By Alyssa Parten |
I grew up in the Deep South, where drinking sweet tea was a staple and as vital to life as water. Every year on New Year’s, once my younger sister and I were in our teen and college years, she and I would vow to cut out all sugar for two weeks. We were a big fan of our mom and granny’s holiday baking, so this was our method of resetting and getting back to healthier habits and choices. However, that sweet tea was our nemesis and the culprit to the demise of our efforts for many years. We were doing well if we made it a week without it, quite frankly.
Breaking habits that have been a constant part of your life (maybe daily or weekly) for a long time is hard! Even with the best of intensions, once the initial excitement of setting goals wears off, it can be extremely difficult to resist caving to old habits. But guess what, this isn’t even your fault! Psychologically, the mind is programmed to automatically repeat what decisions are consistently made, so that it can more optimally focus on solving new or less-frequently occurring events. Take for instance backing your car out of a drive way. You have likely done it so many times that you hardly look around or behind to know exactly how much to turn the steering wheel or when to break before putting it into drive. Another prime example of this process occurred during the week of Christmas, as I was visiting my family. I was in town spending time with my dad when our way back to his house, he pulled into the turning lane for Publix. I asked him why we were going there, because he hadn’t mentioned needing anything. His reply? “I don’t know; I just usually go here on my way home from work.” Once habitual wires are embedded, it can be very hard to break and re-wire them, regardless of whether they assist in your daily life or are part of a behavior will be better for you – in the long term.
So how can you set and keep new goals and resolutions going forward? James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, suggests making beyond simple goals. Ones that are so basic to achieve that there is almost no effort in working on them. He explained in his book that making a 1% difference adds up greatly over time and makes adding to the goal that much easier. In Atomic Habits, Clear shares how one man ultimately wanted to get into better shape by working out, but instead of jumping into it hard immediately and burning out as quickly as he began, he took the atomic approach. To begin his process, he decided that a few days a week he would drive to the gym and park there for a few minutes. Once simply driving to the gym became more automatic, he built onto it by driving to the gym, walking through the doors, and sitting inside for a few minutes. Following this he began to workout for only 10 minutes each visit. This may sound completely absurd to you, but when you are attempting to successfully rewire your mind to make habit changes from ground zero, starting smaller than small may be an optimal way to go about it, because as previously mentioned, 1% effort adds up over time. As you might guess, this route to a lifestyle change stuck for this man and he was able to alter his future and achieve a healthier way of living by very gradually adding to his new habit.
So, instead of rushing this New Year’s goals, why not take the Atomic Habits approach? Start with what you want and begin to break it down further into smaller and smaller parts. Instead of diving head first into the deep end of your goal, start with the smallest amount of effort towards it. Want to run a marathon? Start by wearing your tennis shoes daily. Need to be better about cleaning the house. Sit a broom by the back door. Trying to start your day earlier? Hit snooze one less time or set your alarm for 3 minutes earlier. Many it easy, make it stick.
Happy New Year!
For other health and exercise tips, see more on my Instagram, @ladybeef.athletes
Alyssa Parten is a NSCA and USAPL certified personal trainer and powerlifting coach from Birmingham, Alabama. She received her Bachelors in Exercise and Sport Science from The University of Alabama and is currently pursuing a dual Masters at the University of Concordia Chicago in Human Movement and Strength & Conditioning. Currently, she works in a private practice gym as a personal trainer and strength coach and also owns an online powerlifting coaching business, Ladybeef Inc. Additional certifications include: Precision Nutrition Level 1, TPI Level 1, and Human Movement Specialist. Follow Alyssa on Instagram.