This is the time of year where many folks start gathering up their New Year’s resolutions. We start putting together the list that will cure all our ills and bad habits. We decide it’s time to turn over a new leaf. Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking, get out of debt. Pick your leaf. You might be ready to tear up that leaf by the second week of February. You’ll be sore from that new exercise regime, or blow $100 on that new Thai restaurant, or break out the plastic again. Why can’t we stick to the same leaf…new or otherwise?
There is a lot of scientific evidence that is available now to help show you the way. If you really think it through and set up a plan, you can succeed. There are ways to anticipate the self sabotage. To be one step ahead of yourself and anticipate a few faltering steps. If you understand your willpower and can short circuit your “auto-pilot”, there is hope that you can achieve your greatest desires. You can succeed in turning over that leaf.
Here are a few steps:
1. More. It is much easier to get behind the concept of more versus less. Drink more water versus drink less soda. Exercise more versus eat less. It is so much easier to say, “Yeah, I ran more miles this week than last.” But how do you know if you ate less, without meticulous logging of every calorie? Even in the during performance reviews, it’s so much easier to ask someone to do more of something than less. Frame your goal as something you want to do more of.
2. Identity. Kelly McGonigal in her book “The Willpower Instinct” calls this your “Want Power”. Think about how you want to identify with yourself. It’s not that you want to save more as much as you want to see yourself as a “financially stable” person. So when you make choices, you see yourself in the condition you are aspiring to. So, if you identify with being a long distance runner, you aren’t likely to stop at McDonalds.
3. Plan B. Make sure you have a back up plan when hunger, stress and fatigue kick in. These will happen. Maybe not the first day, but at some point, you will be standing in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly, a half hour late for your Zumba class, starving to death and that York/Reeses/Milky Way/(fill in your favorite candy) will be calling your name. There are times when making a good choice will be impossible. Your willpower is at its brink. Pick the “regular size” versus the “king size” bar; choose gum or a bottle of water. Pick a new default when your back is against the wall.
4. Schedule. I’ve been a Franklin Covey Facilitator for several years. One of the principles that has always been esposed in their “Focus” and “7 Habits ” courses is to schedule the big rocks. The big rocks are the important goals in your life. Whether it is training for a marathon, a happier marriage or being financially stable, if you schedule time in advance, you are much likelier to actually show up. So plan a date with your partner, schedule ten miles for Saturday morning or spend Sunday afternoon working on your business plan. Scheduling it will ensure that it happens.
5. Imagine temptation. Envision your worst case scenario. What bump in the road is likely to show up in the first week or so? Birthday cake at work during your first week of your fitness plan: imagine yourself emailing that you have a conflicting meeting and turn it down. You’re running late to your child’s concert and the only choice is fast food: imagine yourself ordering a salad and bottle of water. Visualizing “the higher path” will help you actually follow through.
6. Compassion. Forgiving yourself for any slip ups is critical. Assume before you start that you will. Because you will. There are vacations, snowstorms, fires to put out and sick babysitters. Showing yourself compassion is critical. If you know that you can forgive yourself, you are much more likely to be successful in the long term. Take care of your inner dictator.
All these steps involve taking the long view. Pick the leaf that is most important (don’t pick a whole pile) and pull your full attention to it. Imagine your future self. Make decisions based on their best interest. When you don’t–and there will be times when you don’t–practice forgiveness. When you are successful with the first leaf, there will be will be others to take on.