The dawn of a new year. Happy New Year! Did you make a new year’s resolution? If so, how’s that going today?

As a health coach—and a human that walks my talk—I’ve learned a lot about change, specifically behavior change…self-change. It’s hard. No doubt. Low five, brothers and sisters, I’m with you. It is no easy task to change ourselves. BUT. And it’s a big but. It. Is. So. Worth. It. Self-exploration and self-evolution are what give our lives meaning. Struggled a ton in 2017? Unhappy in your current life? Never quite following through to reach your goals? Tired of the hamster wheel of results-less effort?

Here are 5 thoughts I’ve chewed on extensively in my own journey of change. Perhaps one or all of them could help you approach 2018 differently in hopes of truly feeling differently about yourself, your life and how to reach your goals.

1. Focus on yourself. We spend wayyy too much time focusing on others. Listing their flaws. Criticizing their wrongs. Feeling, in part, better about ourselves because “they” do things, think things, act in ways “we” don’t. We superiorize ourselves. (Yeah, I probably made that word up.) But we do. We spend hours of our priceless mental and emotional energy intent on telling others how we were wronged by someone, how we are the innocent victim of someone’s actions and how blatantly poorly someone is choosing to live their life. We stand in judgment of others. It’s human to do so. I’m no different; I fall prey to those thoughts at times as well. But it’s controllable how much we invest in those pursuits.

One point I’ve learned about change, a certainty I promise will change your life if you really sit openly in thought with it for a while over the coming days is this: It is up to you; you’re in charge. I am where I am because of MY choices, MY reactions, MY responses, MY thoughts. And you are where you are because of yours. Yes, there are circumstances and situations that present conditions beyond our control, yet our freewill dictates still how we CHOOSE to respond, feel, act.

We can spend our energy blaming the situation, demonizing another person, feeling sorry for ourselves, garnering pity wrapped in the cloak of empathy from others, or we can unbunch our panties, stand up tall and focus on how we want to feel—who we want to BE—putting our energy into that instead.

2. Focus on what you ARE going to do. Today, for many, began a period of “not-gonnas.” I’m not going to eat sugar. I’m not gonna drink soda. I’m not going to skip a workout. I’m not gonna eat bread. Woahhh. That’s a lot of darkness, deprivation and depression. If that was my list, I’d have to add “I’m not gonna be happy,” or “I’m not gonna get out of bed this month,” to the page as well. OK, so actually I don’t eat much added sugar ever and I do not drink soda anymore and I rarely have bread these days, but I used to. And how we stop doing undesirable things, things that don’t support our goals, is actually by focusing on “dos.” So, instead of what you’re not gonna do, make a list of what you intend to do. 

I’m going to workout today. I’m going to eat six servings of vegetables today. I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water today. Make the goal a positive one. I’m going to get a lot more benefit from setting an intention of drinking 100 ounces of water than eliminating soda. Here’s how that works. By demonizing soda, I’m going to fixate on it. It’s going to be all I want to drink. That Coke will sing to me all day. Nothing I drink will taste like it. I’ll resent my glass of water I begrudgingly carry around all day. And, if I cave in and drink the soda, I’m going to feel like a failure. Not a very positive place from which to build tomorrow when all the “not-gonnas” start all over again.

If, today, I let myself be OK with still drinking soda, but I set my intent on drinking 100 ounces of water because I usually drink none, even if I only get 40 ounces in, that’s success. That’s progress. That’s growth, change, upon which I can build. That sets me up to work tomorrow on 45 ounces. Over time, as I make drinking water more of a habit, I’ll likely be more successful at reducing my soda consumption until I’m just not a soda drinker anymore.

3. Take baby steps. If you’ve followed me this far, yay you. You’re probably more committed to change than the average person. So here’s a super goodie tip. Take baby steps.

Very few people go from drinking 0 ounces of water a day to drinking 100 ounces. That’s a remarkable feat. It’s hard. You know what isn’t hard? Going from 0 ounces to 1o ounces. Could you stand in the bathroom in the morning after brushing your teeth and chug a cup of cold tap water? I bet you can. Do that everyday for a week or so and now you’re on to something. You’re starting a habit. Decide, a couple weeks in, to start pounding back another 10 ounces of water between your first and second cups of coffee, or when you get to the office, or after breakfast, etc. and now you’ve stepped up your water drinking habit to 20 ounces daily. Yesss!

See, the thing about us Americans, particularly, we want everything. Now. And we don’t expect to have to work too hard for it. So, slow your roll. Lengthen your expectation of how long you are willing to commit to something and see what happens. Your email inbox surely has at least one message today teasing you that if you just do X you can lose 10 pounds by next Monday. If it were that easy, wouldn’t we all be cruising around in our dream bodies with our dream lives and our rainbow-scented farts? We would. And it would be the end of life as we know it. We work for what we want, people. WORK. We apply effort, consistently, over time.

Eating 1-2 servings of vegetables a day like most Americans? Aim for 2-3. Make that a habit. Then strive for 4. And so on. No one goes from 1 serving of broccoli to a handcart’s worth of produce. (Also, your colon will thank you for the gradual uptick in intake!)

4. Set a goal that has nothing to do with your weight or how your body looks. Most of us have no idea what our bodies should or could look like anymore. We compare our 40-year-old self to our 20-year old self. Or our 32-year-old normal-person version to someone else’s genetically blessed 27-year-old version.

I don’t know if you’ll see abs this year. I don’t. But I bet if you decide you’d like to try to deadlift your bodyweight (or more) or do an unassisted pull-up or run a 1/2 marathon that you could accomplish that before 2019. In fact, I know you can. And, along the way, you might see your waist get tinier, your arms more defined, your energy multiply, your happiness soar. You just might see abs, but you will have gained so much more in the process of revealing them.

Body composition change takes time. Longer than most people are willing to wait. And we obsess over what the scale says, which is total crap because the scale doesn’t know anything other than how much I weigh.

We are meant for action. We possess capabilities. Abilities. We are complex machines with amazingly complex CPUs. Use that shit. Explore it. Expand it. See what you can DO. That focus on how you look is so last year!

5. Here’s my absolute favorite: Be open. I was going to say be honest, but openness encompasses honesty. Be open to trying new things. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” No? What about, “if you change nothing, nothing will change.” Heard that one? The bottom line is that we are foolish if we keep attacking the same problem with the same answer if that answer we continue to throw down doesn’t actually fix the problem. So, be open. Change your thinking. Change your actions. Be honest with yourself. With others. Assess your needs without censorship. Ask others for help. Be willing to accept that the answer may take time to formulate, even more time to develop the necessary abilities for solution, and still time, yet, before you see any change to the problem.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in working with clients over the years is the insight that we all struggle with the same things. We just don’t talk about those things as openly as we could. So maybe we could try. We could unite, bond, belong to each other because we are human together. Because we are more alike than we are different. Be open this year. To possibility. To discovery. To others. To yourself. To purpose. To meaning. To change. In any and all forms that these gifts can reveal themselves.

My guess is that most of us think that we are open people. The reality is that we are not.

Sitting in stillness. Living your values. Revealing your authentic self to others. Owning your shit. Seeing the good in others. Seeking the lessons you can learn in every challenge. Listening more than you speak. These are the stepping stones to openness. Be open in 2019. And resolve to approach your resolutions for change a bit differently this year.