It’s that time of year. The time of year my cookbooks come off the shelves, the invitations start coming, and the planning starts. I’ll plan for Thanksgiving dinner. My sister and I will go back and forth brainstorming recipes to repeat from last year and new recipes to try. But the real planning is for the weeks between Thanksgiving and the new year. Once Thanksgiving hits and the holiday season revs up, it’s so easy to get lost in the energy of it all. So how do we save ourselves from spiraling into a pattern of reactive decisions or blind self-indulgence in these upcoming holiday weeks? We make a plan.
So maybe you’re rolling your eyes. You’ve read this kind of advice dozens of times. You’re not interested in making a plan. I understand the resistance. I’ll tell you a little secret about me, the person encouraging you to plan. I don’t want to make a plan either. I want to wing it; figure it out as I go. I think to myself, I can rely on my common sense and my understanding of what’s best for me and my body on a case-by-case basis. I tell myself this every year. And every year, when January rolls around, I roll my eyes at myself.
But how does this happen? I have all the information I need. I know what to do. I need nutrient-rich foods. I can’t skip lunch for a night of cocktails and appetizers. I need consistent sleep. I can’t stay out late two or three nights a week and expect to catch up over the weekend (because catching up isn’t a real thing). I need movement and stretching. I can’t wear heels and not expect my feet to hurt and consider dancing to be my cardio. I need calm. I can’t run from appointment to appointment and party to party without taking time to breathe and rest and meditate. And I’m not unique. We all need good food, sleep, movement, and calm. Because without it, our body is thrown off balance. An off-balance body leads to attempts to compensate for what we’re missing. And that usually means making one bad health decision after another. And ultimately, we get sick. January isn’t cold and flu season just because of the weather change. We get sick because we spend weeks neglecting ourselves.
Studies show that making a plan significantly increases follow-through for two reasons. First, logistically, our intentions are often taken off course when we encounter small everyday obstacles. A meeting that ran long caused us to miss lunch, and a phone call pushed lunch back even further. And then we are starving but don’t have time to order a salad, so we eat the cupcake leftover from a birthday celebration earlier in the week. So, instead of relying on a predictable schedule that allows for a lunch break, anticipate obstacles. Make a plan to bring a healthy lunch to work every day. Making a plan thwarts obstacles, which increases your likelihood to be able to follow through with your intentions to care for yourself.
Second, cognitively, making a plan is a constant reminder of our goal. It is too easy to say, “I really don’t care that much about my goal,” when faced with an obstacle. So typically, we choose the easiest way around it. But by anticipating the challenges and putting pre-determined strategies in place, we are essentially reminding ourselves of the importance of the goal. A constant reminder of our goal is a good thing during these wild weeks ahead, especially since, as the studies suggested, that reminder allows for a higher chance of follow-through.
To make a plan, think back to how you felt when you last committed to personal wellness—think perhaps about your resolutions from January. What were you in need of? A healthier diet, more exercise, enhanced sleep, less stress? Start making a plan for the next few weeks by choosing one focus. Then write down the obstacles you may face in the next few weeks and determine your strategy. Seeking a healthier diet? Commit to eating a health-focused lunch each and every day. And if life often gets in the way, commit to bringing a satisfying lunch to work, which can be a helpful deterrent when cookie platters start showing up on the scene. Need more exercise? Take the stairs more often, take the long way to get to your parked car, or get off the subway a stop early. Even better, commit to time in the gym. Remember, a little time in the gym is better than no time. Even if you just have 20 minutes, take advantage. Focused on sleep? Create a bedtime routine. Parties and evening commitments can increase energy and make it tough to sleep. By implementing a bedtime routine, you’ll establish a specific way to wind down to help you sleep easier. Need to reduce stress? Make strategic decisions about what you need to do, and create a schedule. Then consider what you want to do. As invitations come up, choose wisely and allow for down time. And when something is done on the need-to-do list, cross it off your list—oh, so satisfying. These are just a few suggestions. Get creative with it. Just remember, small changes, especially during times of too much, are the best solutions.
Ring in 2018 as your best self.
Make A Change Today,