It’s hard to believe we are almost two full months into 2018, and it’s time to get a pulse on how well we have been doing at keeping our new year resolutions. It shouldn’t really take the start of a new year to commit to new goals and make positive changes in your life. But there’s nothing quite like a new year that gives you the same sense of a fresh start.
I have always been really into making new years resolutions, but by the summer, I have already forgotten what they were. This year, I decided to make resolutions that were things I have already been doing that just needed some behavioral tweaking to help me keep my resolutions throughout the year. I’ll share some of these strategies in case you have made similar commitments that you’d like to keep over the long term.
RESOLUTION 1: IMPROVE MY MORNING ROUTINE.
Have you ever noticed that you were waking up already stressed about something that happened the day before? Have you felt that it was difficult to motivate to get out of bed thinking about everything you have to do that day? One of the observations I have recently made is that my mornings always felt so rushed. In the past, I usually set my alarm for the latest possible time I could get away with (7:00), and as soon as I’m awake, I start thinking about all of the things I need for the day—Do I have important meetings I need to dress up for? Did I remember my thumb drive for that talk I’m presenting? Am I going to the gym after work or am I meeting a friend? Remember to pack a snack for the day! I am lucky to have left the house with breakfast in my belly and being at my desk at work at a reasonable time.
Improving your morning routine is such a great new years resolution because it only takes a couple of small changes but can have such long-lasting effects on the rest of your day. I loved Daniela Dayoub’s post “Greet the Day to Make it Great” from December 18 because there are so many lovely nuggets of wisdom in there. Her tips about doing some simple stretches, even before getting out of bed, really help channel all of this mental energy towards just doing one thing at a time and being present focused.
I moved up my alarm to 6:45 to have some time for this transition between lying down and standing up. The biggest difference is that I have also started packing up my work bag the night before so there’s nothing else to do or think about in the morning except to take my time waking up and being ready to go. If you’ve noticed you’re getting weighed down in the morning, these are probably some strategies you’ve already tried, so it’s worth revisiting and tweaking them to streamline only the ones that work.
RESOLUTION 2: MIX UP MY WORKOUTS.
Sticking to fitness goals is always something people struggle with maintaining for the whole year. It’s an ongoing challenge to mix up your fitness routine to keep things interesting and make you motivated to work out. This is the reason why I rely mainly on group fitness—the spinning, body pump, press and conditioning classes at my gym are all awesome! But there are so many times when my work schedule just doesn’t let me make it a class, and even if there isn’t a conflict, when the sun goes down around 4pm during Boston winters, getting out of work at 7pm feels like you should going to bed, not working out!
Again, with your fitness routine just like with your morning routine, you probably already have an idea of how much you are doing and how much you would like to be doing or what you would like to improve. So you don’t necessarily need to create a new goal here—again, it might just need some tweaking. Something I wanted to focus on more this year was to enhance the enjoyment factor during my workouts to improve my motivation. It’s important to have positive experiences in anything you are trying to do more of—whether it’s working out, eating better, reading more. I played some tennis over the holidays when I was visiting Florida and had so much fun. When I returned, my husband and I found a court that we can easily reserve in the city so we can play on weekends as an alternative to the gym.
Another generally good behavioral principle for maintaining a feasible, long-term fitness routine is to chain together small behaviors to help you make it to the gym. For example, make it a habit to pack a gym bag for work and go either before or after work (so you don’t have to come home first), or try going to bed in your gym clothes and working out first thing in the morning.
RESOLUTION 3: READING OUTSIDE OF MY FIELD.
In your professional work, do you find yourself getting so specialized that you sometimes lose some outside perspective? I have often observed how many academics only read within their area, and so over the course of their career, they sometimes become more and more silo-ed. This is why I have always been drawn to theories and methods in neighboring fields outside of psychology, such as endocrinology and neuroscience.
Last year, I freshened up my Twitter account and decided to follow people in other fields in order to learn more about what’s happening in genetics, economics, and neuroscience. What’s beautiful about this is that I have learned about other important research findings quickly. It’s also easy to identify influencers on Twitter who are making an impact in their field. An added bonus is that I have learned how to promote my own research (in 280 characters or less), which helps me to practice distilling my message and hone my communication skills!
Another strategy that has been helpful for reading outside my field has been to borrow audio books from the Boston Public Library. They are free, get uploaded directly to my phone, and are great to listen to while walking to work or during other commutes. Last year, I noticed how much I was running around between buildings (and my Uber year review reminded me of this!) so something to listen to during this down time has been a huge benefit. This is a particularly effective way to keep a new years resolution long-term because your commute is something you encounter on a daily basis.
To sum it all up, when starting fresh this year, you may not need to create new lofty goals when it comes to improving your morning routine, your health and fitness, and sharpening your brain. You may already have a sense of the small changes you’d like to make on a daily basis, and they might just need some tweaking! I hope some of the strategies I’ve shared will invigorate you to make some lasting change for the rest of the year.
By Angela Fang, Ph.D. - Expert Psychologist