It's that time of year again (you know, the beginning of it)! That time of year when many of us imagine an upcoming 365 days that will be different from our last trip around the sun. As nearly anyone who's tried to set such resolutions knows, though, keeping up with any desired change or goal can be way more difficult than those December 31st (possibly champagne-fueled) aspirations let on.
Over the next month, we'll be discussing some of the fundamental aspects of goal-focused behavior change that have been shown to increase the likelihood that those behaviors last. Understanding how lasting changes occur involves looking closely at the principles behind them. In this first piece, we'll explore the fundamentals that make new behaviors stick. Specifically: we'll look at the crucial roles of mindful living and consistency.
Unlike the idea of an instant fix, lasting change happens bit by bit. Think of it like updating a computer's operating system — making small adjustments over time that create a better version of yourself. Another way to think about this is to imagine change-making as on a pathway, rather than a destination. When we talk about "goals'' we often only picture the moment after we've achieved the goal. By envisioning (and planning for) the micro-moments that can happen along the way to this destination, we are more likely to increase our odds of actually getting there.
The core of this approach lies in being mindful, which really just means paying attention to the present. It's about being here and now -- not stuck in the past or worrying about the future. With this mindset, big changes become a more manageable journey. In other words, it's important to focus on what you're doing now, rather than how you might've failed before, or even how you might fail in the future. A good exercise to practice is to begin noticing when you feel anxious or disconnected from your goal: observe how you're feeling, and anything going through your mind. Then use your physical senses (sight, hearing, touch, etc.) to reconnect yourself to the present. You can also use a reminder phrase to help yourself snap back into focus (for example: "I can worry as much as I want later, but for the next 10 minutes I'm going to _________ .")
At the same time, consistency is super important for lasting change. It's not about being like a robot with a strict routine. Instead, it's about picking manageable habits. These little things you do every day will build up over time, creating a sustainable bridge to your goals. It's not uncommon that we underestimate how much energy and work it takes to actually transform a habit or create a new pattern. Starting small can be a crucial way to not only get into a new rhythm but to also build up confidence that change over the long haul is really possible.
While we navigate this maze of lasting change, remember that perfection isn't the goal: progress is. Shifting your focus from your ultimate endgame to the strategic things you do every day needs patience and the knowledge that big things are often made up of a thousand little ones.
This all brings us to where mindfulness and consistency come together in practice. This leads us to our next topic about setting real, achievable goals for lasting change, in part 2 of this series next week: "Beyond Resolutions: Setting Goals You Can Stick To." In part two, we'll examine some strategies for creating a change-sustaining pathway that works for you.