The new year is like a blank piece of paper, rife with possibilities but overwhelming in its blankness. If you are like the majority of us, you happily set resolutions only to find mere weeks later that your enthusiasm has waned, and you have fallen back into your old habits.
For good or bad, habits are incredibly powerful. We can put this power to work for us when we create strong healthy habits that kick in when we are overwhelmed or on autopilot. If we want to create true change, however, we need to be specific about our intent, identify and plan for potential roadblocks, create a measurement and rewards system, and find a way to hold ourselves accountable.
I had a boss once say to me that goals that weren’t written down and carefully planned out were merely wishes or fantasies. The longer you have done the behaviors you would like to alter, the more true this statement becomes. You are not going to change your internal “operating system” without some serious planning and thinking through exactly what it is that you would like to accomplish. There are thousands of potential resolutions for the year including completely reading the Book of Mormon, yelling at your children less, exercising more, eating more healthy, etc. but you need to be specific and prayerful about what it is the you and your family needs most. Our loving Heavenly Father is always willing to help you sort through all of the “coulds” to clearly identify the “shoulds.” We shouldn’t try to tackle all of our weaknesses at once, but rather start with one and build from there.
If you can identify a “cue” to the behavior you desire, you can link a new habit you want to form to an old habit you already have. For example, you can plan to read your scriptures right before or after you brush your teeth. You already have the habit to brush your teeth, and tying a new habit to that will make it easier to remember. Every time you get ready to brush your teeth, it will remind you to read your scriptures.
Many resolutions start out strong, but fizzle at the first sign of a road block. We need to think through our behavior to identify what challenges you KNOW you can expect, as well as setting up a Plan B, C, or even D for when the unexpected in life happens. For example, if you know that you always stress eat when your kids fight, set up a plan for what you will do when the bickering begins, because you know it is going to happen! You can’t necessarily control your kids, but you can control your response and having a plan in place will help.
On the other hand, you can’t always predict or prepare for major life emergencies but that doesn’t mean that they have to totally derail you. In the example above, you may have a plan in place to read a verse in your Book of Mormon on your phone whenever you feel like snacking and it is not time to eat. Other suggestions might include drinking a glass of water, taking a short walk, or having prebagged small healthy snacks like nuts or veggies ready ahead of time.
You have probably heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but new research is suggesting that it actually takes closer to 66 days. It is hard to keep up the motivation to change without some additional help in the form of seeing measurable progress and rewards.
Some successes are easy to measure like days you didn’t yell, days you exercised, or pounds dropped. Some progress is harder to measure, however, like if you feel more calm, have become more spiritual or are doing a good job of more deeply studying your scriptures. This is when prayer can help you find a way to measure your progress. Remember to celebrate even a small amount of progress as it shows you are moving in the right direction! When you fall down, make sure to get right back up and don’t beat yourself up to the point where you give up entirely!
There are two types of rewards, small rewards for progress made along the way as well as large rewards for reaching milestones. A small reward might be allowing yourself a small piece of chocolate at the end of a day if you haven’t yelled at your kids. Rewards should be meaningful and something you wouldn’t necessarily do or get otherwise. Rewards work most powerfully when they occur at periodic intervals and not every day, but you will need to “get the ball rolling” so to speak and start with rewards more often in the beginning.
Rewards don’t have to be expensive or high in calories. Get creative and be honest about the things you truly enjoy. Some suggestions might be planning to meet up with a friend you don’t see often enough, time to mindlessly scroll through Pinterest (set a timer!), reading a novel you have always wanted to read, a date night with your spouse, a family pizza party, or even that piece of chocolate!
It helps keep us on track if we have some way to hold ourselves accountable for progress. If you know you are going to have to answer to someone else for your progress, that can help you stick to it when things get difficult or discouraging. That could mean enlisting the aid of family or close friends, joining a group (online or in real life), or even just periodically reporting on progress to our Heavenly Father.
As homeschoolers, we sometimes feel like we are a bit isolated and it can be difficult to find like-minded people who understand our unique challenges. It might be hard for our friends at church and from the community to be supportive of our goals when it comes to finding a better way to teach math or being more calm amidst the chaos of a typical homeschool day. May I put in a shameless plug for attending one of the LDSHE conferences to help find your tribe? Both the East Conference and the West Conference have Mentor Moms sessions where you can talk with parents who have been there and done that and would be more than willing to help your progress.
January is not the only month you can start afresh! You can and should start new goals at any time of the year. We can take a page from the new youth program and challenge ourselves to improve throughout the entire year, setting goals in different categories. I wish you happy trails on your journey to a new and improved version of you!