What better time to reflect on building healthy habits than the beginning of a new year. I love how this season brings out our intention to thrive! However, if your experience has been anything like mine, New Year’s resolutions have become a disappointing joke. For me, they have often turned into the perfect opportunity to fail—and feel awful about myself. As a result, I have refused to make a New Year’s resolution for years. The truth is I feel sad about this. This time of year naturally motivates and inspires us. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater this year and reject change altogether - instead, let’s leverage our instinct to thrive by finally engaging in change in a way that forms lasting habits.
Here are some tips to help you make your healthy lifestyle intentions become a permanent part of who you are:
- Get Clear on Your Intention. One’s intention for making health-related changes significantly impacts the long-term outcome. A health and wellness based intention has a much higher likelihood of success. An intention related to physical appearance is less likely to take lasting hold. For instance, if your intention is to lose weight and look smokin’ hot in a bikini for an upcoming beach vacation, the likelihood of lasting change is slim—ha, no pun intended. However, if your intention is to feel good physically, resolve a health concern, or enhance overall wellbeing, the chance of lasting change improves significantly. This year, ask yourself why you want to make this change and try to connect your intention to health and wellness.
- Slow and Steady Wins the Race. Any fad diet or best-selling exercise program may get you short-term results but it rarely makes the cut for the long haul. However, taking small steps along a healthy path will make long-term habits feel manageable. Try not to set lofty expectations or make too many changes too fast. Change is evolving and we often need to integrate modifications in pieces. Introducing more vegetables and water to your diet might be the perfect place to start. I was recently talking to a friend who is treating her Hashimoto’s with nutrition. She shared that the life she is living now would have felt drastic and extreme two years ago— in fact unimaginable. But because her dietary and lifestyle changes have been incremental, one building on the other, the evolution has felt natural and now she lives a completely different life.
- Find Support. Many of my clients say, “I am so surprised how easy this is. I have tried to do this for years by myself and I couldn’t do it.” Having support and being held accountable can be a game changer. Health coaches are a great way to get individual support and accountability. Groups provide support by bringing together people who are motivated to make the same changes. Many health-related groups are conducted through social media—making support for virtually any lifestyle goal extremely accessible. Individual and group health programs work because they support, inspire, and bring an accountability factor in ways that we cannot sustain by ourselves.
- Build Self-Awareness. Developing the ability to self-reflect and have curiosity about your experience is a key component in making healthy habits last. For change to be sustainable it is important to know your strengths and shortcomings, to be curious about why you do things, and to reflect on what other alternative behaviors are possible. I love watching my clients start their journey looking for answers from media, books, and me but then eventually begin asking themselves questions out of self-reflective curiosity. By observing themselves they learn how to trouble shoot problem behaviors and make changes at the root cause level.
- Identify Your Individual Balance. A healthy balance for me is going to be different than a healthy balance for you. My husband can be much more black and white than me when it comes to health. He eats healthy food about 98-99% of the time. He just does it—and actually he finds it easier not to have to choose. I, on the other hand like to have choice and flexibility with my food choices. So, an 90/10 eating rule works better for me. 90% of the time I eat clean and healthy options, and for the other 10% I give myself leeway to eat a little more leniently. Some people do better with an 80/20 rule. One key in this balance is to not feel deprived! Deprivation is not balance, and it usually results in the opposite extreme. Many individuals who struggle with sugar addiction find that a small amount of sugar sends them into relapse and so they do better by completely avoiding certain forms of sugar. Individuals with food allergies or sensitivities may find that the symptoms caused by their food triggers are not worth the ingestion at all. We each have our unique balance that keeps us on track and feeling our best long-term.
- Structure Change. Plan ways to incorporate the changes into the structure of your routine. For example, meal planning and grocery lists create structure around nutritional changes. If your goal is exercise-related setting a reoccurring schedule is a structure that creates consistency. Planning your schedule so that it is predictable sets you up for success. Over time using structure makes the changes become second nature.
- Enjoy the Change! Find ways to make your new habit enjoyable. I love helping people make nutritional improvements because they are almost always surprised about how enjoyable their new way of eating is. Most people think they will be eating rabbit food and never get to enjoy another meal again. When I show them what they get to eat they end up telling me how incredibly easy the change is with such delicious food options on the menu. Currently I am working to make exercise a regular part of my life and I am acutely aware that I need to make it a fun task—or it surely will not be sustained.
This New Year, don’t be afraid to dream big about how you want your life to be better and healthier. But beyond this year, use these tips and find yourself living a different, revived life ten years from now.
Contact me if you are interested in how I might be able to help you reach your health and wellness goals this year - and for the long haul.
Let’s chat on social: What are you inspired to change in your life right now?
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.