Whether or not you made New Year’s resolutions, you probably see January as an opportunity for a fresh start. January 2021 feels like an especially good time to take stock of our habits and see how we can live a little healthier in the year ahead, since being stuck in at home for much of 2020 may have led to some not-ideal patterns.
Resolutions are notoriously hard to stick with, but enduring habit change is totally achievable. We’ve collected research-backed tips that can help:
Be explicit and specific
Vaguely planning to eat less processed food or exercise more doesn’t set you up for success. You’re much more likely to stick with a health change if you put it in writing (and then post it to a bulletin board or your bathroom mirror — someplace where you can’t ignore it) and tell friends or family your goal. Try to be as specific as possible. Instead of resolving to “walk more” commit to walking 7000 steps per day and come up with ideas for getting there (walking to run errands, walking up and down your stairs at the start of every hour, adopting a dog).
Plan for challenges
It helps to think ahead about what your roadblocks will be — say cold, dark winter days when the sofa will feel way more inviting than the gym, or friends who like to gather for bottomless Bloody Mary brunches — and how you can plan ahead to keep them from getting in the way of your healthy new routines. In the book The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg shares research that people adopting challenging new habits are more likely to succeed if they write down a plan strategizing both how they’ll make the positive changes and how they’ll cope with struggles they know lie ahead.
Be your own concierge
Make staying healthy as simple as possible for yourself. Set alarms or use apps that nudge you to stick with routines like drinking water, planking, or taking medication. Find a friend who will commit to the same habits and make dates to exercise or grab healthy meals together. Set out exercise clothes or your yoga mat before bed to make morning fitness a given.
Know your why
One reason bad habits can be hard to break and good habits are hard to form is that doing so may kick you out of your comfort zone and even threaten your identity. University of Michigan professor and behavior change expert Victor Strecher explains that it helps to link your health goal with a core value or sense of purpose. For instance, cut back on drinking so you can be more present with loved ones, start exercising so you can be energetic for your kids, or stick to your medication regimen so you can live a long, strong life fighting for a cause you believe in.
Remember: No matter how dedicated you are to your resolution or healthier habit, true habit change is gradual and almost always comes with challenges and setbacks. Which means the most important resolution is this: Resolve that when you fall short of your goals you’ll forgive yourself and keep going. Make “progress, not perfection” your mantra and you may have nothing left to resolve when 2022 rolls around.
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