You know how sometimes, in a movie, there will be a freeze frame where the main character sees everyone and everything around him or her completely frozen in time? It usually happens at a crucial time in the person’s life when she is faced with a life-altering decision, and the action doesn’t pick up until the person decides where to go or what to do. In that instance, her life has come to a screeching halt, and whatever decision she makes will determine the rest of her life. This is exactly what happens to the main character in my next book, Island of Miracles. Facing a devastating revelation about her marriage, stuck in a dead-end career, and realizing that her life is going nowhere, Kathryn Middleton throws caution to the wind and sets out to create for herself a brand new life.
How many times have you fantasized about doing the same? Perhaps you don’t want a whole new life. Maybe it’s a change of careers, the desire to pursue a degree, or the need to make changes within yourself. Do you have the courage to make the leap?
This is the first week of 2017. According to statistics, 45% of those of you reading this have made some kind of New Year’s resolution. 75% will be successful in keeping the resolution for the first week., but only 8% will see it through to completion or make it a permanent lifestyle change. Why is that? Are we truly incapable of sticking to a promise, or do we tend to set our goals too high? 47% of people who made resolutions in 2016 wanted to improve themselves internally in some way. 38% wanted to lose weight. Yet only 46% are able to keep up their efforts longer than six months. There seem to be an awful lot of people just setting themselves up for failure. But why?
According to Joseph Shrand, M.D., an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, our brain delights in seeing us give in to simple pleasures. No matter how much we say we aren’t going to eat that piece of chocolate, our brain tempts us with the knowledge that for just a moment, we can enjoy the experience of eating the forbidden food even when we know we will come to regret it later. He suggests outsmarting our brains with proven techniques that allow people to stick their promises. The first is to strengthen your willpower as if it’s a muscle. Tell yourself every day that you can and will do what you’ve set out to do, and simply do it. It sounds too easy to be true, but he says that the more you use your willpower, the stronger it will become. But just like with any exercise, don’t overdo it. This leads to step two: make one change at a time. If what you’re trying to achieve is too lofty a goal, start out small, and resolve to keep it up every day, building to your goal little by little. If you want to lose weight, it isn’t enough to eat less. You have to shop differently, cook differently, learn new recipes, change your lifestyle, join a gym, etc. Doing all of that at once can be overwhelming, but doing it one piece at a time can be empowering.
Think about your goals, what you need to do to achieve them, and break them into steps (step three). This week, find some healthy recipes you’d like to try, and modify your shopping list. Clean out your pantry, and restock it with healthy snacks. Start one snack or one meal at a time. Next week, park father away from the store or your office. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Change your habits one habit at a time.
Relax and have fun. Shrand says that step four is to watch a funny movie, or perhaps, read a funny book. Research shows that watching something that makes you laugh makes it easier for you to reach your goals. And when you feel your willpower slipping, move to step five: instead of reaching for candy, reach for a glass of orange juice. The glucose will recharge your energy and your willpower. Step six, don’t use superlatives. Giving up “all sugar” or vowing to “only use cash” will make things much harder. Make realistic goals, and rely on step seven: congratulate yourself for what you’ve done right. When you hit that plateau and can’t seem to lose another pound, remind yourself that you’ve already lost five. Make a list of the things you have accomplished that year or throughout your life. Remind yourself that you are capable of achievement if you stick to it.
I love step eight. Increase your feeling of inner power by doing something good for someone else. By treating others with kindness, you reward yourself by feeling better about yourself. And the golden rule is always a good one to live by, do unto others as you would want done unto you. Step nine is something that most of us probably have done at one time or another – post a picture of your end goal. It might be an old photo of a thinner you, or a picture of a vacation you want to save for, or, as in my case, the cover you envision for your first novel. That photo hung on my wall for years before it became a reality, but I never gave up on the idea that, one day, I would be a published author.
Finally, when you know that you’re hungry or tired or your resistance is wearing thin, take a break. Take a walk or a drive or a run. Remove yourself from the temptation. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself, and the craving will be replaced with the desire to succeed.
Whatever you’re trying to accomplish in 2017, I wish you luck. It’s not easy making a change, but it’s often worth it. To see how Kathryn manages to escape her life and recreate herself, read Island of Miracles, in bookstores and online later this month.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her most recent book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase; and her next novel, Island of Miracles, will be released in January of 2017.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.