Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Give Up Gummy Bears Without Making Yourself Miserable

No, seriously, do not vow to completely give up cupcakes for the rest of your life.

You already know that I'm not making any New Year's resolutions this year. But maybe you're making some. They're irresistible sometimes; most of us love the idea of a clean slate, a fresh start. And yet--falling off the wagon is so common, and so disappointing. So....how can you maximize your chances of success this year, even as a busy mom with a lot of responsibilities and direct access to Goldfish crackers and gummy bears?

Back when I operated my psychotherapy practice, I spent my days helping clients with behavior change. Whether it was becoming more active to fight depression, resisting the urge to binge and purge during treatment for bulimia, or facing a feared object to overcome a phobia, my clients' issues ultimately boiled down to changing their behavior. Making new choices. Living differently. And there were certain principles I used with those clients, designed to encourage success.

If you're making any resolutions this year, try thinking about these ideas. This could be your most successful year yet! You're stronger than those gummy bears.

  • First, drop the word "resolutions," with all its loaded, can't-do-it associations, and replace it with "decisions." Decisions can be made any day, not just on New Year's, and can always be changed from "bad" to "good." Made a poor decision and ate six Oreos in spite of your weight-loss goal? Make a better one the very next moment by resisting the urge to continue down the path to sugar-overload and, instead, going for a walk or drinking a giant glass of water.
  • Pick one at a time. On January 1, it can be exciting and tempting to rehaul your entire existence and tackle every bad habit you have. You're motivated! You're fired up! But I guarantee that if you vow to improve ten--or even five--areas of your life all at once, you'll fall off the wagon. You're not a robot! Choose one behavior you want to change and work on that. When you've reached, or at least made substantial progress on, that goal, take on a new one.
  • Baby steps, people. No, your pro-health decision should not be "lose 20 lbs. by Valentine's Day" or "Swear off all junk food, forever and ever." Most of us find giant leaps much harder than small steps followed by more small steps. Break down your goal into segments, like "Lose 1 lb. this week" or even "Walk 10 minutes today," with the plan to add on as soon as you've accomplished the first part. Maybe "No more junk food, ever," should be: "This week, limit treats to one per day." I know that for me, one treat per day would be an improvement.
  • Rewards, rewards, rewards! You'd be amazed what you can do if you know you get a present each time you meet a portion of your goal. Every time you conquer a baby step, treat yourself to something. No, not the thing you're giving up. Something else. A lipstick? A new handbag? A celebrity gossip mag? (I'm not the only one who reads those, am I?) I am a huge fan of incentives for behavior change; presents to myself were the main reason I dropped my winter weight last spring. I'll gladly lose seven lbs. if I get to buy myself something guilt-free for every pound.
  • Don't let a slip become a slide. I used to repeat this one to my clients all the time. Basically, it means that, when trying to change your habits and behaviors, expect obstacles, stumbles, and mistakes. Be prepared for them. Rehearse how you'll handle them. Don't let one brownie turn into the entire pan, or one lapsed workout turn into a week of sloth. So you slipped. It doesn't have to be a headlong slide back to square one. Put it aside and move on.

All righty, mamas? Feeling good and motivated? Believe in yourself and your ability to do well. Make good decisions this year, not resolutions, and don't beat yourself up when you make a bad one by mistake.

Let me know what you've got planned, and how it goes. Most importantly, be nice to yourself and cherish another new year.

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