New Year, New You
Whenever we enter a New Year many of us start with a gritted determination that things are going to be different this year. Very often though, after a few weeks we fall by the wayside and slip into old habits. I know that I’m “guilty” of this too, so I thought I’d try and investigate some possible reasons and what we could do to make a positive change in our lives…if we want to!
Slow And Steady Wins The Race
First of all, don’t think of life as a race. The media may try and convince us that it’s vital we all hurry to do things and that we are all in competition with each other. I think this is a very sad perspective because it doesn’t give us the opportunity to enjoy life. If we can take time to smell the roses then we can appreciate what have more. That doesn’t mean we take everything at a snails pace; but it does mean that rather than rushing to do things we can take a bit of time.
If we treat life like a competition then that puts us into a situation where we are trying to be better than other people. The advent of social media has made us all compare our lives with other people. We all do it to a greater or lesser extent and have always done so; but social media has made it endemic. People try to be better, richer, prettier, than others - whereas the more valuable thing to do would be to become the best version of ourselves.
With this in mind therefore, don’t think or feel that you have to race to achieve a goal. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make life-long changes overnight. Things take time and it’s only right that it does. How satisfied are you if you get instant gratification with something? How long does this feeling last? How likely is it that you’ll maintain your changes if you have been in a rush to get there? Let me be clear, I’m not talking about deadlines or necessary time restraints; I’m talking about achieving goals and targets.
Treat A Goal Like A Pizza
One of the things I like to do is think about a big thing (or two) I’d like to achieve. This is the main target I’m aiming for - and don’t get me wrong sometimes this can be tricky to ascertain. If you’re struggling to think of things you’d like to achieve, have a look at your bucket list (if you have one) or look at things you’ve put off doing for a while. Maybe you need to redecorate the living room, or apply for a new job.
Once I’ve decided on my main goal I like to think about what I need to do to achieve said goal. How I do this really depends on what it is I want to do. Sometimes there are several steps I need to do, other times it’s just a case of maintaining a certain behaviour or habit. This is where the pizza image comes in. When you have a pizza (and I’m not talking about the mini, bitesized pizza) you don’t pick it up in one big round lump and shove it in your mouth!
The pizza, especially if it’s a takeaway one, gets sliced into at least 8 pieces; but even then it’s unlikely that you’d want to shove an entire slice in your mouth as that would be incredibly difficult to digest. Ideally, you pick up a slice and take a bite. This makes it much easier to handle and it’s the same with the goal. Whether you decide to do a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly goal to act as a milestone to where you want to be is up to you, but by setting a small goal that’ll help you to a bigger goal you’re more likely to succeed.
Lifestyle Changes If your goal is to get in shape, lose weight, stop smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, become vegan, meditate, or any of the millions of other things you could do, it is worth bearing in mind that not many of these will be successful overnight, or immediately. If you want to stop smoking, of course you can just stop but it takes a huge amount of effort to maintain. You’ve had the smoking habit for a long time and you are so used to doing it that it takes an incredible amount of willpower to finally kick the habit.
Of course very often the lifestyle changes are because you want to get healthier or feel better and those are very good motivators. The trouble is though, at least from personal experience, that sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes knowing that you need to stop smoking because you know it’s bad for your health isn’t enough. It can be a huge mountain to climb and the danger is that if you don’t successfully stop smoking straight away, you may beat yourself up about it…and that isn’t healthy either.
Once again the pizza image comes into play. Your ultimate goal is to stop smoking (or go to the gym, or meditate….) but set yourself micro-goals. For example, “If I can get through the next hour without a cigarette I will try and do another two hours.” If you struggle with the first hour, reduce the duration. “I will try and meditate for at least five minutes (or two minutes, or even one), at least twice a week.” “I will go to the gym and do at least 30 minutes of exercise twice a week”.
You’re In Control
Ultimately it is up to you what you do and how you do it. I find that having a little bit of a challenge is healthy and makes things worthwhile. In the past I found that if something is too easy to achieve then the sense of fulfilment dissipates quite quickly. Working on a goal needs to challenge you to a point where you have to put effort in but we need to be careful that we don’t overstretch ourselves because that can be just as bad.
You’re in control of what you want to do and where you want to go. That’s not to say that you’re in control of things that happen to you along the way; but you are in control of how you treat each thing. If you have a river of dreams, you need to find a way to cross it. Building a bridge is your easiest way and this is where your mini goals come in. But if you can’t build a bridge the least you can do is place some stepping stones down.
As you meet success in each micro-goal you can then increase the target. Go for longer without a cigarette, go to the gym more or for longer, meditate more. Incrementally increase durations as you succeed and if you go too far, you can always pull it back a little. It is better to at least try than to not do anything. Aim for progress not perfection. Enjoy the process after all, what is the point of life if you’re not enjoying yourself.
In conclusion, the important thing is to keep moving forward. Even a tiny single step forward is better than a backward one, or staying still. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve your goal - the important thing is that you tried. Some days you’ll make big progress and other times you won’t. Sometimes you’ll put the work in but won’t feel that there’s much to show for it. It’s times like this that you need to have a little faith in yourself and your ability to keep moving forward. Of course, you can choose not to do anything but you’d then need to ask yourself if you are happy with your lot, or whether you spend a lot of time moaning; and if you’re not happy decide what you’re going to about it…and making everyone else’s life a misery isn’t really a good option.