It’s a new year. Which, for many, means new goals. New challenges, new plans, and new habits. Often, these new habits pertain to health. There’s something about a new year that offers the opportunity to start afresh and to get back to those habits you’ve been meaning to incorporate into your daily routine.
But a few months—maybe weeks or even days—into starting that new, healthy habit, many of us find ourselves unable to stick to the goal. What is it about goals and habit formation that make sticking to them—year after year—so hard?
It comes down to motivation. The motivations behind our goals are key in making new habits stick.
Creating Sustainable Behavior Change
Framing a behavior as something that we should do versus something that we choose to do profoundly influences whether or not we stick to that behavior. Because of this, defining the reason behind what you’re doing from a self-care motivated perspective is extremely powerful.
When you commit to a certain behavior change, ask yourself why you’ve chosen to do it. Are you going to actually feel good doing this exercise, or are you doing it because it’s a fad? What’s your reason behind the behavior? Your reason—your why—will frame the type of change you see.
If it’s true self-care that’s motivating and fueling the behavior, you’ll be more likely to go further in reaching your goal and sustaining that behavior long-term.
An extrinsic goal—like fitting into that smaller dress size or dropping 30 pounds—is appropriate in some contexts. But in other scenarios, goals like these can exert a shameful and even negative pressure on our psyche.
Self-care based goals, however, lead to much more success and sustained behavior change. These types of goals—wanting to feel more refreshed when you get out of bed each morning, wanting to dance with your son at his wedding—are the sweet spot in sustainable, lifelong behavior change.
Flexibility Is Key
Sustainable behavior change is a behavior that we stick with long term. Often, to sustain a behavior for a long time, we have to constantly adjust our behavior to fit into all sorts of unexpected scenarios.
If a behavior can't survive the rapidly fluctuating conditions of everyday life, then it’s bound to fail. It is unsustainable.
A successful behavior change, on the other hand, is one that can be sustained through constant improvisation. When your day doesn’t turn out the way you had planned, for example, you’re easily able to mold your behavior change to still fit it into your daily routine.
To allow for flexible behaviors, we should make sure we’re setting realistic goals rather than ones that are too perfectionistic. To set yourself up for success, pick your goal. Then, find one end of your goal’s continuum and where it lives on the other side of the spectrum; plan to make your goal happen anywhere in between.
Go into your days and weeks prepared for the unexpected and knowing where you can find success on your goal’s continuum. That way you’re more likely to cope, manage, and maintain resilience with your new habit.
Even when you find a day that you simply can’t hit your goal continuum, always remember to be flexible. By being flexible with your habits, you’re much more likely to stick with them than if you’re strict and stringent.
Celebrate Your Efforts
Perhaps most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself. It takes time to form new habits! Celebrate yourself for doing better by yourself, each day.
Additionally, make sure you take time each day to realize how you’re feeling: how that early morning workout gave you so much more energy throughout your day, or how those 8 hours of sleep really helped with your communication efforts with your kids.
Recognize—each day—how your acts of self-care positively impact your day. Taking time often to realize just how impactful your efforts are will keep you motivated and committed!