As 2012 starts, many of us wisely open up to making some positive changes in 2012. Most of those changes have to do with living a zippier, zestier lifestyle: "I want to start exercising every day!" "I'm going to lose 20 pounds by Valentine's Day!" "I want to drink more water ... less alcohol ... start eating breakfast ... bicycle to work ... go to yoga twice a week." It's your call, your choice, your personal vision of what your best self looks like.
Here's the New Year's nail-biter: If you dream it, can you do it? You know me, optimism is my middle name. I say yes! Like plants to the light, we're all capable of turning our lives around and making smarter choices. Statistically, I must tell you, the odds are against it. Backsliding is to behavior change what slicing is to golf. Experts tell us that most people will fail to keep their New Year's resolutions within the first three months.
But here's the good news — you are not most people. You are uniquely you, hard-wired to change your life in profound ways IF and WHEN you are ready. Genuine and long-lasting lifestyle change isn't easy, but it is possible. You must believe that — really! truly! deeply! — because the more you believe you can do something, the more likely you will do it. That relationship between belief and action is called self-efficacy, a key concept that enables you to defy the odds and make New Year's resolutions that last a lifetime. Here are some more winning strategies:
— LEARN ABOUT CHANGE. To make change happen in your life, it helps to understand how self-change happens. For that, please turn to more than 25 years of research by Dr. James Prochaska and colleagues, authors of the classic book "Changing for Good," an excellent guide to help you move from not thinking about change to thinking about it, to planning for it, to doing it, to maintaining the change for a lifetime. Prochaska's major point is if you're not ready for change, it won't happen. But when you are ready, it can. Obstacles are overcome and single-minded determination kicks in. How do you know if you're ready? Keep reading.
— GO INSIDE. You can't lose weight, start exercising or cut out fries and cookies just because your wife wants you to or your doctor warns you to. You need to dig deep and decide for yourself: Do I really want to change? What are the pros? What are the cons? Write it down. Think it through. Consider working with a coach trained in Prochaska's Transtheoretical Model (TTM). When your pros outweigh your cons, you're ready for the next step: identifying the challenges involved and coming up with specific strategies to overcome them. You can't rush through this self-discovery phase. Or fake it. Well, you can ... but your change will last as long as a bad pedicure.
— SET REALISTIC GOALS. Setting unrealistic goals — "I'll lose 20 pounds by Valentine's Day!" — sets you up for failure. Can you starve yourself? Sure. But it's dumb and teaches you nothing about healthy eating. Scale down your 2012 goals to bite-size, doable challenges — a pound or two a week, three 30-minute walks instead of six — so you can feel successful on a weekly basis. Small victories boost your confidence and motivate you to stay on track.
— BE SPECIFIC. Or nothing will change. Don't vaguely tell yourself to cut down on fat, for instance. Decide on the details: remove skin from your chicken, substitute jelly for butter on your whole-grain toast, switch your morning doughnut for a bowl of high-fiber flakes. If it's exercise you want more of, be specific about what you'll do and when. Schedule workouts on your calendar. Get it? Details!
— GIVE IT TIME. Some days, the best part of your workout is simply showing up. Accept that. New habits take time. Be patient. When you feel yourself slipping and falling — and you will! — get back up and begin again. Don't beat yourself up. Every day is a new beginning. That's the basis of lifelong success.
Who has an "I Made my New Year Resolution Come True" success story to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! READY, SET, GO AND DO.
"People don't resist change. They resist being changed." — Peter Senge
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.