Many of us mark the beginning of the new year as a time for big life change. We plan to exercise more, eat healthier, stress less, save more, spend less, etc. Those are certainly great changes to incorporate, but do we need to wait until January every year to make them?
Do we throw in the towel if we’ve failed before the month – or the week – is even over?
The answer to both of those questions is an emphatic no. I’ve come across some good ideas to help us be successful that I will share, but maybe there are some things we need to consider first. Life is made up of moments and choices. Every moment or choice doesn’t have to be a life altering one, but each is an opportunity. An opportunity to slow down or keep a frantic pace, forgive or resent, be grateful or wish for more, stay calm or spew angry words, have faith or worry, bike to errands or drive, walk after dinner or park in front of the TV, use the phone to catchup with a friend or spend hours on games or social media.
Little moments and choices help us develop our habits – for the better or the worse.
Every time we choose biking for errands instead of driving those few miles, we enjoy health benefits. When we choose calm in a frustrating situation, we reduce our stress. When we take a walk after dinner with a friend or loved one instead of watching TV, we build a relationship and burn calories. When we show courtesy to someone biking or jogging on the roads we share, we promote safety and everyone’s well-being.
One problem I have with New Year’s resolutions is that we seem to believe they need to be big things, or a stark change from what we’ve done before. I’ve read that between 54% and 87% of New Year’s resolutions have gone down the drain by February 1.
I’m not saying we should throw out resolutions entirely, but I believe we need to change our thinking about them. Building on smaller changes we’ve been making and setting short term goals that encourage gradual change are more likely to help us stay on a positive path. Giving ourselves grace by allowing a reasonable margin for error can prevent us from completely throwing in the towel when our resolve wanes.
The motivation for our goals is a big indicator of our success. When we set a goal that motivates us, as opposed to trying to please someone else, it is easier to stay focused on the reward. For example, if we try to lose weight to please a significant other, as it gets more difficult, we may resent the goal (or the person we are aiming to please). If losing weight holds value for us personally, we are more likely to keep making choices that lead to success.
Coming up with enjoyable, or at least not dreadful, ways to accomplish our goal will also help us see it through. Sticking with the example of losing weight, doing things like recruiting a friend or neighbor to walk or bike with, signing up for cooking classes that focus on delicious and nutritious recipes, starting a friendly competition among friends, and finding new hobbies that promote being active help too.
Just like a lengthy to-do list can be overwhelming for even the most die-hard overachiever, coming up with a laundry list of resolutions is a sure way to achieve none of them. Committing to two or three changes we want to make for the right reasons have a much greater chance of success.
As we welcome 2019, let’s embrace each moment and choice as we make this our best year yet! Please visit www.naplespathways.org to learn how we are working to make Naples safer and more enjoyable for biking, running and walking.
Michelle Avola is the Executive Director of Naples Pathways Coalition (NPC), a non-profit organization that works to create safe, bikeable, walkable communities in Collier County.