Happy New Year! For many people, including myself, the start of a new year represents a chance at a new start, to improve ourselves in some lasting way. At the heart of a lot of new year’s resolutions is a goal oriented around self-care, to become a healthier, more positive version of ourselves, and to create changes that last. How do we do this?
First of all, what is self-care? Self-care is often defined as a series of practices designed to preserve or improve our “health”. Health refers to a total state of well-being. Health is physical, mental, spiritual, and social. Therefore, the practice of self-care, incorporating practices that will improve our overall well-being, expands far beyond what simply feels good to us. Having a ‘self-care day’ might look less like having a burger, fries, and a drink while watching Netflix and more like choosing to have a salad with minimal dressing for lunch and going for a run in the afternoon.
If self-care practices might actually be hard and/or undesirable, it’s no surprise that they can be so hard to maintain. So at the start of the new year, as we come up with various new year’s resolutions, how can we ensure that we stick to them? Thankfully many authors and researchers have studied the psychology of goal-setting and habit formation, and have come up with a number of helpful tips.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, uses the word atomic in two ways. First of all, atomic habits are tiny changes. Secondly, these atomic changes are systemic in nature. Just as the atom is the building block of the molecule, atomic habits are the repetition of tiny changes that come together to effect a larger change in the system.
Have a mix of multifinal and equifinal means
Multifinal means are actions which can accomplish a variety of goals. For example, by cooking at home instead of ordering takeout for lunch, I can eat healthier, save money, and become a better cook. Equifinal means are various actions which all end up accomplishing the same goal. By cooking at home, limiting my clothing purchases, and choosing to walk instead of drive, I have different ways of saving money. Multifinal means are efficient ways of accomplishing several goals at once. Equifinal means are backup plans for when my usual multifinal means are not feasible. Having a mix of both can help stay on track toward a certain goal.
“Temptation bundling” refers to combining an unpleasant but necessary task with a more enjoyable one. Studying a textbook becomes more fun with a snack in hand. Cleaning the house can become mindless if there’s a podcast in the background. We can look forward to going to the gym if it’s also a regular hangout with a friend.
Commitment devices exist to keep us accountable to our goals. We can be our own worst enemy, and a commitment device exists to save us from ourselves. For example, if you commit to going for a run every weekend, sign a contract with a friend that includes some kind of negative consequence, such as buying them a gift card to their favourite store every time you fail to go for a run (as opposed to going to a restaurant together, which may be costly but still something enjoyable for you).
Time is your greatest ally
The greatest secret to making noticeable changes is the passing of time. The repetition of small changes compounds into a much larger shift. If you want to one day run a marathon, start by committing to just running 10 minutes a day, then add 2 minutes every time that becomes too easy. Soon you’ll be running for a full hour. It’s much more important that you just keep running. Stay the course. You’ll get there one day.
Author: Andrew ZhuLearn More
In January 2022, Tina founded the Selah Treatment Center, a not-for-profit treatment center providing subsidized counselling and psychotherapy.Learn More