Well, it’s January 1st. From every direction, everyone’s talking about about resolutions, changes, goals…
It’s tempting to get caught up in that clean-slate feel of the new year and tell yourself you’re going to do (or not do) a million things: practice yoga more often, cut back on sugar, save more money, log more miles, better keep up with friends, banish negative thoughts, get more sleep, be more organized… It’s easy to find ten zillion things that could be better about our lives and put them all into a well-intentioned list.
Real talk: if you try to do all those things starting today, you’re going to fail. And failure sucks, especially with goals.
You can’t change everything at once, and even making one change doesn’t happen all at once.
The key to sustainable change is to make it small and gradual.
Choose one of your resolutions this month. Just ONE.
Break it down into the the most simple, non-intimidating piece possible. Do you want to practice yoga at home? Start with 5 minutes a day.
Each week, push the envelope, but just a tiny bit. Instead of 5 minutes, try 10 minutes. Ease into your new routine, instead of forcing it all at once. If you end up doing more, that’s fantastic, but set the bar low.
It’s ok to set the bar low when you’re making a change. Better to set a low bar and succeed (or even surpass it) than to set your expectations so high you fail as soon as you start. Don’t fall into the trap of having to get it exactly right from day 1. Just like you wouldn’t do a marathon without first being sure you can run a mile, you need to warm yourself up to these things.
It’s useful to make a list of all the things you want to change in 2015, but now take that list and just pick one thing for this month. Don’t worry about the other stuff for a while. Break down what you picked into tiny pieces, and tackle it very slowly this month. Do it again next month: either make the same area of change a little more intense, or choose a new goal to work on.
The idea is that after a month of working on your small changes, they’ll be natural to you by the end, and you won’t have to think about them much anymore once you’ve moved on.
(Side note: in case you can’t tell, this post is focusing on the kind of goals that are more like continuous change and less like an item you can cross off your list. You don’t need to set aside a whole month because one of your goals is to take a trip to Europe. That’s more of a to-do list item and less of a lifestyle change.)
Now I know, focusing on one change at a time doesn’t feel very satisfying. We’re not very patient creatures: we want to think about changing and then magically wake up super-hot, strong, productive as a machine, organized to perfection, and with a voracious appetite for only the cleanest of clean foods. If only that’s how it worked.
If you can reign yourself in and be more patient and persistent, slow change really adds up. In just a few months, the way you live your life could be totally different and so much closer to the vision you have for yourself.
Don’t go for broke and burn yourself out on change in the first few weeks of this year. Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race. Still true.
If you want more reading and inspiration on forming habits with staying power, I recommend these posts from Zen Habits: