16-07 Segment 2: Keeping Those Resolutions: The key is low and slow

 

Synopsis: About this time of year, New Year’s resolutions begin to wane — and most die. How do you keep them going? And how can you make better ones that you’re more likely to keep in the future? Our guests give advice on crafting a goal and setting up a process that will help you attain it.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Brett Blumenthal, author of the book, 52 Small Changes for the Mind; Achim Nowak, author of the book, The Moment: A practical guide to creating a mindful life in a distracted world.

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Keeping Those Resolutions: The key is low and slow

Marty Peterson: It’s mid-February, a time when people are thinking that spring is just around the corner, and many are making plans for summer vacations. It’s also a time when those gung-ho individuals who resolved on January 1st to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking or spending are losing their motivation. In fact, only about 8% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them long enough to attain their goals. Why is that? Brett Blumenthal has an idea. She’s the author of the book, 52 Small Changes for the Mind…

Brett Blumenthal: The reason I’ve heard is that a lot of people try to take on too much at once. So they go to the gym five, six days a week and they spend an hour-and-a-half there, and then they cut out all their favorite foods at once, so they end up burning out really fast. Because trying to make all those drastic changes all at once, it’s too much.

Peterson: Another reason Blumenthal cites is that people who make big resolutions often don’t understand all the changes they have to make to keep them…

Blumenthal: When you think about larger changes, they usually don’t come in one big heap. You’re usually needing to do many, many little things. So I think people have this big-picture idea: I’m going to lose, I don’t know, a 100 pounds, or I’m going to become a happier person or whatever you want as your change, and it just doesn’t happen over night. And so people can become discouraged if they’re not seeing any progress.

Peterson: Blumenthal advocates changes that help the mind. One of them is to “silence your inner critic.” This doesn’t mean you should give up reassessing your goals and making changes to them…

Blumenthal: The inner critic that I’m speaking of, specifically, is the critic that’s extremely negative. So, for instance, it’s very easy for us to think about, like getting upset with ourselves if we do something silly like leaving our keys upstairs when we’re trying to leave the house. So, instead of saying to yourself, “How could I be so stupid to leave my keys upstairs? Ah, I’m such an idiot!” That’s the kind of negative self-talk I’m talking about, more than, “You know, I think I could afford to lose 10 pounds. I think I should go on a diet. I’m going to feel better about myself if I do that.” That’s a very different type of criticism. So it’s the day-to-day, when we’re constantly talking negatively about ourselves or putting ourselves down or finding fault with ourselves that I’m specifically discussing when I say silence your inner critic.

Peterson: Achim Nowak says that in our busy world, we tell ourselves that we have to keep doing more all the time. Nowak is the author of the book, The Moment: A practical guide to creating a mindful life in a distracted world. He suggests that when we set a new goal, we need to look at in relation to all the other ones we have…

Achim Nowak: For each goal, also decide what you’re willing to let go of. I’m always scared when people have too many goals. We set ourselves up to fail. So that’s a good point to just start the conversation.

Peterson: For example, if one of your resolutions is to ride your bike one mile a day, Nowak says to figure out how that actually will fit into your lifestyle before you plunge in…

Nowak: I’m a great believer in simple experiments. So if this was your goal I would say, “Why not a one-mile bike ride once a week on the weekend?” and discover a way of making that pleasurable for yourself. When I hear “once a day for a mile,” I’m already getting stressed out. That’s a lot, you know, especially if I have a lot of other things going on during the day. So proceed gently. The only other thing that comes to mind, if we habitually fail with very simple goals, then that’s a habit or a pattern and we need to look at why that’s happening. That’s a little bit of psychological homework. But the deeper part is I think we work way too hard. I really want to encourage us to return to a simpler, easier, more childlike way of enjoying the world which is not over-goal-setting ourselves.

Peterson: Speaking of approaching our lives with a more childlike attitude, Blumenthal lists “play” as one of the small changes we can make. She’s a mom, and so she’s able to experience first hand how play helps you get more joy out of life while you’re trying to reach your goals…

Blumenthal: When we spend time playing, and that can be anything from like going out with friends, playing a game, it actually helps us become happier. Engaging in play can transform negative thoughts and feelings into those that are more constructive and positive, and stresses such as paying bills and challenges sort of become secondary and background. So it kind of gives us a vacation from our life when we’re able to take a step and focus on something fun.

Peterson: Both Blumenthal and Nowak say that in order to ease our minds, reduce stress and create an environment more conducive to change, we should try to put aside the clutter in our busy lives…if only for a short time…

Blumenthal: When we’re faced with too much noise, we experience sort of a biological stress response. They’ve actually done studies, one was done out near Munich airport. And they had students in this school near two different sites – because they were moving the airport – and when the students in the school near the currently working, up-and-running airport had been assessed, they had the higher levels of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol compared to the students at the closed airport. So noise can be extremely distracting from a productivity perspective, (it) can increase stress because it doesn’t give you the time and peace to relax.

Nowak: One very simple thing I want to urge all of us to do is that on any given day when we run from meeting to meeting, activity to activity, give yourself like five minutes of transition time so everything isn’t running together. An in the transition we take a breath, we pause and we do not check emails, we do not go Facebook, we really just stop for a moment. That’s one way of beginning to slow down. Anybody who listens who meditates knows the benefits of meditating in the morning, and that can feel like another goal and you may have mornings when you go, “Gosh, I don’t feel like meditating today,” and maybe on that morning you don’t need to meditate. But what meditation does, it tends to slow down our breathing; it tends to slow down the chatter in the mind; we get more into our bodies and we have a sense of calm and peace that, hopefully, we carry into the rest of the day.

Peterson: Making a change in life such as moving ahead on that resolution you made six weeks ago shouldn’t be done on a whim, without a deep connection to your psyche. Blumenthal says that losing weight, for example, because your doctor suggests it often isn’t enough to see you through the long haul…

Blumenthal: I always encourage people to when they set goals find an emotional piece that will motivate them through their journey. So, for instance in the case of losing weight, you know maybe you’re an age when your child is going to be either graduating from high school or college or they’re going to be having a child soon and you’re going to be a grandparent, finding something where you’re saying, “I want to be healthy for my grandchild,” or “I want to be healthy to be able to see my child graduate from college,” or whatever is the emotional connection for you. Tying that change to something that’s going to motivate you is extremely important in any goal-setting endeavor.

Peterson: Nowak agrees, and says that when you set a goal don’t just write it down and get going on it. He suggests that you take the time to give it some deeper thought …

Nowak: If you set goals, let’s say bicycling for a mile a day or going to the gym and exercising which could sound like fun or could sound like torture, is drop into some deeper meaning that allows you to enjoy it in a different way and I think you’re going to be more likely to persist.

Peterson: Blumenthal adds that it takes anywhere from six to eight weeks of working on a goal before it becomes routine. She also says that you should strive for small successes early on to boost your motivation and lower the frustration levels. Nowak says that if you make a goal, but tie it to something you don’t like such as lifting weights, you’re less likely to achieve it. If, on the other hand, you enjoy riding your bike, use that as your vehicle to a fitter body and mind. You can find many suggestions on creating a mindful life in a distracted world in Achim Nowak’s book, The Moment, available now. You can also log onto his website at Influens.com. For a year’s-worth of little changes you can make in your life to help improve your memory, minimize stress, and boost happiness, pick up Brett Blumenthal’s book 52 Small Changes for the Mind. She invites listeners to visit her website at SheerBalance.com. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find and archive of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.

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