Last Year I wrote about how each day is a great time to pursue self improvement. I still feel that way, and given the less than joyous political and social climate we had in the US this year, maybe even more so.
Every New Years Day for me is a day to assess what I’ve done, and come up with a plan for making it better. Most people can do this pretty effectively. The tricky part is continuing that self-help momentum into February and beyond. I struggle with it as much as the next person but I’ve learned some tips that might help someone else too.
The first week of the new year is when I write the page numbers, goal pages (daily & yearly/lifetime), and date sections for each day of the year, in a fresh notebook. This planner has become my lifeline to keeping on track (read about it here) and is part of three notebooks I use daily.
The second notebook I use is a journal for tracking what happened the day before. Most people who have gotten to know me over the years know I have a slightly bad long term memory and this helps me keep track of important dates such as when I graduated, had major medical procedures done, changed jobs/schools etc. It’s also a good mental health care routine to have to process stress and monitor health trends. For example, if a doctor wants to know how long my symptoms have lasted, or when I first noticed something, I can usually look back and find it there. I’d recommend this to anyone preparing for an appointment, especially since in the US right now the waiting times are much longer, and you’re more likely to go through health changes (or attempt to home treat) before your appointment actually comes around.
The third notebook is another kind of health tracker. Before last year I rarely drank soda, and I was so busy all day that the extra sugars didn’t affect me much. Since changing from a job where I was on my feet constantly to a completely sedentary one I’ve also drank more soda than ever. I gained some weight and started seeing some negative effects on my heart and overall health; this plus the fact that T2 Diabetes runs in both sides of my family encouraged me to lower my intake. Since I’m a believer in enjoying the little things in moderation, this journal lets me essentially do a sticker chart (yep, more stickers!). I made a spiral chart, and every 5 stickers I can have a soda, and after about 70 stickers I get a Redbull (I found out having one and drinking it slowly with water actually doesn’t bother my heart too badly; that’s serious progress!).
The goal, is to get a sticker after every good health day. I have to drink enough water to meet my intake goals, which is around 1500 mL, exercise in some way even if it’s just a brief walk, and get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. If I meet all three of these goals, I get a sticker. This method basically reinforces itself, and helped me move away from my slight soda addiction. Before this, I was literally putting myself into exhaustion from excess caffeine/sugar and not fueling my body enough to handle it; it caused quite a few heart problems.
Outside of these journals, making my goals for the year has been vital. When making my goals I try to keep in mind that I’ll probably lose momentum around mid-late January, and they should be realistic enough to take into account poor health days, stressful events, and disappointment when I fail to meet daily goals. Those goals are:
- Do my best to listen to my body’s needs
- Make healthy choices as much as possible
- Treat each new moment as just that, new.
- Try to work on at least one personal endeavor each day, even if that’s just for 10 minutes
These seem kind of simple, but they leave room for error, while giving me a chance to assess what I want out of my life each day. I personally enjoy learning new things, working on different projects, and getting healthier, but setting strict goals makes it harder to adapt when things don’t go as planned. As most Spoonies already know, having to adapt is crucial when your body doesn’t always do what you need it to when you need it to.
So, what do I do around this time of the new year when things start losing their brand new motivational sparkle? I set alarms.
Well, technically I use my phone and apps to track personal goals in simple ways. But since not everyone has the ability or means to do this, I’m going to break it down to it’s simplest form. I have an alarm for each type of activity I need to do during the day. One for taking my medications, one for small fitness breaks, one for drinking water, and one for time to rest and reflect on my day. Alarms can be different things for different people, but they give you a chance to stop stressing, and let the app/phone/clock worry about time. If I choose to skip one, I know it’ll come around again and I get another shot at it later.
Honestly, for me, the key to staying motivated is what I’ve stated from the start: every new day, every new moment, is a new chance. Beating myself up over what I didn’t do because I was busy with my health, another priority, or just plain tired, just stops me from trying again later. Being gentle with myself, while also trying not to overindulge have been the best ways to keep me going at a good pace. There’s no magic routine that will work for everyone. I didn’t learn these methods from someone else, and while they might help someone else, that person will also have to make changes that fit their own needs. Implementing something small, getting used to it, then adding resources as needed is a pretty good standard practice. Dumping too much on yourself can be overwhelming and most people lose momentum from the sheer weight of it all.
Self improvement isn’t a sprint, it’s an endurance run. Go too hard and too fast, and you’ll burn yourself out before you’ve even begun.