You’ve been there, right? Resolved that in the new year, you would do x—only to have your good intentions evaporate into daily reality before the end of January. Is there a better way?
The secret to making changes in your life—at New Year’s or anytime—is moving toward what makes you feel happy, healthy, and energized. That means:
- Picking the right goal, and
- Noticing the little ways you feel better as you move toward it.
Choose a goal that means something to you personally, rather than something you “should” do.
If you don’t know what that goal is, take some time to figure out. (You can make changes any time; it doesn’t have to be January.) Start to pay attention (take notes, even) to times when you feel particularly energized, satisfied, and calm. Not the rush of energy you get from a thrill like a roller coaster, but the “I feel enthusiastic” kind of energy you get from doing something that feeds your spirit.
That’s the sort of energy that will guide you to your best life. Do more of those things and less of things that leave you feeling drained or dissatisfied.
Notice the good, small feelings. Many of the habits people want to change involve things that feel good in the short term (like eating junk food or spending hours on social media) but leave you feeling sort of yucky afterward.
The things most of us want to do more of—exercising, eating well, building a financial cushion, having a pleasant home—aren’t particularly fun or exciting in the moment but leave you feeling better afterward.
So the secret is to pay attention not to the doughnut you didn’t eat, but to the healthy way your body feels when you eat wholesome food that agrees with you. You might notice the energy crash that comes when the doughnut’s sugar high wears off, versus the energy you feel all morning after a high-fiber, nutrient-rich breakfast.
Depending on what you’d like to improve in your life, start to pay attention to positive, calm feelings from things like:
- Seeing your bank account inch up (or your credit card debt coming down)
- Feeling stronger or not getting out of breath as often
- Being calmer because the counters are clear or the laundry is under control
- Having your digestive system running smoothly
- Reading a physical book or magazine rather than something on a screen
- Feeling connected after device-free time spent really talking to a friend or loved one
- Waking up rested and refreshed because you actually got 8 hours’ sleep
- Taking the next, small step toward getting a better job
These positives may be less obvious than the immediate gain of doing the old, habitual thing—but they’re important. They’re also cumulative. Once you get the ball rolling in a healthy direction and notice the good-feeling aspects of that, you’ll want to do more of the things that make you feel good.
It may help to keep a journal about your progress or find a resolution buddy, someone you touch base with regularly (maybe weekly) about how you each are doing with your goals. Don’t focus on the things you’ve done (or, worse, on the things you haven’t done). Instead, write or talk about those small feelings of health, competence, satisfaction, peace—the incremental elements that remind you that you’re moving steadily toward your goals.