by Marsha Rakestraw
Many of us look to the flip of the calendar as a way to start fresh and actually accomplish those same goals and intentions that we’ve been transferring from planner to planner year after year.
But, as countless news stories confirm for us, many of those good intentions that stoke our commitment to positive change fizzle out after a few weeks.
We want a better life for ourselves and a better world for all, but actually following through can be a true challenge. We have all those ingrained habits and mindsets to deal with.
How to start? Use these strategies to help you.
1. Find the bright spots.
One of the techniques I love from the book Switch by brothers Chip and Dan Heath is the concept of the “bright spot.”
It stems from solutions-focused therapy, and the gist is this: In relation to your goal, problem, challenge, etc., ask yourself, “What’s working right now, and how can we do more of it?”
So, if your goal is to practice compassionate communication with people with whom you disagree, but you find yourself reacting negatively more than you’d like, you can start by looking at what happens when you are successfully able to communicate compassionately: What do you notice? What are the conditions in those situations? What’s happening in the moment when you’re successful? and find ways to replicate that.
2. Make it as easy as possible.
Don’t let anyone kid you that change isn’t challenging.
We plow comfortable, familiar furrows of habits that become deep and secure, and it can be difficult and uncomfortable to climb out of them to create new habits; so it’s important to make it as easy as possible to establish the habit or create the change you want.
For example, I know how important exercise is to my overall health, but there always seems to be something else clamoring for my attention.
So, instead of continuing to fail at carving out a larger chunk of my day to exercise, I’m starting with small moments of exercise and working up. And, to make that as easy as possible, I’ve given myself some help.
I’ve added an extension to my web browser that reminds me every 60 minutes to get up out of my chair and move around. My kettlebell and dumbbells are right next to my office chair, so that I can grab them (or even just do some lunges to my bedroom and back).
My husband made a plank that fits across our treadmill arms, so that I can walk (very slowly) and work at the same time, for up to an hour or so at a time.
I have a chin up bar on my office door frame, and every time I come out of the bathroom, I do something to strengthen my shoulders or abs.
I play a song from my playlist and run up and down the stairs for the duration of the song.
And so on.
I’ve found that providing myself with these cues and in-my-face tools has helped me to establish more regular habits that will only continue to grow and improve.
3. Make your intentions visible.
If only you know inside your head what your goals are, it’s easy to let the day-to-day get in the way.
Find ways to make your goals visible, whether it’s a giant collage on your bedroom wall, a mind map, checklists, or whatever tools work for you.
My husband and I have several post it notes with reminders and inspiring phrases on our bathroom mirror, so that we see them several times a day (including first thing in the morning and last thing at night).
I’ve found that if I have a visual reminder of my exercise goal near me while I’m working (even if it’s just the cover of an exercise DVD), I’m much more likely to exercise more that day.
Put your bike helmet right by the door. Buy a plant-based cookbook and keep it visible. Keep a reusable mug with your work stuff.
Use those visual cues to help you remember (and honor) your intentions.
4. Do your homework.
Our best plans for success can crash right away when we don’t have the information we need to succeed; so it’s important that we do our homework.
Let’s say we want to start using less single-use plastic. We need to know what our alternatives are and how to find and use them.
If we want to stop relying on our car to get us to work, we can research which alternative methods will work best. Is public transit an option? Where are the nearest stops? How long does it take? Does it fit with my work schedule? Can I do part of the commute with my bike or by walking? What about those car-sharing options or carpooling?
Set yourself up for success by finding out what you need to be able to make the changes you want.
5. Be flexible and creative.
One pitfall that can block our way to success is “failure.”
We try something; it doesn’t work; we give up. But failure is actually a great learning tool and just another way to say “Let’s try something else; let’s think outside the box.”
Remember my challenge with exercise? I’ve failed countless times. But I know how important to me a healthy body is, so I keep experimenting — I strive to remain flexible and creative, and now I’ve found some techniques that are working.
Perhaps you’ve been wanting to eat more whole, plant-based foods, but your efforts to cook them on your own have repeatedly “failed.” How about taking a veg cooking class, or bartering skills you have for some cooking lessons from someone who’s a plant-based pro, or starting a support group of friends and learning together?
6. Capitalize on support and peer pressure.
Much of our culture in the US is infused with the larger-than-life personification of rugged individualism and bootstraps, but the truth is that we don’t succeed in a vacuum; we rely on others for help.
To succeed with your intentions, surround yourself with a web of supporters, so that they can offer advice, encouragement, feedback, and incentive.
Contact a small group of your friends, colleagues, or acquaintances (whether in-person or virtual) who share your interests, tell them what you want, and ask for their help. Be specific about your needs and goals and what you’d like their role to be, so that everyone is clear.
Be sure also to use the tool of positive peer pressure to help you.
Make your intentions public to your friends and family, so that others can help hold you accountable. And, use the peer pressure of a buddy.
If you want to volunteer more, for example, find a friend who shares that passion and set a regular date to do so. You’re less likely to back out if someone else is relying on you.
There are a lot of strategies — large and small — that we can use to help us narrow that gap between who we are and who we want to be … and how we want our world to be. It’s useful to experiment with what works for us and what doesn’t.
The most important thing is to just start. And then keep going!