibly do.
You can regain that feeling. Bringing a little present-moment awareness by running mindfully can reignite the simple joy of your body moving through space, the air fully inflating your lungs and the wind on your cheeks.
Sure, running brings many beneficial outcomes (healthy weight, lowers blood pressure, strengthens your heart, joints and muscles and much more), but those results aren’t what bring us joy; rather, that is found in the experience of running for running’s sake.