2017 Is the Year! Make a Plan, Not Resolutions

2017: This is the year, right.

Please take a harder look at those resolutions because according to science, they will not work. Don’t worry, we can still inspire positive change for ourselves in 2017 and beyond but you have to understand the science behind habits and behavior change. Let me explain further by giving you a little background on how my family has planned for the best 2017.

My niece Evelyn passed away just before she was 3. She would have turned 4 this NYE. She had almost 3 years of hospital visits, medications and seizures. She was blind and never physically developed, so she never had to chance to run with her siblings, throw tantrums for her parents or see a sunset. It was incredibly sad to see her struggle but for me it was heart wrenching to see my brother and his family fight for her everyday. They gave her more love and adventure in her 2+ years than many of us ever experience and I believe she only knew this love.

In her honor, our family has starting an Evelyn Journal in place of resolutions. It is comprised of goals and plans in her honor. We contribute to it every January 1. We will not sit idle when we are blessed with health and resources to live a full life and to make a positive impact in this crazy world.

So how are we going to LIVE? Before I share some of our entries into the journal, our family goals, I want to share why we are approaching it this way and abandoning the traditional New Year Resolutions.

Resolutions are typically wanted outcomes without any articulation of how we are supposed to accomplish these dreams. “I want to lose weight. I want to quit smoking. I want to be a better parent.” Great, but have we thought about how to accomplish these things, to really change the behaviors that caused your bad habits. The human brain is wired to resist change, remain status quo and sit neatly in a comfort zone. How you are today, right now is by default your priority and requires the least effort for your brain. We form a series of automatic behaviors, habits.

So, if you want to exit the routine and create real change that is lasting and effective, it will take a little understanding and a different mindset. Habits can be positive, we just have to retrain ourselves.

I read a brilliant book which I strongly recommend. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. In this book he explains habit as a scientific process and articulates the steps required to change bad habits or create new positive habits through with stories and examples that we all are familiar with.

He simplifies a very detailed process into: CUE, ROUTINE, REWARD. When this loop occurs enough, the brain actually begins to crave, this is good and bad. Take the Fitbit, a positive habit loop. The visual on your wrist acts as the Cue. The routine is walking, exercising, whatever. The reward is a little buzz that tells you good job. On the flip side, a negative habit loop. The cue is stress. Kids, work, relationships etc. The routine is the glass of wine, and the reward, a little moment of calm. Now we crave the buzz or the wine and it becomes automatic. Habit. Change is possible. Habits can be altered! Behavior change happens when we understand the cues, routines and rewards so we can alter where need be. This is why resolutions cannot be outcomes alone. What we need are tangible plans and goals. Define what is necessary to make any of these outcomes work.

Let’s look at this year’s Evelyn Journal.

Mom: Goal is make strength a priority and get treatment for my spine. I am a PT who suffers from neck and back pain, typical right. My priority currently is to treat others and I will always find time to see another patient, come in on an off day, read and article, but I can no longer be such a hypocrite. Great goal right, but what is required to reach this goal. I do not currently have a cue to get treatment or exercise consistently. I have cues all day long for work. I do not have a reward set up. So, I will make appointments with a Physical Therapist. I know a few good ones so I have put myself in their schedule. To get stronger I need to exercise more than 1-2times per week. I have scheduled 2x/week, exercise breaks in my schedule and scheduled 2 more exercise days with friends. They will hold me accountable. I will see 1 less patient a week but it is necessary for my health! I feel better each time I exercise or have treatment and will be rewarded with less pain. This is my action plan.

Alexa (9 years old): She loves theatre and landed a great role this year in Into the Woods, she is Little Red. Her goals are to be the best actress and singer she can be. The plan: Voice lessons every other week. Every night with homework, she will run through her lines. The cue: Homework. The routine: run through lines. The reward: We have decided on 25 cents.

We have several more but you get the idea. So as we celebrate all of our 2016 accomplishments and look forward to 2017. Set goals, then break down the cues and rewards for an action plan that will be successful! Then you will find that you are in charge and any change is possible!

Cristin Zaimes