New Year's resolutions are beginning to wane, and you're probably sick being told to eat your vegetables and dust off the yoga mat. If change were as easy as the average article says it is, then therapists like me would be out of a job. Change is a billion dollar industry that everyone and no one seems to have figured out.
When I find a rhythm with exercise or spinach munching, I always seem to burn out in a blaze of TV binge-watching or a rekindled romance with the Domino's tracker app. Winter is never great time for big alterations in habit, with our energy levels as short as the day is long. And lo, Girl Scout cookie season looms on the horizon like a monster ready to devour every good intension we had on Jan. 1.
As a self-improvement junkie, it took years for me to realize that beating myself up over the starts and stops was half the problem. And that half the solution was just focusing on the little things. We all know that baby steps are important when it comes to generating motivation, and that daunting habits are possible when they take a piggyback ride on the easier ones. So if you're wondering what is the absolute minimum you can do to make the most difference, here are three simple minihacks to get your butt in gear.
1. Set a "Screens Off" alarm.
The Internet is a magical place. You say you're going to shut down your laptop at 10pm and read a book like a real live adult, but all of sudden it's 11:57 a.m. and that 19th BuzzFeed cat gif montage is somehow more appealing to you than being a productive citizen tomorrow. That little dopamine rush from a retweet or a Facebook "like" leaves us starring bleary eyed at our screens like that fabled research mouse who pushes the cocaine level until his head explodes.
We know how horrible screens are for the sleeping brain, but we all still do it anyway. Longitudinal terror has never been enough to motivate most people. Even I found myself advising clients to unplug and then going home and scrolling Tumblr into the wee hours.
Nothing worked until I decided to set an alarm for 9:30 p.m. Rather than call it a "Screens Off" alarm, I labeled it my "Be Proud" alarm. So every night when the alarm sounds, I take a few seconds to reflect on the day and what I've accomplished. And then I turn everything off. Rather than guilt, it's that positive reinforcement that allows me to turn off my life and dive into a paperback before bed.
2. Hydrate like a goddess.
I used to call Diet Coke "the nectar of the Gods," and I wasn't joking. Instead of kicking the habit right away, I began to hydrate like a crazy woman. Drinking water is one of those no-brainer habits we dismiss because it almost seems too easy to be true. But the truth is that if you don't know what hell you're doing with your life, "I will hydrate like a goddess" is a pretty reassuring mantra.
Falling in love with water allowed me finally say goodbye to Diet Coke and other delicious aspartame-filled beverages. Who cares if all the scary theories about diet drinks are true? Water is the solution regardless. Whoever said toasting with water was bad luck was a damn fool, because it's brought nothing but fortune into my life. My skin clears up, I sleep better, I save money, and my brain functioning improves when there's water in the tank.
3. Stand up for god's sake.
Turns out Sly and Family Stone were right when they sang, "You've been sitting for much too long." Everyone's been panicking about how a new study has confirmed that your butt can be a silent killer. Even if people exercise, excessive sitting hours make us more susceptible to heart problems, cancer, and diabetes. Yikes.
Maybe your boss isn't too keen on you getting a standing desk for creeping on other people's cubicles, but you can find small ways to go vertical throughout the day. I mean if you're hydrating like a goddess, you're going to have to go to the bathroom a lot anyway, right? CNN recommended that you stand up during commercial breaks, leaving Netflix and HBOGO folks scratching their heads. I try and stand when I'm blow drying my hair or riding the bus, or I have an impromptu dance party when my "Screens off" alarm wails at 9:30 p.m.
If you do nothing else in 2015, these minihacks can provide the momentum for rerouting your life. Small changes aren't about immediate results. They're about giving back to you a sense of control. Setting those first few dominos that will make the rest your bad habits tumble into oblivion. I can't tell you what that first glass of water will build for you, but it's setting the foundation for bigger things. I'm not even sure what small changes will gift to me in 2015. But I can tell you that when they happen, my butt won't be planted in front of a hilarious cat gif.