Since health is such a significant area of life, it’s likely some of your New Year’s goals involve working out or eating well – in all senses of the word.
So amidst new year diet “resets” and unnecessarily extreme workout routines – which might seem inviting if you’re feeling sluggish or frustrated after the holidays – here’s the 411 on how to tackle the New Year the Forever Plan way.
In case you’re new to the blog, when I say the “Forever Plan,” I mean a lifestyle you can picture doing indefinitely, regardless of any wellness struggles you might have previously endured. It takes proper guardrails, practice, and a little (okay, a lot) of tenacity.
Here’s the short list of healthy habits to devote your attention to, the characteristics of a sustainable routine, and what to do when – not if – you mess up.
But first: excitement vs. stress
If you’re anything like me, you find working towards important goals, like tending to your health, pretty exciting. But that excitement can easily turn into stress – maybe we can’t stop thinking about the thing we’re trying to change, we enter a cycle of self-doubt, or we feel clenched and tight-chested when that thing crosses our mind. We often place high expectations on ourselves and feel pressure to excel.
So before proceeding, it’s worth asking: “Am I excited or stressed about my New Year’s intentions?”
When it comes to living a Forever Plan, excitement is a big indicator that our approach will be sustainable while stress is often a sign that something in our approach, mindset, or goals needs tweaking before we proceed.
Excitement often means our desire to take care of ourselves comes from our own desire to be well rather than as a need to prove ourselves or compare ourselves to others – that we know we can succeed no matter what (a key belief for sustainability, to be sure!).
On the other hand, significant stress is usually an indication that we need to pause, examine our motivations, and adjust the sails. If you’re in that boat (pun intended), think about the following tips as things to work towards rather than as something to take on all at once. You might find that you’re already doing one or more of these healthy habits – or feel genuinely excited to get started – and see how that one thing evolves into the rest.
What are the characteristics of a healthy routine you can do forever?
Getting into a sustainable routine is about more than what you do. It’s also about how you do it. Many healthy lifestyle approaches teach you the what – what specific foods to eat, what kind of exercise you should be doing, etc. – but not how you’re going to build these habits and work them into your life.
So let’s get into the how. There are three big success principles here:
Focus on the 20% of healthy behaviors that get 80% of the results. Have you ever tried to fill your day with healthy habits but then swung in the other direction, doing precisely none of them? Yep, me too. Instead of attempting to boil the ocean, living a Forever Plan is about being devoted to the biggest dial movers diligently and joyfully. More on what those are in a second.
Work on mindset, not just tactics. Making healthier choices the majority of the time is a matter of understanding not just what to do, but how you personally make decisions. It’s a mental game of being aware of your thoughts and redirecting them to stay focused on your goals just as much as it is about hitting the gym and eating greens.
Use the 80/20 guideline, which is about eating whole, unprocessed foods 80% of the time and having more indulgent items the rest. We simply aren’t designed to completely eliminate any food groups and so the goal shouldn’t be to cut them out, only to feel deprived and swing back to the other side of the pendulum. By allowing ourselves to indulge some of the time, we end up eating healthier a much larger portion of the time.
So how do we do that?
The 7 major dial movers
Certain behaviors have a much bigger bang for your buck than others. For example, regularly drinking 3L of water per day is way more impactful for how you feel, look, and think than eating a serving of goji berries. Both are healthy habits, but drinking water is a big dial mover.
The key behaviors to reach your “goal body” are simpler than we might expect. They include:
Eat 3-4 meals a day made up of a protein, healthy fat, and veggie carb plus starchy carbs at some of these meals, depending on your goals. Implementing this well alone will transform how you look, think, and feel. This is a great habit to focus on by itself for a month or two before introducing more habits.
Move your body at least 4 days per week. Weightlifting will help you change your body composition the most, but in the long term, simply moving more than not is what matters.
Drink 3L of water per day. Being hydrated gives us more energy, makes us more alert, and helps all the systems in our body function properly. Simply drinking more water can be the energy boost I need for the day.
Get enough restful sleep. For most adults, that means 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep with as few distractions as possible, especially the ones we can control. So try unwinding before bed, reducing exposure to blue light at night, sleeping in a cool environment, and not checking the phone during the night.
Meditate for at least 5 minutes a day. Meditation aids in stress reduction and helps us think more clearly.
Visualize your goal, including the obstacles it’ll take to get there. Life is busy, and so refocusing on your goal each and every day keeps you pointed in that direction.
Journal at night. Process what went well and what didn’t during the day and lay out a schedule for when you’ll do your healthy habits the following day.
If all you did for the rest of your life was focus on these habits (barring any medical conditions), you’d probably be in very good shape (pun intended).
What to do when, not if, you make a mistake
I definitely struggle with accepting my mistakes in other areas of life and know how painful it can be to redirect the ship after making a healthy habit mistake. The fact is though that we’ll all make mistakes. So having a plan for what to do when that happens is key. It’s part of the whole game plan!
My approach to making mistakes comes down to three steps:
Learn from it
Take your next healthy step.
Learn from why you strayed. Did an old decision-making pattern set in that should be replaced? Did you not plan enough in advance? It’s all information that’ll help you make more aligned decisions going forward.
Move on. Easier said than done – and this takes practice – but beating ourselves up about mistakes doesn’t actually get us closer to where we want to go. Next!
Take your next healthy step. Refer to the section on the 7 dial movers and lay out a little schedule for how each will fit into your day. Then, execute your plan for the first one and go onward from there.
I hope this sparks inspiration for your most fulfilling, healthiest year yet. Keep me in the loop about your progress by coming over to Instagram @valeriebisharat. I love hearing from you!