It's that time of year when we are all gung-ho about making positive changes. Whether it is to be more organized, start exercising, save money, lose weight or adopt healthier habits, we all want to make it a permanent change for the better. Yet, within just a couple of weeks, most people tend to give up.
One of the most important aspects of change is knowing why you are making the change and knowing that you are ready for change. Is the desire to change being driven by you or by someone else? Is this something you are ready for? Have you thought about the challenges you will face and ways to overcome them? Do you have a strong support system in place? Does your environment at home and work provide you with what you need to be successful? What are the benefits of making this change, and how will it affect your relationships?
One reason many people give up on their goals after a few weeks is because they have the wrong approach. Many people focus on the negative reasons for change, wanting to change something they don't like. For example, an overweight individual may choose to start exercising to help lose weight. While it may seem like a great way to assist weight loss, this type of approach won't last. What happens when you stop losing weight? The effort no longer yields the desired result, so most people will stop exercising. Instead, expert psychologists recommend finding the positive reasons to exercise: relieve stress, get stronger, improve heart health or have more energy. This change in one's thinking can bring about lasting change.
Another reason people give up too soon is they are perfectionists, so they have an all-or-nothing approach. If I can't do it right, then I won't do it at all. Do you give up on your diet for the day if you unintentionally ate something that wasn't on the plan? If you only have half the time you had set aside to exercise, do you not exercise at all? Over time, this approach sets you back and makes reaching your goals seem impossible.
These little setbacks should be built-in expectations. We can't be perfect; we just need to be better. Take these setbacks, and learn from them. Use them to collect information as to why something happened or how you can handle it better in the future. If it is meant to be a permanent, lasting change, you can't expect perfection.
Making sustainable change is possible. Take the time to slow down and recognize your habits and patterns. Pay attention, and be more mindful and aware of your actions and your reason for making them. Slowing down helps you become more effective, which actually helps you reach your goals faster. We all want to see immediate results and get to our end goal as quickly as possible, but creating automatic habits doesn't happen quickly.
Consider this. You don't currently exercise, but you have decided to run a 5K. Sure, you could go out and run it, but it doesn't mean that it is the best thing for your body or for creating lasting change. Take your time, and train your body right to eliminate possible injury so that running becomes second nature. The slower you go in reaching your goal, the more your actions come from a pattern of habit that creates lasting change for the better. By going fast, behaviors are erratic and less likely to stick.
Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 773-1404.
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