New Year, No Judgment: Starting Healthy Habits (If You Want To)

A notebook with the written title "New Year's Resolutions" with a hand poised over it to start writing
Image by Freepik

Have you noticed when January rolls around, every headline, commercial, and emails proclaim it’s time for a “new you?” Oh, the pressure! Yes, I know it’s supposed to be inspirational, and take advantage of our inclination to start fresh when the year is new (something called the “fresh start effect”). To me, the whole “new year, new you” line comes off like a commandment—you better make some major changes NOW!

Self-improvement isn’t required

The implication of “new year, new you” is, of course, that we aren’t good enough. From our unhealthy diets, to our weight, to our bodies not being fit enough. Or we don’t make enough money, or read enough, or should achieve more career-wise. It doesn’t end. I propose that this year, we switch it around, and enjoy a New Year with a hefty dose of self-acceptance. You are ok! I am ok! We can accept ourselves the way we are right now. Beyond that, we can mark New Year’s arrival by noting all of the things we ARE doing, and doing well! Let’s acknowledge the progress we made last year, and be grateful for what we have right now, and where we are at this moment.

Are we perfect? Of course not. Could improvements be made? Probably yes. And certainly you can make some changes and improvements if you desire. Just because the calendar has turned over to another January doesn’t mean you have to improve anything right away—or even at all. (Read my colleague’s previous post on avoiding hefty “resolutions.”)

Setting goals

If food, fitness and health are something you want to continue to work toward this year, bravo for you! Physical health, weight loss, and improved eating habits are the three most popular categories of New Year’s resolutions. Write down some goals that are within the realm of reality for you. Stretch for achievements, and yet try to set the bar at a reasonable level for success. You don’t want the bar so high you set yourself up for disappointment because it’s not realistic to achieve. According to research conducted at Dominican University, the people who are most successful at achieving their goals do several things that might be useful for us to use to improve follow-through:

  • Write down goals—rather than keeping them in their heads
  • Demonstrate commitment to their goals by making a plan of action—rather than winging it and hoping for the best
  • Share their goals with at least one other person—AKA accountability, or an accounta-buddy
  • Give regular progress updates to that person (weekly is best)

Focus on habits

In the end, whether you hit your goal or not boils down to your habits. Motivation and willpower wane over time, but specific, strategic habit creation can carry you through when things get rocky. Author and habits expert, James Clear, provides us with some guidance on how to create effective habits that support our goals. Two of my favorite suggestions of his are: make it obvious, and make it easy. Just using these two tips, you can set up little habits for yourself throughout the day that, in the long run, will help move you toward your desired outcome—no matter what it is.

The basic point is to think about how to make new habits fit into your life so that they are practically effortless. I would add here, that making the habit behaviors very small and simple also helps. The last thing you want is to try and adopt a habit that relies on willpower, and requires an enormous number of new behaviors.

Set yourself up for healthy habit success

Do whatever you can do to help yourself along with your habit creation. For eating-related habits, setting up your environment—kitchen, cabinets, pantry, fridge etc—so that your habit is easier to do is key. For example, I wanted to decrease the amount of cream I put in my daily coffee. So, I applied these to “laws.” I realized I needed to measure my cream if I was going to limit it to 1 tablespoon per cup. It seems easy, and yet, I want to be prompted to remember. So I added a dedicated measuring spoon next to my coffee cups. It reminds me when I grab a cup, to also measure my cream. It’s so obvious and easy that it requires no real effort on my part, and hence, it became a habit very quickly.

The same thing can be done with lots of other nutrition and fitness habits. For example, if you want to eat more produce, you could start keep fruit on your kitchen counter instead of hiding it away in the produce drawer of your fridge. You could also keep prepped veggies right at the front of your fridge so you can easily grab them for snacking, or purchase cleaned and bagged lettuce mixtures instead of making yourself wash and prep lettuce for salad, etc. For more on adopting healthy habits, check out this previous blog post.