School of Nursing faculty member and community health coach Nancy Rudner shares advice on how to focus on your goals past January.
By Kristen Mitchell
As a new year begins, it’s easy to envision a world where you suddenly have enough energy to get to the gym at 5 a.m. and finish the day with a home-cooked, healthy meal. We imagine that in a new year we’ll plan ahead to avoid a last-minute scramble before every deadline and always get eight hours of sleep.
Unfortunately, life can get in the way, and an ambitious New Year’s Resolution is left behind. Nancy Rudner, a part-time faculty member at the School of Nursing and a community health coach, offers some advice for those in the George Washington University community who might need help to stay on track in 2017.
Q: What is it about New Year’s Resolutions that makes them so hard to keep?
A: Let’s face it, you are ambivalent. You want to “have your cake and eat it too.” It’s human nature. For example, you want to lose weight but don’t want to give up the joy of ice cream, so you are a bit ambivalent until the desire for losing weight trumps the desire to eat lots of ice cream. Have a good talk with self and resolve your ambivalence as part of your resolve to stick to the plan. You can’t avoid confronting it if you want to be successful. You have to really want what you will gain by sticking to that resolution. That is why it is good to ask yourself, on a scale of zero to 10, how motivated am I?
Q: A lot of people plan to make healthier lifestyle changes in the new year, what is your advice for avoiding temptation?
A: External messages to reinforce or steer us away from our habits can be effective. A social network that practices healthy habits--Alcoholics Anonymous, exercise clubs, healthy peers--can reinforce the healthy habits. Ads for restaurants and processed foods can tempt us off track for healthy eating. Cigarette ads were banned because they were so effective in reinforcing smoking habits and encouraging smokers to light up again.
Make a realistic goal and a plan for the changes you want to make. Plan how you will make your change. This includes thinking what the obstacles might be—a common one is time—and how you would resolve it. For example, early morning activities may be easier to keep as habits, before the day gets away. Then, implement your plan and enjoy it. Engage someone to make you accountable or use the software on your phone to track your progress and make you accountable to Siri.
Q: How long does it take for a new healthy routine to become a habit?
A: Six weeks, 90 days, six months—depends on the person and habit, but generally at least six weeks. It has to be enjoyable. That’s why crash diets don’t work.
Q: What advice do you have for people who had big plans for New Year’s resolutions, but have stumbled so far in working toward their goals?
A: So many things get in the way, but it helps if you really feel you own the habit and want to do it. For example, you bring a healthy dish to a party or opt for seltzer with a lime instead of the rum punch. You can get right back on the path you want to be on, but it helps to resolve your ambivalence. Think of what got you off the good habit and how you might respond differently next time. And don’t be hard on yourself either.
Q: What can people do to make the hard work that goes into striving for their goals more fun?
A: You also have to make the new practice, new habit enjoyable. So if you are switching to a healthy diet rich in vegetables, you need to find the joy in the changes. Fix those vegetables in very attractive and enjoyable dishes and enjoy the crunch of eating some of them raw. Make a shrimp cocktail with salsa in an elegant glass, served with candles and soft music. If your habit is to increase exercise, find something you enjoy. For some, it is the social scene at the gym that keeps them returning. For others, it is the scenery on bike trails. And for others, it is all about the exercise clothes, not the activity. You have to find your own inner exercise bliss.