By James Beckerman, MD, FACC
Happy New Year! And thanks to everyone for helping make 2011 so educational and inspiring in the WebMD Heart Disease Community. All of your posts, comments and insights are appreciated by everyone, especially me. I also value your feedback here on The Heart Beat blog, where I look forward to your posts and would love your input about interesting topics you would like me to cover in 2012.
As we embark on a new year, the Internet is full of commentary about resolutions and ideas about finally doing all those things that we resolve to accomplish each January. With publication of The Flex Diet earlier this year, I am often asked how I think about motivation — and resolutions in particular. I have recently become fascinated with some concepts explored by Tom Connellan in his book The 1% Solution for Work and Life. He believes that we have been approaching resolutions the wrong way. And I think he might be right.
What’s the purpose of a resolution, anyway? Most of us use resolutions to motivate ourselves to change our behaviors. But we know that about 25% of us will give up our resolutions a week from now, and only 10% of us will be sticking with our 2012 resolutions this time next year. So a skeptic might conclude that resolutions as motivators don’t really seem to stick.
So what’s the solution? Remember that while motivation in general can lead to accomplishments, it’s also the case that accomplishments themselves are actually great motivators. When people lose the first five pounds, they feel more excited about the next ten. When you run across the finish line, you want to sign up for the next race. When we experience success, we remember how good it feels. So the first idea is to use your accomplishments, no matter how small, to provide momentum along your journey, rather than just focusing on the big goal.
That’s not say that big goals aren’t good to have. I ran a marathon back in October, and that goal motivated me to run throughout the year (and even this morning!). But we can’t forget that big goals are made up of small stages and many small steps, both literally and figuratively. Rather than set yourself up for disappointment by focusing on how far you are from your big-picture goals, set yourself up to succeed by zeroing in on all the small steps and mini-accomplishments along the way. Going running one day a week is a success if you weren’t running at all. But it’s a failure if you only think about the larger goal of exercising every day. Think big, start small, and set yourself up to succeed.
Finally, let’s be real with ourselves. Change isn’t fun. Even positive change. It’s not fun to wake up an hour earlier to go for a run. It’s not fun to focus on aspects of your life that you would sometimes prefer to be mindless. It’s not fun (for me!) to order vegetables instead of fries on the side. But something interesting happens as you start making conscious changes. Better habits slowly get replaced. Conscious decisions become less conscious. Mindfulness turns into newer, healthier habits. And discomfort becomes more comfortable — and sometimes even fun. When you are at the starting line, prepare yourself for what lies ahead and don’t kid yourself that it will be effortless or that you can somehow beat the system by making positive change a completely positive experience. Many of us expect things to be easy, and we fail when we are reminded that they aren’t. Expect things to be challenging, but make this year different by embracing the challenge and recognizing that eventually, you can create new habits and a healthier lifestyle.
So there you have it. Use your accomplishments rather than lofty resolutions to motivate you. Set yourself up to succeed by thinking big, but focusing on smaller steps. And embrace change for what it really is: challenging, but exciting too.
Thanks again for being here — and have a happy, healthy 2012!