Credit: Madison Lavern, Unsplash
Think back to 2009, if you dare. It was a time when many of us had fewer gray hairs, fewer pounds, possibly fewer kids to care for. If you made New Year’s resolutions at the dawn of the fresh new decade that followed, chances are those well-intentioned plans got lost in the ensuing years of sleepless nights, sick days, soccer games and sack lunches as you raised young kids.
The fact is, even without adding children into the equation, most people don’t stick to their grand Jan. 1 plans — but that’s okay. Research shows that simply making a resolution increases your chances of reaching your goal by tenfold, and that those who ultimately succeed make progress in stops and starts. In other words, it can take a few tries to finally launch a lasting habit. And if change doesn’t take hold right away, keep trying.
A new decade is upon us, and with it a golden opportunity to unearth some long-abandoned goals, make new ones and begin mapping out our next steps. We’ve brought together some experts to help you create habits with sticking power. Whether you want to save more, get in shape or find more joy, here’s to a happier, healthier you in 2020 and beyond.
Focus on fitting in fitness
Hit the gym in January and you’ll have plenty of company. According to a 2018 survey conducted by NPR and the Marist Poll, a third of resolution makers set fitness goals, with “exercising more” being cited as the most common New Year’s resolution. Here’s how to help those resolutions outlast January.
Work the floor
The pelvic floor — muscles spanning the bottom of the pelvis that support the bladder, bowel and uterus — is a foundation of fitness. About a quarter of women have weak pelvic floor muscles, which make vigorous exercise uncomfortable, if not downright embarrassing. Happily, these muscles respond to the right types of exercise, and a few sessions with a pelvic floor physical therapist can work wonders. Even better, physical therapy is often covered by insurance.
Enlist your partner
According to science, women with supportive partners get more physical activity, eat healthier foods and are more likely to lose pounds gained during pregnancy. After having three children in four years, Overlake Medical Center family physician Frida Pena Benitez, M.D., enlisted her partner’s support when she decided to train for her first marathon. “I talked with my husband about how important this was to me,” she says. Explain the reasons behind your goals, be transparent about your routine and return the love by asking your partner how you can support them.
Research shows that simply making a resolution increases your chances of reaching your goal by tenfold.
Find a tribe
Research shows that working out with a group benefits fitness and weight loss practices, and it’s never been easier to find a group to join. Check your local running store’s website or social media pages for free group runs (most host at least one per week) or find workout-related meetups on Facebook or meetup.com.
Bring the core to the fore
Pena Benitez’s advice to moms (and dads) who want to get back into shape: Don’t ignore the core. “Our core muscles are vital to overall fitness, and spending time strengthening these muscles is extremely valuable when it comes to preventing back pain and injury,” she says. “I also recommend seeking out a coach so you can learn to do core exercises with correct form.” If you can’t bring yourself to do another plank, mix up your routine with core-strengthening classes focused on yoga, Pilates and tai chi.
Get the app
Turn your smartphone into a pocket-size trainer and motivational coach with a few fitness-focused apps. Using an app to track your exercise increases motivation and commitment, according to research. Pena Benitez recommends Strava, Runcoach and TrainingPeaks.
Focus on family finances
Want to feel less financially strapped in 2020? You’re not alone. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Experian, 38 percent of Americans will start the new year feeling stress over holiday spending, and nearly 60 percent of 2020 resolutions will involve spending and debt. Cultivating a more prosperous future starts with small steps and isn’t nearly as scary as most people think, says financial coach Mindy Crary, owner and founder of Seattle’s Creative Money. Here’s how.
“A lot of parents come to me with a mixture of relief and guilt,” Crary says. “Relief that maybe they’re not putting so much of their income toward child care anymore, but also guilt that they haven’t been prioritizing long-term goals.” She counsels parents to relax — it’s normal to focus on immediate financial needs such as child care and diapers in the early years of parenthood. “Many people aren’t in as bad of shape as they think they are,” she says.
Together with your partner, gather three months’ worth of bank statements from your family’s primary spending accounts to see where your money is going. Many banks and budgeting apps offer online tools that help customers visualize spending patterns in chart form. While this isn’t most people’s favorite part of the process, it’s an important first step. “It’s akin to stepping on the bathroom scale after a long vacation,” Crary says. “It provides clarity and context, which can help as you begin to think about financial goals.”
Identify areas of overspending
It’s hard to fine-tune your family finances without context. Find data on average household spending online or by consulting a financial coach to learn how you might shift spending toward short-term and long-term goals. “The most common areas of overspending are grocery shopping, dining out and impulse shopping — or Amazon shopping,” says Crary. “When people want to make financial changes, seeing what you spend compared to other families creates a more compelling context for how day-to-day decisions impact long-term goals.”
Set a specific goal
Making a vague decision to spend less overall, or even cut back in a specific category, is more effective when you know why you’re cutting back, says Crary. Setting specific goals for the upcoming year, such as having enough cash to pay for a new roof or a nice vacation, is much more motivating than a vague “spend less” mandate, and research shows that short-term rewards like these are more likely to spark long-term change.
Make a date
While one member of a couple usually handles more of the financial busywork — monitoring the checking account and making sure bills get paid — both partners need to be in the loop. Set up a weekly 20-minute date to log into your banking or budgeting app and see where you are, Crary says. “This also prompts discussions about day-to-day spending and longer-term goals. One couple set their weekly check-in for 30 minutes before ‘Game of Thrones,’ which was perfect.”
Checking in with a financial pro can help ease parents’ worries about not saving enough for their kids’ college education. More parents are getting creative about ways to pay for their children’s education without derailing their own retirement, says Crary. And Washington families may soon get relief from the college crunch, thanks to the recently passed bill providing free or reduced tuition at community colleges and public institutions starting in 2020.
Focus on personal growth
Feeling a bit lost in the hustle of #parentlife? When your life is consumed by caretaking and other responsibilities, it’s easy to lose sight of your personal goals, says life coach Lena D. Meyer of Seattle, founder of Gratitude6 life coaching. Here’s how to get back on track.
Find your voice
“One of the main things people say to me is ‘I feel like I’ve lost my voice. I don’t know what brings me deep joy, so how can I connect with what I really want?’” says Meyer. She helps clients make this connection by taking note of any stirrings of inspiration you might feel, she says. “Whenever the heart says ‘I wish,’ that points to what the heart and soul are calling for.”
Chart a heart map
One of the most powerful ways to define and prioritize personal goals takes just 20 minutes, says Meyer. “Use the time to answer this question: ‘What do I most want to experience in my lifetime?’ Then let whatever’s inside come out onto the page without judgement.” Take the exercise even further by highlighting a few high-priority items and writing down a simple step to take toward each one.
Before parents can regain a sense of personal purpose, many need to give themselves permission to pursue joy.
Create a daily practice
Maybe you’ve tried journaling or daily meditation and couldn’t make the habit stick. The key to consistency is finding a calming, centering daily practice that works for you, not for someone else. “Take three minutes at the beginning of the day to set an intention for the day, and three minutes at the end of the day to reset,” says Meyer. “You can meditate, you can write down what you’re grateful for, you can make note of something that inspired you or something that challenged you.”
Make it fun
Bringing more joy into your life shouldn’t feel like drudgery. What if it could be fun? “That’s my advice for a first step to take. What’s fun for you? Start there,” says Meyer. Think about how you like to learn, and then add a new podcast, video series or TED Talk to your lineup to begin increasing your daily dose of inspiration.
Before parents can regain a sense of personal purpose, many need to give themselves permission to pursue joy. “Many parents who come to me have mixed feelings, sometimes intense guilt,” says Meyer. She helps her clients “get curious” about their guilt: What is the guilt telling you? “Once you identify that statement, like ‘I don’t have a right to pursue personal dreams,’ then you can ask yourself if that statement is really true,” she says. (Spoiler alert: It usually isn’t.)
Focus on professional progress
Maybe you’ve been plodding along a predictable career path without giving much thought to the big picture, or maybe you’ve been out of the game for a few years or longer. If you’re feeling behind and not sure where to start, Seattle-based career coach Elizabeth Atcheson of Blue Bridge Career Coaching can help.
Not sure where to start? Atcheson recommends a visit to a university bookstore, which are plentiful in the Puget Sound area. “Spend time taking note of topics that speak to you.” While you’re at it, pick up a book like “HBR Guide to Changing Your Career” by Harvard Business Review, “The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention” by Pamela Mitchell or the classic “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles to spark more ideas.
Elevating your career takes time and energy, two things in short supply for most parents. The key to creating momentum is strategic focus, says Atcheson. “I advise parents to focus ruthlessly on the things that are important to them and ignore everything else.” That could mean delegating household tasks, eating more freezer meals or limiting social media time so you can balance parenting and professional growth.
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to do next, find a way to volunteer in that field or connect with a dream employer through charitable work. Match your volunteer efforts to your desired job, says Atcheson. “If you want to work in accounting, volunteer as PTA treasurer or help develop budgets for a capital campaign. And keep in mind that you never have to put the words ‘volunteer’ or ‘part-time’ on your résumé. Work is work.”
Carving out time to advance your career is easier if kids know about schedule changes in advance. Atcheson advises parents to post a big wall calendar on which they can write down the family schedule, including their own career commitments. “Explain that you’re taking a class every Thursday night because you want to learn how to do something new, and put it on the schedule for everyone to see. The visual cues of a family schedule are very helpful to kids.”
Set mini goals
Creating a habit of setting small daily goals is one of the most powerful things people can do to create momentum in their lives, says Atcheson. “I have people take neon 3-by-5-inch index cards and write down the three most important things they’re going to do the next day, before they go to bed each night.” This helps identify personal values by showing people what’s most important to them, she says. “It’s astounding how much more productive people are once they adopt this habit.”
Focus on physical health
If you dutifully drive kids to their medical appointments and dental cleanings, but you haven’t had a checkup in ages, it’s time for some self-care. Staying on top of preventive care saves time and money by warding off expensive medical and dental emergencies; it also models healthy habits for your children.
Build your team
If you’ve been avoiding checkups, maybe you haven’t found the right providers. Consider your current stage in life and whether your primary care provider, dentist or OB-GYN still meets your needs; if they don’t, then ask friends for recommendations. “After women finish having children, some choose to transition from their OB-GYN to a family physician who can serve as their primary care provider,” says Overlake Medical Center’s Pena Benitez.
Get checked out
Scheduling a physical is a simple two-for-one — you can meet and try out a potential primary care provider while checking off any recommended tests or screenings. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides an interactive tool that shows recommended health screenings by age and gender.) “Go see a primary care provider to have your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checked, and get up to date with vaccines,” recommends Kevin O. Hwang, M.D., MPH , medical director of the University of Texas General Internal Medicine Center.
Put your best smile forward
One of the best ways to encourage kids to brush and floss is by modeling healthy habits yourself, says holistic dentist Carla Yamashiro, DDS, NMD, of Ecologic Dentistry in Bonney Lake. Upgrade your family’s dental health by switching to electric toothbrushes, installing a toothbrush holder in the shower so you can combine brushing with another daily habit, and rinsing your mouth with water when you can’t brush after meals.
Move your multivitamin
Nobody loves choking down a daily horse pill. But research suggests that daily multivitamins ward off heart disease, colon cancer and breast cancer. Vegans and those on specialized diets may need to supplement, too. If you buy vitamins but forget to take them, throw out any old bottles of vitamins past their expiration dates, move a new bottle to a spot where you’ll notice it daily and consider whether a different form — such as powder, chewable or gummy — might be more appealing.
Consider cutting back
Part of establishing a trusting relationship with a primary care provider is opening up about substances you use, from an occasional joint to a nightly cigarette to a two-glasses-with-dinner wine habit. Ask your provider for honest feedback about whether shifting your habits could improve your health. “Be honest with yourself about habits involving alcohol and drugs,” says Hwang. “If you smoke, cutting down and eventually quitting smoking will be one of the best things you could ever do for your health.”