A woman writing in a notebook.

Believe you'll succeed and you are more likely to.

The first step to a better you isn’t stepping on a scale or joining a spinning class. It’s adjusting your attitude.

“Our New Year’s resolutions often come from a negative place: I’m not thin enough, fit enough—that enough,” says Laura Salazar-Hopps, MDiv., BCC, Supportive Medicine Chaplain at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. “We beat ourselves up for not being perfect.”

It’s time to say enough. If you start from self-love, not self-loathe, changes are easier to make—and sustain, say Salazar-Hopps and fellow team member Tanya Babaei, LCSW, Supportive Medicine Medical Social Worker at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

“Research shows goals are much more achievable when you’re kind to yourself, rather than hard on yourself,” Salazar-Hopps says.

Ready to move from negativity to positivity? Let’s go!

Monitor Your Self-Talk.

Be aware of the things you tell yourself that nobody hears but you.

“The constant negative self-doubt, shaming, blaming and perfectionism is holding us back and interferes with our relationships and goals,” Babaei says. “It’s like having an unruly, rude and crotchety roommate who keeps telling you what’s wrong with you. If she were outside your head, you’d kick her out.”

The eviction process starts with awareness and continues with practice and being as compassionate to yourself as you would be to your best friend, she says. “Being able to label self-criticism takes away some of its power.”

Shift Perspectives.

Body positive resolutions are easier to reach, so instead of losing weight, vow to improve your health. Rather than focusing on your love handles and limitations, recognize your features and abilities. Instead of cutting calories, strive for a nutritious, filling diet. Instead of vowing to go to the gym three times weekly, seek a workout you love and that you’ll consistently do. Has trying to do it all worked for you? Thought not. If you prioritize self-care you’ll be better able to handle your load.

Pitch Perfection.

Babaei sought to exercise to alleviate the stress of her job, but failed until she shared her frustrations with a friend in the wellness profession. “She told me I was aiming for perfection, with too many goals and expectations that were set too high. If my plans weren’t working out, then I wasn’t doing exercise at all,” says Babaei.

So Babaei scrapped her goals and focused only on the positive intent of becoming healthier. Now ambitions don’t exceed her reality, and she exercises regularly. “I no longer go down the rabbit hole of should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. I didn’t need to exercise six days a week. I needed to get back on track,” she says. “If I don’t have the perfect workout or diet, I forgive myself and keep going.”

Cut Yourself Some Slack.

When at first you don’t succeed, skip the shame spiral. “If you feel you’ve failed or done something wrong, focus on forgiving yourself more quickly,” Babaei says. “Afterwards, you’ll be more motivated to try again.”

Observe How Healthier Behavior Makes You Feel.

“How does exercising or eating healthy meals affect your mood, outlook and sleep?” Salazar-Hopps asks. “Personally, my body feels better, and my stress dissolves. That motivates me far more than telling myself I’m bad if I don’t do it.”

Loosen Up.

Instead of being strict and structured with your goals, relax. “We’re social creatures by nature, so having fun, asking for support and sharing common goals make it easier to adopt new habits,” Salazar-Hopps says. “You also need unstructured time to rest and play. Living in high-stress 24/7 is not healthy. You’d think playing around would make you unproductive, but it actually makes you more productive and creative.”

Ask Yourself the Hard Questions.

Anger, sadness, frustration, exhaustion and other negative feelings may lead us to reward ourselves in ways that sabotage our goals, Salazar-Hopps says.

Assess your life, relationships and spiritual wellbeing to determine what you’re feeling and possibly avoiding. “Whether you feel anger or sadness, acknowledge it as your starting point,” she says. “Healing requires reflection and self-forgiveness, without expectations or a timeline.”

Be Grateful.

Gratitude is not only the foundation of happiness, but also strengthens our will and ability to change while raising our spirits.“So be grateful for what’s going well in your life and what your body accomplishes,” says Babaei.

“Look at exercise as something you get to do. You’re honoring your body, the only one you’ve got. There’s a lot more that’s right with your body than wrong with it,” she says. “You can express your gratitude through exercise.”

Listing three positives each day—beyond material possessions—on your phone or in a gratitude journal should help to you see the positives in your life. “Even if you do it a couple times weekly, you’ll increase your wellness and sense of well-being,” says Babaei.

Another approach is to do a progressive body scan, moving down your body head to toe. “Focus on gratitude for your body. You can be grateful you don’t have pain in your feet today, or that your knees work,” says Salazar-Hopps. “Even when you’re sick, you’re alive and more is going right than wrong.”

Prioritizing Yourself is Not Selfish.

Our roles as parents, partners, friends and co-workers often require patience, kindness and compassion. “If we don’t give those to ourselves, we don’t have the reserves to give them to others,” Salazar-Hopps says. “If we don’t have compassion for ourselves, we don’t have it for others.”

Bottom Line: You cannot have adequate reserves to help others without TCYOS-- Taking Care of Your Own Stuff. Babaei says, “Until you take care of yourself, there’s no way you’ll be fully able to take care of others’ needs.”

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