Even if you’re not someone who makes resolutions in the new year, you probably make some general intentions to be “better” at something this year. Doing things like eating better, reading more, or exercising more.
For the first half of January, most people stick to their plans and feel pretty good about their chances of finally keeping their promise to themselves. But then they find themselves starting to waver.
A missed workout here, a bowl of ice cream there, and by the end of the month they’re back to their normal routines wondering what went wrong.
Why does this happen and what can you do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you?
Loss of momentum and the downward spiral
For the first few weeks of January, momentum keeps you sticking to the goals you’ve never stuck to before. The reward system of your brain is firing because you’re achieving success and you feel great. It keeps you moving forward through the first week or two.
But after awhile, a day of success doesn’t pack the same punch. Your brain isn’t releasing as much dopamine for a job well done and you fall back on willpower and guilt to keep you going. After all, you promised yourself (and maybe a few loved ones) you’d be better and this year you’re going to keep that promise!
Unfortunately, willpower is a limited resource. The more you fight to stay on track, the more willpower gets used up, so eventually when you see that bowl of ice cream or you get too busy to go to the gym, you give in.
You feel guilty, so you try harder. You run out of willpower and give in. And then it happens again. And again. And, well, you get the picture.
How to stick to and achieve your goals this year
Humans have an evolutionary bias toward doing things that are easy or bring pleasure and a tendency to obsess over things they can’t have. These tendencies make forming new habits tricky.
What’s the good news? You can work with your programming and stick to your goals this year. It’s not necessarily easy, but with a few mindset shifts it’s absolutely possible. Even if you’ve never stuck to them before. Even if you’re starting to waver.
Take it from someone who used to binge on frozen pepperoni pizzas every week and now runs a wellness business -- you CAN turn your life around for good! :) Here are four ways to change how you think about your goals so you can keep tackling them into February and beyond.
1. Don’t beat yourself up over occasional slips
In fact, think of them as occasional treats.
When you tell yourself you can’t have something, you start to feel deprived and obsessively think about it. You’ve seen this happen to yourself. For example, you think about food a lot more when you’re “dieting.”
It’s time to get off that hamster wheel of deprivation and obsession. Instead, give yourself permission to treat yourself every once in a while to things that your body and mind tell you you really want. By doing so, you’ll take away the power that treat has on you.
And trust that if you really want to go out to dinner or take a day off from the gym that you can. Because nothing bad will happen in the long run, and now you’re playing the long game. Instead of worrying about one little treat and letting the guilt from it snowball you into back-to-back treats and a sense of failure and doom, go back to your new routine and understand that if you even change your behavior to be just 10% more consistent than it was before, that’s a huge win.
Every incremental improvement really does add up. Changes don’t need to be extreme or painful to create lasting and dramatic benefits. You see this in practices such as yoga. When you practice yoga, you might feel like nothing’s really changing from day-to-day because you’re not suffering the way you might in a boot camp class, but after months of dedicated practice one day you’ll find yourself easily sliding into poses that were once impossible. Yoga is a great metaphor for any area of your life where you’d like to see change.
2. Have a plan B for times when you aren’t feeling it
No matter what you do, there are going to be days when you feel unmotivated. And it won’t just be one day, but a series of days. Nothing deteriorates your desire to keep moving forward more than a week straight of moving backwards.
But getting off track happens to everyone and isn’t actually as big of a problem as you might think. What really prevents you from reaching your goals is that often at this pivotal point in your journey, you throw in the towel rather than getting back on track.
This is where a plan B comes in handy. Your plan B is what you’ll do to get yourself motivated again if you start to go into that downward spiral.
For example, when I don’t feel like doing an intense workout my plan B is to head outdoors for a 45-minute walk. It’s something I always look forward to because it relaxes me to move my body and get some fresh air, and at least I’m getting some physical activity rather than zoning out in front of my laptop. Usually, after a few days of walking, I feel in tune with my body again and am ready to resume my more challenging workouts.
And what about food? If you’re someone who craves sweets, come up with some ideas for sweet whole foods that are incredibly satisfying but aren’t insanely unhealthy. For me, that’s making oatmeal with bananas and drizzling some raw honey on top. Sure, it may not be ideal as eating eggs and veggies, but it’s better than downing chocolate cake and is equally as satisfying for me.
The important thing with food is to make sure that you find a plan B that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived. This usually means that weird diet food substitutes just won’t work. For example, if you really want ice cream, get it. Just get a high quality ice cream made with whole ingredients. It’ll satisfy you and you’ll be doing the best you can to nourish yourself. Whereas a fat free frozen yogurt would probably leave you still wanting that ice cream.
Having a plan B for the things that might throw you off course will allow you to take action as soon as you recognize old patterns settling in. It’ll also give you the chance to really listen to your body and keep yourself from feeling deprived and obsessed about anything. Pretty soon, you’ll be back on your way to meeting your goal. And if you falter again, you just get right back up and keep going.
3. Visualize how achieving your goal would make you feel
When you decide that you want to lift weights or read more, you’re not actually looking for sleeker triceps or more information in your brain. You’re looking for how those benefits will make you feel: powerful, sexy, confident, intelligent, relaxed, etc. Somewhere along the way, that goal became a representation of that feeling for you.
But the specific actions you take to achieve your goal by themselves are like going to meetings at work. You do them because you have to, but do you really want to be there?
That mentality changes though when there’s purpose and focus for that meeting. Suddenly you know why it’s important to attend. Not only do you want to go, you might even find yourself excited to participate.
The same is true when achieving your goal. The “what” by itself might start to feel like a chore after a while. And unfortunately, there’s no one there to make you do it so it’s easy to quit. But focusing on the “why” gives your goal a purpose and a reason to get excited. Whatever feeling you’re trying to produce is something you want more of in your life. And this new habit provides that for you, keeping you motivated to reach your goal and continue your habit long after because that feeling is something you’ll always want in your life.
4. Find what you’re really looking for
That feeling that you’re looking for is also a great compass to make sure you’re on the right path.
Sometimes we create a goal thinking it will help us feel a certain way, but it doesn’t. For many people, this comes with the idea of being the “perfect weight.” They think it’ll make them happy, but when they reach that goal they find that nothing’s changed. So they either give up (because they haven’t found happiness) or become obsessed with losing more weight (because then they might be happy).
When you’re creating a goal for yourself, be brutally honest and ask yourself if what you’re doing is actually giving you that feeling that you’re craving. You should be feeling it throughout the journey of reaching your goal, and not just at the end. If you aren’t, then drop that goal and find a new one that fills you up with what you need.
Because when you want to feel a certain way and you don’t, despite your best efforts, you feel even more deprived and try filling that gap in ways that aren’t great for you, like emotional eating, Netflix binge-watching, self-criticism, or obsession.
For myself, I stopped relying on reaching that "perfect weight" to be happy and instead started dancing, walking in nature, reading fiction, and running a business that helps people feel amazing. I’m not obsessed anymore with calories burned, macros consumed, or what I’ll have to do to counteract the one slice of pizza I’m eating because these other habits bring joy and purpose into my life that I never found in a number on the scale. And without even thinking about it, I eat less and move more naturally, keeping myself healthy and happy without feeling deprived.
This year, we want to help you achieve your goals. Whether you want to save time planning meals or have healthy options available without having to prepare anything, we’ve got you covered. Our meals are delivered to your door pre-cooked, so all you have to do to enjoy them is heat them and start eating. Even if your goals this year aren’t health related, you’ll find yourself with more time and energy to devote to whatever you’re setting out to do this year so you’re better supported in your efforts.