Monday, January 18, 2010

The Third Monday in January

I heard on NPR recently that the third Monday in January is one of the most depressed days of the year for many. All of the holiday bills have arrived. People feel like they’ve already failed at their New Year’s resolutions, and the current year will not be any different or brighter than the previous year.

We’ve already discussed why setting goals instead of resolutions is a better option, but let’s tackle the question of whether 2010 will be any different or brighter than 2009. Of course it can be if you want it to be and are willing to make some adjustments. There are roughly 50 weeks left in the year, and you don’t have to make all your changes in the first two weeks of 2010.

For many years, January was one of the busiest months of the year for me at work. It was just impossible for me to hit the latest year running on my New Year’s resolutions or goals since I was working killer hours at work. I whined to Trish about it once, and she asked me why I didn’t treat February 1 as my own personal New Year’s Day. What a simple suggestion, but it made all the difference. I started doing that, and my Februaries became so much more productive.

I didn’t try to do everything on February 1 though. I made plans and tried to tackle one area or change at a time. For example, if your goal is to become healthier through changes in diet and exercise, you may want to incorporate one new thing into your life every week. Start off your first week by keeping a food diary. The next week, you may set a goal of going to the gym 2-3 times in the next 7 days. The third week may be devoted to trying to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables a day. During the fourth week, you may want to work in some strength training into your fitness routine by lifting some weights or attending a yoga class. Ideally, you would keep up with each one of these changes so that by the end of the month, you are doing 4 new things that will help you become healthier. At the end of the year, you would have incorporated 52 changes into your lifestyle that make it healthier. A book that looks at weight loss through one change every 4 days is Martha Beck's The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace.

These changes need not take much time or even effort to implement. Psychology professor Richard Wiseman’s new book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot looks at many recent studies on why people act they way they do and is full of steps you can take in less than a minute to change your life. He examines the areas of happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity (he’s not that wild about brainstorming), attraction, relationships, stress, decision making, parenting, and personality. He critiques where typical self-help and common sense advice get it wrong and shares what the latest scientific studies say will work. If this intrigues you, you can listen online to an hour interview with him entitled Brain Science on NPR’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show before you read the book.

In his chapter on motivation, he reviews how people successfully make big changes in their lives such as losing weight. They must create the ideal plan that identifies what their overall goal is, create a step-by-step plan for how they will achieve that goal, identify the benefits of achieving their overall goal, and go public by sharing their goal with others. He even suggests blogging about it. Does this sound familiar? It does to me because it succinctly captures how I lost 30 pounds last year.

How are you feeling on this third Monday of January? Do you have any stories or advice to share about how you have successfully made changes - big or small - in your life?


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on January 18, 2010 at 1:36 PM said...

I'm feeling okay today, though I think that has as much to do with the fact that the sun is shining now. This morning, when it was cloudy and foggy, I just wanted to stay in bed. January is my least favorite month because it's smack dab in the middle of winter, but we're past the mid point now so that's good.

I like the idea of making one small change each week and how that would add up to 52 changes for the better by the end of the year. How awesome would that be!

Michelle Butler on January 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM said...

Enjoy the sun!

I think that the third Tuesday may end up being a more depressing day for folks since today is a holiday. It doesn't feel like a real Monday.

I've always noticed that whenever I want to make some changes or renew my healthy efforts - it's best to address them one at a time. It's too overwhelming otherwise. For me, the most helpful is to start with exercising or the food diary. Those two steps make the most difference.

I've even noticed that when I want to get back in the groove for writing or other non-diet/fitness changes that making sure I'm exercising regularly beforehand gives me the energy I need to start with other changes.

Tawny on January 18, 2010 at 4:45 PM said...

Wow, Michelle, I'm very intrigued by this theory and this book. I'm not surprised to hear that statistic about January, either - its a bummer of a month in so many ways. I've come to see it as the cave month. A sort of hermity time of cleansing, letting go and trying to release expectations that aren't working.

Like you, if I can get myself into the exercise groove, all the rest of the changes seem to come easier. But - BUT only if I'm already solidly writing. To try and push myself to get started writing and to get started exercising is a huge struggle.

I really like the idea of breaking the goal down into doable steps- into small changes and easily achievable processes that will end up in overall change.

This week, mine is to use my WW login every day to record my food/activity and to get 5 days of at least a half hour exercise. And I'm willing to count walking the dogs as exercise at this point.

Michelle Butler on January 18, 2010 at 5:09 PM said...

Tawny, given that we both recognize how much of a difference exercise makes and how much more energy it gives us - why is it so hard to motivate to do it some times? I just don't get it.

And, walking the dog totally counts. I've actually seen debates and studies on whether it's better to walk with another person or a dog - and I think the dog won. Best of luck with your WW tracking goal!

Tawny on January 19, 2010 at 2:43 AM said...

Oh man, if I had the answer to that Michelle, we'd both be wearing bikinis!!

thanks for the luck ;-) And I'm not surprised about the dog news. My dogs are much less patient with excuses and much more grateful when I drag them out walking in the rain LOL

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