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Creating Sustainable Change in the New Year

A Five Step Plan of Action

Over the years, New Year’s messaging has shifted from goals and resolutions to intentions, themes or words of the year. No matter how we soften the language, the sentiment is the same: Resolve to be a “better version” of yourself. Creating change that is truly sustainable and allows you to grow, heal or nourish yourself beyond the New Year hype takes a little digging and mindfulness. Real change takes effort, and that effort is often uncomfortable for ourselves and even those around us. 

I’ve spent over 10 years in the wellness industry, coaching individuals, retreat groups and corporations on mindful goal setting and sustainable change, as well as providing tools to ease the discomfort of self development. What I’ve learned is, no matter how deep the desire to change is, we are not taught HOW to make change. To understand the how, we have to first get to the why. 

It’s important to fight the urge to overhaul your entire life or fundamentally change who you are. Asking why means getting curious about your habits, patterns, beliefs, challenges and values to create goals that meet you where you are and respect who you are. Without self-awareness, goals end up unmanageable, vague or arbitrary. Unmanageable goals don’t account for your reality — the time or energy you have available.

Vague goals sound like I want to be healthier . . . but what does healthy mean, and why do you want it? Arbitrary goals are the “I shoulds” looping in our minds. They are often based on external influencers, like media, friends or family — for example, following a diet plan you’ve seen online or a friend recommended without considering if it meets your body’s unique needs. Your why is the foundation of change, so let’s explore it. 

1. Start With a Self Awareness Brainstorm. 
Grab a pen and paper, take three deep breaths, and set a timer for three minutes, letting words pour out until the timer stops. Write down words, statements or bullet points that describe how you want to feel, grow or change physically, spiritually, emotionally, socially and professionally.

Examples might include: Community. Purpose. Increase daily movement. Exploration/travel. Learn Spanish. Eight hours of sleep. Flexible job. Healing. Spacious. Reduce screen time. Family dinners. 

2. Look for Themes. 
Review your list, looking for themes. Is there a word, feeling or action that jumps out at you? What common threads do you notice — career and finances? Mental health and stress management?

I like to circle what stands out for me. Hone in on one to three themes. For each theme, spend a few moments exploring why this theme matters to you. Get really honest with yourself. Is this theme something deeply personal to you? Or something you feel like should be a priority? What do you gain from making changes to this area of your life? Picture yourself a year from now, having made changes to this area. How do you feel? These questions give your goals clarity and purpose.

3. Refine Your Goals. 
Pick one theme to break down into small, specific and manageable goals. Let’s say you choose health/food/fitness. Starting exercising is a priority, but it’s too broad. Consider the following questions to refine and get specific: 

What types of physical activity resonate with you? If you don’t like biking, let’s not create a goal to start spin classes. 

Do you prefer group fitness or solo workouts? Home or in person?

How much time can you reasonably carve out for exercise? When answering this, be realistic! Don’t over-schedule yourself.

What time of day are you most likely to work out? Don’t set a goal to run at 5 a.m. if you’re not a morning person.

What resources do you need, such as equipment, apps, trainers or accountability tools? 

What roadblocks might you encounter, such as time, motivation, illness or travel? 

4. Write Out Your Goals. 
Goals should be written so they are easily assimilated into your life over time. With the example above, you determine you have three hours a week available to exercise and prefer a home workout — and evenings get busy, so a morning routine will be easier to stick with. You also know that being in nature benefits your mental health. So, your goal might look like a 30-minute Pilates video two or three times per week and a weekly hike or walk in the park. This clarity helps foster gentle, realistic expectations of the changes you’d like to make. Now that you’re clear on what you want to change, why it matters and the next steps to take, look at your calendar, and schedule these action items over the next two weeks. 

5. Stay Flexible and Compassionate. 
Toward the end of week two, take stock. Be honest with yourself about what is and is not working. Does your plan need adjusting? Do you still feel motivated by it? Is an aspect of work or home impeding your success? Even well thought-out plans inevitably meet roadblocks or slip into old, familiar patterns. Give yourself space and grace in these moments. Treat yourself with the same respect and compassion you would offer a friend in your shoes. If your goal needs changing, change it! You are in charge. Flexibility is like a secret weapon for creating sustainable change. 

Now that you’ve got these tools, I’ll leave you with a radical idea. This works ANY TIME of year. Shocking, I know. Follow these five steps on a Wednesday in June, if you like. You don’t have to wait for the calendar to begin creating sustainable change. 

Without self awareness, goals end up unmanageable, vague or arbitrary.