January is not necessarily the best time to adopt a new habit – in the UK it means cold weather, short days and often finances are particularly stretched.
If you’re in the southern hemisphere there might be scorching weather and school holidays which can be equally disruptive to your best laid plans.
Additional COVID-19 restrictions may also derail efforts and affect your mental state. However, the start of the year feels like a good time to create new goals and targets and we are confronted by initiatives telling us to try stopping drinking, smoking, veganism for a month.
If you don’t manage to get started in January, why not start in February? A shorter month, fewer Christmas goodies to tempt you, and time to get settled back into your routine.
What is a habit?
‘Habits’ are defined as actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance. This means that it is something you do often and regularly, sometimes without even thinking about it. When wanting to change our lifestyle, we ideally want to make changes into habits, so we don’t need to think too much about what we’re doing e.g. a daily walk at a particular time.
How to make you resolutions stick
Break goals into achievable steps
You may be familiar with SMART objectives from work, this is how you can make your new year’s resolutions impactful too.
Specific – it should be very clear what your goal is.
Measurable – attach a number or a target to your resolution – you can record how well you’re doing if it’s a harder.
Achievable – aim for a comfortable target so you don’t feel frustrated and give up too soon.
Relevant – you won’t stick with something if it isn’t something that matters to you and you can see the value of.
Timebound- Break down into three month goals, monthly goals, weekly goals. If you’re like me, a bullet journal or planner might help you.
3 month goal = I want to follow the OMS diet recommendations more closely – cutting out meat, processed food, dairy and some oils from my diet.
First Month goal = Cut out all meat apart from fish from my diet by the end of Jan
Weekly = Try four new vegan or fish recipes a week
3 month goal = I want to be able to walk for an hour
Month goal = Walk 30km over 30 days
Weekly = go for a walk every other day, with a longer walk at the weekend
Continually review to see whether you were realistic – it is better to do something than nothing.
Don’t try and change too much at once
Pick a couple of areas to improve at one time. You could just start by saying “I want to get outside for five minutes every day” Going from 0 to 100 isn’t realistic, if you currently don’t meditate, you can’t suddenly start doing thirty minutes a day. Pick goal that suits you – “I want to complete a course in meditation” or “I want to meditate for 10 minutes four times a week”.
Plan when and where
Be very specific about what you are going to do, exactly when and where. This could be ‘I will eat OMS friendly meals on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday’ or ‘I will do an exercise video in my living room at 11am on a Saturday morning’ . Use our downloadable planners, including our brand new monthly goal tracker, to help you. Set an alarm or reminder or write it in your diary. Some apps will help you to do this.
Try and make this as easy as possible to achieve. If you are planning a 30 minute walk, could you build this into your daily routine, by walking somewhere you would usually drive to?
Pick an accountability partner
Mutual accountability of goals with a friend (or with a fellow OMS Circle member) is a good way to stay on track. You can keep each other motivated. Apps can also provide this – your fitness tracker, meditation apps or a bullet journal or planner can record your progress and you can use this to review how you are doing against your goals. Signing up for a class or online course might help you to finally adopt those habits!
Research has found that it can take 10 weeks for behavior change to become habit. So try and carry on after January is over!
Even if you let things slide for a couple of weeks, don’t give up and try and get back to healthy habits or reframe your goals. You may not feel changes straight away, but it is worth sticking at it for the long-term, please don’t feel disheartened.
Diet v lifestyle
Although people often refer to the ‘OMS diet’, we advocate permanent changes to your lifestyle including what you eat (your diet). Diet has connotations of being short term, unsustainable and focused on weight loss, with a return after to old eating habits. We are advocating you make changes for good.
You need to think about what is achievable for you – if you have a diet that is close to the OMS diet anyway it might be simple to make necessarily changes, however if not aim for what changes are achievable for you, rather than giving it up altogether.
Focus on the small wins! And remind yourself that the ultimate reason you are making these changes is to improve your health and quality of life.
Think about your barriers and come up with solutions
There will also be things that get in the way of your plans, but problem-solving in advance can help you follow through with the changes you want to make.
Time – is there something you can give up to get more time (social media or TV time for example) , or could you get some help from others to facilitate spending time on your wellbeing - someone who could take on cooking one night so you can go out for a swim? Or look after the children so you can do some meal planning?
Money – if a gym membership is too expensive, are there free online videos you can use, or could you buy some second hand gym equipment for the garage? If a paid for meditation app is too expensive could you find some on Soundcloud or the OMS website for free?
Energy - Make a plan A, B and C so you are always able to do some level of exercise and/or meditation, no matter how much time or energy you have.
Health – this may be out of your control, it might worth noting that some MS symptoms may be improved
Engage with OMS!
Research from the NEU has shown the more that someone engages with OMS and the recovery program, the more likely they are to make the all-important lifestyle changes, and then stick with them for the long run.
We acknowledge is not always easy to follow OMS’s recommendations.
A study by the NEU found supplementing with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, was these the easiest recommendations to follow.
In contrast, many participants really struggled with recommendations that were seen as “time-consuming” such as exercising and meditation. Very few were exercising or meditating the recommended amount, and there an episodic, stop-start pattern was common. Especially work and family responsibilities would often take priority. Fatigue and other MS symptoms, or (fear of) injuries, also prevent people from exercising regularly.
Many indicated that when eating meals out of the home (at restaurants, work, friends) they struggled to follow the recommendations and would eat some non-recommended food.
So it is important to realise that the steps are simply recommendations, and even though it can feel that everyone is following everything perfectly, this isn’t necessarily true. It is better to be kind to yourself and do what you can. We also have lots of resources to help you.
Resources from Overcoming MS to help you…
- Create your own meal plan
- Steps to change your eating
- Tips to follow the OMS diet recommendations
- Diet resources
- OMS on a budget
- OMS friendly recipes