Mindfully Resolute (how to make goals stick)

It's 6:03am. Dark as night outside. And icy cold. I've been jostled from my sleep by the sounds of a waking babe waaaaaahing his presence known, demanding milk and a fresh diaper. I roll over and hope that my better half will stumble out of bed to serve his highness. 

After seven minutes, he still hasn't stirred (likely also secretly awake and hoping his better half will swoop in and feed the baby chick). I peel off our three layers of covers and shiver as my toes feel the frosty morning air. For a second, I consider jumping back in under the down comforter to snuggle until I can't take the screaming anymore. Good thing my better instincts take over.  I shuffle with one eye open into the kitchen.

When I was pregnant (and researching the bazillion things you must know/do/never do when you become a parent), I remember reading about how one day I'd be able to change a diaper with my eyes closed or make a bottle in my sleep. I pondered, but doubted they literally meant that. After thirteen months of caring for this little (and not-so-little) babe, I can say that it wasn't just an analogy they were giving. I'm fairly confident I could make a bottle in my sleep.

Sometimes my husband and I joke how we've become those parents - you know, the frazzled ones who shower once a week, wear their pajamas to the grocery store and forget to brush their hair. Though we're not like that all the time, it's true that because we spend so much time and energy (and money!) taking care of our little bear, when it comes to caring about ourselves (like we used to!) we often opt for the less effort taking route.
The past couple of months, I've become more mindful about my overall wellbeing. 

What I put into my body. What I do with my body. How I perceive my body. How I deal with stress. How to be more mindful and focus on healing and nourishing over being lazy, shaming and giving into guilt. 

Perhaps it's the shift in years or the fact that I often feel tired and just not great overall. Or that I'm inching my way up the thirties year by year (and my body feels it). 

I've always been resistant to making resolutions at the start of a new year. I always felt they were pointless because who really sticks to those the whole year, anyway? Let's be honest, how many people can stick to them through February! 
Last night I went to yoga for the first time in probably a month. Between sickness and teething and busy schedules (and exhaustion!) I just haven't gone. But if there's one thing I know, it's that yoga always helps me feel better. Mentally and physically. It was late and I was tired, but I knew that loving myself meant pushing myself to go.

On the drive to my yoga studio I listened to this episode of Hidden Brain by NPR, which talks about resolutions. What I learned was really quite interesting.

In this episode, they talk about the psychology behind resolutions - not the what or the how, but the why. 
Why do we bother to make new years' resolutions (if we usually tend to break them)? Why do we fail to stick to them?

Here's what they concluded:

Making resolutions is a form of mental accounting.  

One study found that Google searches for the word diet go up dramatically not only at the start of a new year, but also at the start of a new month or a new week, birthdays and federal holidays. They seem to serve as temporal landmarks.
People tend to look down on their past selves compared to who they are now. 

The example they gave for this was, "I used to be a chump but now i'm a champ" mindset (ha! so true!), whereby our resolutions serve as a marker to distinguish between our two selves.  This, however, immediately sets us up for failure because it's a skewed perspective of true selves, as we are now. Who we want to be versus who we actually are sets unrealistic expectations of ourselves. This, they concluded, is what sets us up to not follow through.

How many times has this happened, right? We get excited and make all these lofty goals, resolute to be the new and improved me this year! And then come January 17th, we've already eaten way too many donuts and haven't done yoga in a week. Insert facepalm.

This is why, when everyone is jotting down their lists and talking new year's resolutions, I usually tend to cringe and tell them my overall theme for the year (I'm focusing on being more joyful this year), which is generally something I know is tangible to actually do.
Thankfully, they also discussed a few things that just may be able to help us keep at least some of those goals we all envision our new and improved future selves doing. :)

     1. Be realistic.
It helps to acknowledge our downfalls (i.e. that we are still that same chump), and to set realistic expectations in our goals.

They also suggested making shorter term goals (i.e. each month lose one pound), versus one long-term goal (lose twelve pounds this year). This allows us to reassess both ourselves and our goals as we inch along,  (hopefully) making incremental improvements.

When goals are too grand, they can be overwhelming. Think about it. If your favorite charity explains their goal of trying to raise a million dollars this year, or a goal of trying raise $85,000 this month, which sounds less daunting? The smaller, shorter term goal. It seems more attainable, even though they are essentially one and the same.

When we do this with our goals and resolutions, they become attainable. The chump (who hasn't jogged in forever) in us probably doesn't believe she can run a marathon. That's for champs. What she's more likely to believe, however, is that she can probably jog a mile with intervals of walking. That's doable. So, what if you add one mile every week? Well there's 52 weeks in a year, so you do the math. :)

Short term goal for each month: jog 4 more miles than last month. Short term goal for each week: Jog one more mile than last week. This is exactly why all those Couch-to 5/10K/Marathon programs work. They gradually get people going, with realistically achievable short term goals.

I can say from my own experience that it actually works. I did a 10k when I lived in Philly and then several years later I did a half marathon when I lived in Singapore, and both times I used this method. All I had to do was gradually increase my distance each night.

Incorporating this type of thinking into more areas of my life could be so helpful!

     2. Distance your self talk.
The second thing they found about having success with goals is related to how we perceive and talk to ourselves, specifically using second (your own name) or third (you) person pronouns over first (I, me) person.

Similar to mindfulness and meditation, self-distancing and observing ourselves from a sort of outsider perspective helps give us awareness we wouldn't otherwise have. And this, they say, helps us to have a bit more control over how we think and behave.

I do always feel more balanced and aware after an hour on the yoga mat, or after an hour of personal meditation and journaling.

    3. Eliminate the bad before adopting the good.
Eliminating the bad before adding in the good means that it's not enough to adopt healthy behaviors. We have also to leave the unhealthy behaviors behind. 

One example they gave was a study that followed people who had decided to lose weight in the new year but couldn't. They tracked their food purchases and compared them to what they bought before they began the diet. 

What they was this: people are in fact buying more healthy food, but they are also still buying the same about of unhealthy food! As a result they weren't losing weight, and they failed to reach their goals. 

I totally agree with this one! I've always used the analogy of an empty cup or bowl. Left just sitting empty, it will always fill with dust and dirt. Fill it with water, and there's no room left inside for anything else. :) 

    4. Intrinsic motivation wins.
Consider why we are going after our goals. Do our reasons stem from internal or external motives, or is it a mix of the two? Does it matter, in terms of how successful we can be at succeeding in our goals?

It does, and in fact (as many would likely guess) internal motives are best. However, what also matters is whether or not there are also external motives

When they looked at a study of West Point cadets over nine years, they found that those whose motives were purely intrinsic did considerably better than those who were motivated either by either external motives or a combination of the two. Whenever external motives were in the picture, performance declined (even if there are still some intrinsic motivations).

This makes sense, and also feel somewhat comforting. To know that all that really matters in this is my own heart and deep down desire. I don't have to look around and think about all these other factors. This keeps it simple, and I love that. 

    5. Make a pre commitment with an unpleasant consequence.
If you want to stick to something, another trick you can try is to create an unpleasant consequence if you fail.

Here's an example they gave: Smokers who want to quit put money into an account. At the start of their goal, they choose an organization for the money to be donated if they smoke. 

The key in this working as a great motivator? The organization should benefit something the person detests, such as a democrat who would have to give his money to Donald Trump's presidential campaign if he fails. 

Smart, right? This one made me laugh out loud! I'd have to think about what I'd detest giving my money to. :) 

My goal for February is to go to yoga twice a week. My inner self wants to believe I'm the champ who can go three or four times each week. Ha. When I'm realistic, though, about where I'm at now, what my circumstances are now, I know that twice is more realistic. If I go more than that, great! And I can always push myself harder once I've reached that goal. 

Here's to hoping, anyway. I'll let you know how it goes. :) 

Did you make any resolutions at the start of the new year? How are they going so far? Is it something you do every year? Do you look forward to it? I'd love to hear, if you'd like to share. 


Photos are from a visit we took to this farm last fall.  

Grace Kim

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