January. The word summons images of snow-covered landscapes and cosy nights in or outdoor activities for the more vigorous. For many of us, it can also spark longings for new beginnings.
We set resolutions, make grand plans and feel quite energized with our new goal.
Then February arrives – or Forevuary, as we call it in our house. The darkness of winter may have begun to creep into our psyches and with it a desire to little more than hibernate under a warm blanket.
Staying motivated confounds us more often than not. We sometimes berate ourselves as if this was a personal flaw, but if that were the case, sticking to new routines would not affect so many of us.
In fact, developing new habits is decidedly difficult because the old habit is so entrenched.
According to Psychology Today, when we repeat a behaviour, we create memory that is both mental and physical. As we repeat a pattern, our neurons fire and create new neural pathways in our brains. Once those pathways have been created, it is difficult to adjust.
So, how can we be successful in adopting something new?
First, we should understand that it’s a process. There may be lots of life hacks on the internet, but there are no shortcuts when we are dealing with neuroscience. We should also understand that we can develop routines – something we do regularly – and we can develop habits – something we do without thinking, but that not all things can become habit. Activities like learning an instrument or exercising each day take work. They are not mindless tasks.
According to Tracy Valliers, supervisor of fitness at the YMCA of Eastern Ontario, knowing why you want to achieve something and breaking the activity down into smaller, achievable components are good places to start.
“Knowing why you want to do something can help to keep you motivated when barriers arise, as they will,” Tracy said. “Find something you really want to do rather than something you feel you should do. Then break the new behaviour down into bite-sized pieces that you can tackle one at a time. It also focus on one thing at a time. Don’t try to change everything in your life at once.”
Whatever is on your resolution list this year, becoming healthier by going to a gym, staying up-to-date on your field of work, spending more time on self-care or something else, here are some steps that will help you succeed.
Find your why.
Why do you want to make the change? What will it mean to you if you do? Being able to clearly articulate your “why” will help you to motivate yourself when the going gets tough.
Take small steps.
Think about the pieces that go into your new behaviour. If you want to stay abreast of your industry, set Google alerts and block time in your schedule for reading.
“If working out is your new behaviour, decide if you’re doing it at home or at a gym. Gyms have different cultures, so you’ll want to find one that suits you. At the Y, we welcome people to come for a tour and our trainers can provide a free orientation session so members can learn to use equipment and machines properly,” Tracy explains. “We focus on being supportive.”
Don’t expect perfection.
You will stumble. That’s okay. Do not let days pass before getting back on the horse. One day is expected.
Connect with an existing activity.
If you can, link your new behaviour with something you already do. In that way the existing thing becomes a trigger for the new thing.
Find support & be accountable.
Find a group, friend, family member or someone else to support your efforts. Someone to whom you can share your challenges and achievements who will cheer you on and provide encouragement when you need it. You are also more likely to stick with something if you tell the people in your life about it.
Recognize your successes. Take a moment to be proud of the small things and plan a reward that gives you pleasure.
“It’s important to keep in mind that each day you have the chance to do better. When you show up to do the work, you’ve already won half the battle,” Tracy said. “Take the time to appreciate the small goals; you can't get to your end game without them. Remember, it’s all about progression not perfection!”