It’s that time of year again.We're looking forward to a bright and shiny new year in 2013. With that brand new year comes the honored tradition of making New Year's resolutions. The problem is that most of us make lofty goals and resolutions that are almost impossible to attain and then we wonder why we have failed just a few weeks into the new year.
Over the past few years as I have fought uncontrolled Rheumatoid Arthritis, I have had to find ways to live my life despite so many physical restrictions. One of my coping mechanisms was to make goals to keep busy and find ways to help around the house, despite my limitations. In the past, my goals, much like New Year's resolutions, were lofty and not based in the reality of my every day capabilities. And by setting my sights so high, I continued to fail at achieving those goals, day after day, week after week.
When I talked to my husband about feeling like a failure, he reminded me that sometimes "baby steps" are the only way to move forward. He suggested making smaller, more attainable goals that were easier to reach so I was more likely to succeed. Instead of trying to clean the entire kitchen, my goal was to either take my plate into the kitchen and rinse it off, or maybe wipe down one counter while I got my juice and yogurt each morning. They were simple steps, but when I was able to do them regularly, we added a new level or small goal to my daily routine so that every week or two I found myself doing a little bit more. If I got sick or flared, we took it back a step and started again when I felt better. Suddenly, instead of feeling like a failure each day, I started to feel like I was a success at managing all of the small things I could do regularly. And that success pushed me to find ways to do more, little by little. It was a brilliant plan and worked so well that it not only help me achieve more personal independence but also helped raise my self esteem.
This same process can be used to help you keep your New Year's Resolutions, especially if you live with a chronic illness like RA! Go ahead and make a lofty goal, but be sure to make a simple, step by step plan of action that helps you achieve that goal as well! I'm going to break down a common resolution into doable steps so you can see how the process works.
Goal: Lose 50 pounds.
Losing weight takes time, so the first thing you should do is add a "by" date to that goal. Let's change the goal to "Lose 50 pounds by the end of the year". That's a reasonable goal of about one pound a week. For most people dieting doesn't work well long term. The key to losing weight and keeping it off is to make healthy life style changes that will last and help keep the weight off. So your first step is to make small goals for your long term plan. For example, your first goal may be to cut out all sugary drinks from your diet. Those calories add up and removing them is a great first step. Once you are successful with no sugary drinks, your next step might be to cut your portion size in half at every meal. Use a dessert plate instead of a dinner plate to trick your mind into thinking you have plenty of food on the plate. Make yourself a deal that if you're still starving an hour after you finish eating you can have a small snack. You don't have to change what you eat, just start by eating less overall. Many times, when the hour is up you'll find you're full enough to not need any snack. Once you've managed to cut your portions down, you may want to try adding in healthier foods and reducing the less healthier ones. Start small. Opt for grilled chicken instead of fried, or skip the calorie packed desert for a small pudding cup or fresh fruit. Try to stock your house with healthier food options to make your choices easier. If you need a treat to satisfy a craving, go ahead and have it, just try to compensate for it by adjusting the rest of the day’s food choices.
Can you see how taking "baby steps" towards your goal can help you feel more successful each time you make a change? It's that feeling of constant success that will ultimately keep working until you reach that goal.
Making New Year's Resolutions themselves is easy, but following through can be the hardest part, especially if you don't have a good plan to go with it. If you're serious about making goals this year, whether they be for health or for fun, be sure to make a plan of action to go with it. Break it down into the smallest "baby steps" that you need to feel comfortable with. If a step scares you or hurts too much, find something smaller to take its place and work your way up little by little. If you're a creative type, you may want to make an entire wall calendar filled with goals and check boxes, fun graphics or inspirational quotes, so that you can congratulate yourself and see your achievements along the way. Success keep us moving forward and feeling good about ourselves, even in the smallest steps!
Good luck and may 2013 bring us all a year of health, wealth and happiness!
Carrie Beth Brown is the author of the blog Dancing in the Rain.