Health + Fitness: From Your Number One Fan
This Holiday Season, Don't Forget to Give Yourself the Gift of a Fresh Start
Here we are, already, at the end of another year. So crazy how that happens. Time—ruthlessly marching on, whether or not I can keep up. Even though I’m far from ready for the holidays, I’ve been ticking my way down our annual gift shopping list— I’m about halfway there, not bad for me. In fact, I just ordered a book as a gift for a friend: The 5 Love Languages. Perhaps you’ve heard of it; it’s been around a while. It describes five ways we show—and receive—love. One of those five ways is through giving gifts, which is so perfectly fitting for the holiday season.
It certainly makes sense. Giving gifts to loved ones during the holidays is a chance to make someone feel special, and that just feels good. But with so much of your attention focused on gifts for others, it’s easy to forget there’s another very special person who could use a gift only you can give. Yourself.
All of us can probably list a few areas where we could use some improvement. But that’s the problem. Improvement takes work. And being the habit-loving creatures we are, we’re quite good at thinking about change while staying stuck in our comfort loops, doing the same things we always do. That’s why I’m here to propose another gift you give this holiday season: a gift to yourself. And I’m not talking about anything grandiose here, nothing life-changing or bank-breaking. I’m thinking about a much tinier gift, though one that will still have a big impact. The gift of one small change.
When it comes to creating change in our lives—whether that’s getting rid of bad habits or creating new good ones—it’s human nature to seek out shortcuts or quick fixes. Truth is, any big life change that can be acquired quickly isn’t likely sustainable. That’s why so many New Year’s resolutions or other goals fail—they require way too much change all at once.
We are Hardwired to Resist Change
Much of our difficulty with creating change in our lives is instinctive. You can blame your amygdala—a handy part of your brain responsible for emotions. But it’s less handy when we try to introduce new habits in our lives, since its default mode is set to resist change. When it interprets you doing something change-y, hormones are released to protect you from the perceived “threat.”
Even though your brain tries to thwart big changes, it gets less riled up about small ones. And that’s the key—the way you outwit your in-built resistance to change. Because the real agents of lifelong change aren’t giant, lofty, life-altering goals. They’re the small, steady changes—almost like stepping stones—you make along the way that get you there.
So, we know small changes work best, but how small? According to BJ Fogg, a Stanford behavior scientist and author of the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, pick any habit you want. Then, scale it back so it’s so tiny and simple. You almost have no excuse not to do it. Perhaps you’d like to start meditating. Your small change might be taking three calming breaths, nothing more. Or you’d like to start running. Your change is jogging 10 steps.
Then, you figure out where this best works in your current routine. For example, perhaps you already walk three times a week. If your small change is to jog 10 steps, it would make sense to do those 10 steps during your walks. When you stack your habits like this, adding a new one to an already established one, your current practice becomes a convenient reminder rather than an impediment. Having a constant reminder makes it more likely you’ll get the new practice to stick.
One Small Change Can Improve Your Lifestyle On the Road, Too
One of the changes my husband James and I worked on this past year was cutting down our long driving days. It’s long been a bad habit of ours: driving 10, even up to 12 hours a day. We frequently travel from our home in southern Utah to the Midwestern US. For the past decade we’ve been making this drive in two days.
Once we finally committed to changing our long drives, we focused on that one particular route. Instead of driving it in two days, we made a plan to start driving it in three. I’m happy to report that we’ve stuck to that deal. But we’re far from cured of our marathon drives. I’ll come clean—there still have been 10-hour drives to other destinations. But, changing this one route is a step to larger change.
This holiday season, consider gifting yourself a little change for the better; whether that’s adding a new good habit in your life, or eliminating a bad one. It may even be something so small, it might seem insignificant. But don’t be fooled. Even the tiniest habits can snowball into big changes.
While You’re Gift Giving…
One small change can make a big difference in your habits and outlook. Check out these examples:
|The Habit You Want: The one small change:
|The one small change:
|Eat in instead of out.
|Try one new recipe a week.
|Go RVing more.
|Spend a weekend at a different campground near home each month.
|Keep a journal/blog.
|Write one sentence a day.
|Be more active.
|Hike a new trail every month.
|Eat one more salad each week than you currently do.
|Be more social.
|Pick a day each week to text, call, or see friends/loved ones.
|Manage road rage.
|Take 3 deep breaths before reacting.
|Get more sleep.
|Go to bed 10 minutes earlier.
|Spend less time online.
|Replace some of your screen time with a hobby you love.
|Be more adventurous.
|Try one new thing you’ve never done before every month.