Year after year, we make New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight, go to the gym, get a new job…the list goes on. We have every intention to keep our promises, but as the days in the New Year tick by, we slip. Before we know it, the year is half gone and our resolutions remain undone.
What to do?
I asked expert M.J. Ryan, author of Habit Changers, 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals, to share her advice on Meditation Studio’s Untangle podcast. Tune into the podcast for more detailed guidance.
M.J. agrees that it’s hard to permanently shift negative habits into positive ones; not because we don’t want to, but because we don’t know how. We want to change — we vow to change — but our best intentions end up “in the rubble of our deeply ingrained habits over and over again.”
The brain creates habitual ways of thinking and acting that become automatic. To start new, healthier habits we need to bring mindfulness and small, consistent actions to the habit we want to change.
M.J. suggests these five ways to be more successful with our New Year’s resolutions.
1. Do one thing.
One of the main reasons people drop the ball on resolutions is that they try to change too much. “I’m going to eat right, workout everyday, get organized.” Changing one habit is hard enough, so choose only one thing. Work on that, and then move on to the next.
2. Make it actionable.
Consider the specific actions you’ll take to make your resolution stick. Many of us fail because we don’t have a specific plan. Actions tell you how you’re going to do something. “I will exercise 45 minutes each morning, go to bed at the same time every night, take a vacation before summer.” A tip? Know which specific actions you’re going to take and write them down.
3. Choose a habit-changing slogan. (There are 81 of them in M.J.’s Habit Changers book.)
Select a one-line slogan, like a mantra, that reminds you of the behavior you want to change. For example, I often use the slogan, “Take your ego out of the equation,” as a reminder not to take feedback too personally at work. This simple phrase has the power to shift my perspective completely. A friend of mine uses “Stop, breathe, rewind” when he gets angry, which puts the brakes on an automatic reaction, giving him time to respond more thoughtfully.
4. Focus on the Positive.
To keep your momentum, take a tip from high-performance athletes. Look at how far you’ve come versus how much you have left to do. It’s much more motivating and will give you the boost you need to keep going. Focus on the ten pounds you did lose, the closet you managed to clean, or the project you just finished.
5. Don’t Give Up Just Because You Have a Setback.
The trick to creating lasting change is to stick with it long enough to make it automatic. Know that your new behavior isn’t a habit yet, so you’re bound to mess up in the beginning — perhaps more often than you’d like.
Forgive yourself. Take a deep breath, go back to this list and to your habit-changing slogan and begin again. The difference between people who change and those who don’t is just this: the ones who change don’t give up.
A mindfulness practice, including regular meditation, will help with your focus and discipline as you move in the direction of your new habit or resolution. You can kickstart your meditation practice with Meditation Studio, one of Apple’s 10 Best Apps of 2016. Meditation helps us to be more focused and aware of the changes we want to make in our lives. M.J. discusses all of this in more detail in her interview on Meditation Studio’s Untangle podcast. and in her Habit Changers book, available everywhere.
Originally published at medium.com