It’s the second week of January, so a traditional time to sip on a steaming cup of self-recrimination while you finish putting away holiday decorations. Why’d you eat so many of Aunt Marnie’s cookies? Why that extra bottle of wine? So many parties with melted Brie…so little time.
Resolutions get made, then broken or ignored. Exercise machines are purchased, then used as clothes hangers. January can be a dangerous time because–and I’m going to get northern California new agey here–so much negative energy is generated from remorse after all the positive warm and fuzzies from December celebrations now decisively over. You have to clean up after the party, not just the house, but your body and your emotions, knowing that it’s a long time to the next fun and games.
Still, January can be useful. Let’s talk about how.
Carl Richards, author of The Behavior Gap, sums it up nicely in a short piece in The New York Times: “It’s 2019. Want Some Self-Improvement? Invest in Adventure.” Do read it, so I won’t just repeat it word for word, but I love the notion of thinking of change as adventure rather than as something mandated by your inner schoolmarm. Self-improvement is a positive thing at heart. It doesn’t require self-loathing, although it may lead to some frustration.
Frustration is the Secret Sauce
Frustration, and its corollary ambition, can be secret weapons. If you’re thinking of Macbeth, that’s the downside of ambition. Unchecked ambition can cause people to ignore basic human decency as they trample over others in order to gather more power, money, or stuff. But ambition in the form of It’s Time to Get Off the Couch and frustration as in The Bathroom Scale Batteries Must Be Dying are both emotions that can get you going, which may be exactly what you need right now.
You may feel irritated that you didn’t stop merry-making just a little sooner. But you could embrace the fact that it created a tipping point for you now. All the more reason you can crawl out from under the furs, lick the cookie crumbs off your fingers, and start figuring out how to get back on track.
You Don’t (Necessarily) Need a Thing
I also came across a typical article on the subject, “The Secret to Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick.” Forbes author Marissa Peretz rightly identifies the emotional component as key to success. You have to line up your attitude to stay on your behavioral adventure. However, I was surprised that her solutions involved one app after another. Maybe Forbes has fallen into the same trap as other magazines, where articles and advertisements are now indistinguishable. Or maybe it’s a generational thing? If you’re under forty, there’s an app for that… If you want to browse apps that might motivate you, here’s the link.
I’m not against apps; I swear by MyFitnessPal. You do need to Measure your progress (remember your SMART goals ). But the app isn’t putting on the tennis shoes and going for the walk. The app isn’t replacing starches with cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles–you are. Technology and Things can help you get there, yet the change really has to come from you, doesn’t it?
Speaking of SMART goals… Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound… they sound tedious, but they do work. As Carl Richards talks about this adventure of change, he suggests working backwards from your goal. If you want to lose ten pounds, is it by April or Groundhog Day? Break it further into smaller goals. If it’s ten pounds by April, then how many by the end of January? And, how are you going to get there, what path are you going to take? You can use an app to track it, but you also need a map, or at least a direction to point and start.
Keep in mind, too, that adventures sometimes take you the wrong way. The short cut leads to a blind alley or your GPS takes you to the wrong destination. You may have to start over or try a different direction. What’s critical is to keep track of what works and what doesn’t work. The feedback loop, even when it includes failure, gives you a lot of knowledge. And Knowledge is…
Self-knowledge is Power.
Take off the hair shirt. Don’t beat yourself up about the fun you just had; just put it back in the box with the Christmas ornaments. Here’s a small goal just for January: Try to find one behavior change that works for you.
l’ll give you an example of one Aha I discovered last year. I did actually lose a little weight, and, of course, it was from eating less and exercising a little differently. But the key was HOW to do it, and I discovered one behavioral “trick” that worked for me. I call it LBPP™ : Lizard Brain at the Point of Purchase, and it works as follows. I have a lot of control over what I eat because I buy the food. Occasionally, I eat meals that other people kindly fix for me, but 95% of what I consume is something I pay for. If I want to eat less, I have to control what I buy, when I’m buying it. I spend a lot less time in stores buying food than I do sitting around wanting food, so it’s easier to control my impulses for the thirty minutes in the store than for 16 hours a day at home. If I can walk out of the gas station or grocery without buying the Cheetos or cookies that are calling to me, then I have succeeded. Once I’m home, I’m really too lazy to get up and make forbidden foods from scratch, so as long as I don’t have anything bad within reach, I’m golden!
That’s a simple, rather obvious “life hack,” but one that has helped me stick to a change in eating. I am oversimplifying, but my point is that you shouldn’t overlook the obvious.
Now, it’s your turn. You don’t have to use that One Simple Trick and it doesn’t have to be food or exercise-related, though that is a common issue for many. You just have to find one that works for you. By the end of January.
Every adventure begins with that first…