Small habits for big changes

New Year’s celebrations are rife with resolutions — drink more, drink less, become a vegetarian, a triathlete, a saint, a sinner. Creating new habits is notoriously difficult and, judging by the self-help section at the bookstore, there is no shortage of gurus out there offering advice, but the secret to creating a new habit is to start small (and reasonable) and add it on to something you’re already doing.

You can’t run your first marathon until you’ve jogged around the block a few times. Having been in the fitness industry for years, what I’ve found is that grandiose, life-altering habits tend to fall by the wayside within a few weeks. Creating new, enduring habits happens when small changes are implemented in strategic ways. For example, if you think you should go to the gym more often, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot to announce that you’ll be hitting the gym five days a week. If your goal is to be more active, think about purchasing a pedometer to track the number of steps you take throughout the day, set small goals each week increasing the number of daily steps and you’ll be walking five miles by Valentines Day.

Besides making your goals reasonable, they should be attached to things that you are already doing. To eat healthier, don’t become an overnight vegan. Instead, think about adding one more fruit or vegetable to every meal or if you’re addicted to bacon every morning switch to Canadian bacon (a fraction of the fat and calories).

If you’re tracking the number of steps you take in a day, then when you bring in your mail or newspaper, walk to the end of the block and back. When you’re heading to the brewery for lunch, park in the Von’s shopping center and walk from there. These new habits will become part of your day and, eventually, form the pathway to your grander goal.

As you go about the business of creating these new habits, forgive yourself when there are bumps in the road. Those who are most successful at meeting long-term goals are the ones who keep moving forward even after a day or two of moving backward. Vacations, parties, and houseguests are notorious habit derailers; just remember that your goals are not just about today or tomorrow, they dictate the direction of your life.