This time last year, I wrote about how I was focusing on affirmations instead of resolutions for 2017. I want to revisit what I said last year – always helpful! – and update it with two juicy new strategies  for 2018 that you are going to love no matter what your resolutions are! 

I’ve always been Alden. My personality has been constant. But the person I present to the world – the outer trappings – that has drastically changed over the past seven years. I used to chew gum, drink Diet Coke, microwave myself frozen dinners (“organic,” but still), shop at TopShop and Zara, and a long list of other unhealthy, polluting, and exploiting vices that I’m probably blocking out of my memory.

When I think of my New Year’s resolutions, I feel like they have always failed. And yet, when I look back to my 22-year-old self, it’s clear I’ve improved on so many measures. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished! I’m healthier, happier, more conscious, more successful, with more nourishing relationships. Why? How?

Well, I’ve definitely matured. I can’t discount the power of a fully developed prefrontal cortex to help me make forward-thinking decisions. But more importantly, I think that my concept of who I am has changed. I stopped being a southern sorority girl who struggled constantly with my weight and deeply cared about what boys thought about me, and started thinking of myself as a grownup, a New Yorker, an environmental advocate, a journalist, a feminist, and – finally – a green blogger. As that self-conception seeped into my soul, my habits and wants and needs began to evolve organically. Would a boss lady chew gum? Would an environmental advocate drink Diet Coke? Would a supporter of sustainable agriculture buy frozen dinners? Would a green blogger shop at Zara? Would a feminist base her self worth on designer labels, or let a guy treat her that way? No, of course not.

This is not to say I’m a perfect human being. I don’t eat exclusively organic. I am low-, not zero-, waste. Just out of curiosity, I dug through my budget for the year, and it looks like on average I take a cab once a week, which is far more than I would like to admit. But I’m heartened by the fact that one of my heroes, Michael Pollan, never advocated for perfection either. He advocates striving for a higher standard of nutrition.

So here are the three ways I’m going to hold myself to a higher standard in 2018:

1. Practice Affirmations Instead of Resolutions

Turns out, this strategy that I intuited is actually backed up by research. A 2012 study showed that saying “I don’t” is more effective than saying “I can’t” when trying to avoid temptation and reach your goals.

That’s why I feel like my resolutions have always failed. They’re based on “I won’t” or “I can’t” when they should be based on saying “I do” or “I don’t.” You have to believe that you are the kind of person who doesn’t eat sugar, who avoids toxic behavior, who eats healthfully. When you say, “I can’t eat that slice of cake,” a tone of regret is worked in. It implies usually  you totally would, but your better self is fighting your true self for supremacy and temporarily winning. It implies, “Ask me again and I might say yes.” Saying “I will” is implying that somewhere down the road, you will hopefully make that switch even though you aren’t doing it right now. It implies tomorrow, then the next day, and the next is when you’ll do it.

But saying “I don’t eat cupcakes” or “I exercise every day” implies mastery, self awareness, and success. It implies that you’ve have and you are living healthfully. It implies, “Don’t even bother pressuring me into going against my goals. This is who I am.”

2. Make Your Goals SMART

Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Pretty self explanatory, but I should explain the “relevant” one more. It means that you’re making the goal for the right reasons, and it is the right goal for you right now? This guide from the New York Times breaks it all down fully.

3. Practice Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride

This comes from this recent New York Times piece by a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. In it, he talks about the limits of using sheer willpower to make ourselves to the right, healthy, positive thing. Instead, he advocates for using social emotions to more effectively motivate ourselves in order to meet our goals.

In a study his lab conducted, for example, subjects who were prompted to think about an event that made them feel grateful were more likely to delay gratification in order to receive a larger monetary reward later, as compared to thinking about an event that made them feel neutral or happy.

“Our research also shows that when we make people feel grateful, they’ll spend more time helping anyone who asks for assistance, they’ll make financial decisions that benefit partners equally (rather than ones that allow profit at a partner’s expense), and they’ll show loyalty to those who have helped them even at costs to themselves. Making people feel proud — not arrogant, but proud of the skills they have — makes them more willing to wait for future rewards and more willing to take on leadership roles in groups and work longer and harder to help a team solve a difficult problem. Likewise, when we make people feel compassion, they’ll take on the burdens of others, spending more time and effort to help get others out of jams and ease their distress.

“What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future… Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.”

And there’s more!

“…study after study has shown that those who are seen as grateful, warm and justifiably confident draw others to them. Because these emotions automatically make us less selfish, they help ensure we can form relationships with people who will be there to support us when we need it.”

This sounds great to me! Pride instead of self-loathing, compassion instead of judgement, and gratitude instead of disappointment – it’s a complete flip of the usual emotions that lead us to make resolutions.

Applying these to my own resolutions

So, here are my own resolutions and how I’m applying these strategies to achieving them. They’re specific to me, but hopefully they inspire you to flesh out your own resolutions and achieve them this year!

So much sugar! Next time I will say no to dessert.

Resolution 1: Sugar

This was one of my resolutions last year. And to be completely honest, I was doing great on the sugar-free front until I arrived to Mexico City at the beginning of December. My 2017 resolution to never eat anything with added sugar clashed with my conception of myself as an adventurous tourist who dives into authentic local culture. And when it comes to Mexican culture, well, they love sweets. I bought big nut-based candies sold by little old ladies outside of the el Bazar Sabado, and took a coconut candy factory tour in Zihuatanejo. We ordered postres at the end of almost every dinner. And when I practiced my Spanish by inquiring with the waiter at a taco place what white drink the ladies at the next table had ordered, I swiftly ordered my own sweet agua de chata.

My body paid the price. All that sugar threw off my microbiome. It should have been a warning sign when I developed a yeast infection. But I kept ordering frozen tamarind margaritas got sweet popsicles from the local vendor because, Mexican culture! (Never mind that I don’t have to sample every cultural thing that Mexico has to offer.) Then, my gut health broke down and I spent every day wondering, “The beginning of food poisoning? Or too much sugar?” It was the latter.

I can’t think of a more clear indication that sugar is not good for me. Over the last five days, I’ve already cut it out of my diet, but I don’t want to have a relapse!

Affirmation: I don’t eat sweets. This is what I will say when someone offers me a dessert, a sweet snack, etc. I just don’t eat things with added sugar.

SMART: I will choose sugar-free food options over added-sugar options whenever possible, dropping my added-sugar consumption down to one sweet thing a week by the end of January. It’s specific (“added sugar”), measurable (one thing a week), achievable (I’m leaving room for times when I don’t have other options or I’m at a special event), relevant (I’m making this goal for my health), and time-bound (by the end of January).

Gratitude, compassion, or pride: I will practice gratitude for my health and access to healthy whole foods, and be compassionate towards my body by choosing sugar-free options. My future self will thank me for keeping her looking young (sugar consumption accelerates the signs of aging skin) and with a healthy microbiome.

Resolution 2: Digital Nomadism

I’m still getting into the swing of this whole “digital nomad” thing. When we got to Mexico City, I had a long, long list of recommendations and things to do, and they were often given to me with language that we “had” to go to this thing, or we “must” try this “unmissable” restaurant. So, I scurried about trying to do them all. But I can’t keep that pace up for a whole year. For one, it’s expensive, especially when it comes to nice restaurants. And two, it left no time for actual working! You might have noticed I didn’t post much during this time. And also, I found that some of the recommendations weren’t actually that sustainable or ethical. So I’m resolving to act like a person who lives and works in the places we are visiting, rather than a tourist.

Affirmation: I’m a digital nomad, not a tourist. We’re working as we go, so I have to prioritize my work schedule. I only spend time on truly unique and sustainable activities and restaurants because I am researching them for EcoCult, and pass on general tourist attractions.

SMART: I will spend at least 20 hours a week working.

Gratitude, compassion, or pride: I will practice gratitude for the opportunity to travel and work in beautiful, new-to-me locations that are affordable enough that I only have to work 20 hours a week. I will take pride in researching and finding only the best, most sustainable travel activities and restaurants to share with you.

Strategies for New Year resolutions

 

Resolution 3: Exercise

I packed a travel yoga mat so that I can keep my health even while we go from location to location. It’s been a struggle to use it every day, even though I know how incredibly important daily exercise is!

Affirmation: I get on my mat every morning, if just for ten minutes. It’s something I love doing and starts my day off right.

SMART: I will spend at least 10 minutes every day on my mat, either doing a yoga routine, meditating, or doing one of my two travel workouts. Ideally in the morning, but if I didn’t get to it in the morning, before I go to bed works too!

Gratitude, compassion, or pride: Every time I get on the mat, I will think of what I am grateful for that day. I will take pride in my strong body that takes me hiking up mountains and lifts my heavy suitcase up five flights of stairs in New York. And I will practice compassion whenever I find myself ruminating on my body’s imperfections.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo studio in Mexico City. It was nice to see, but I couldn’t understand the Spanish signs!

Resolution 4: Spanish

One of my reasons for going on this year-long trip with my husband was to learn Spanish. I’m definitely picking up more vocabulary, but I can barely piece together a sentence right now. And when people try to say something to me in Spanish, I’m usually completely lost, turning to my husband with a pleading look. Honestly, if he weren’t here, I would be a much worst tourist, because I would be unable to stay at AirBnB’s owned by local hosts, to book tours with many Mexican guides, or use bike shares and public transportation effectively. Plus, I’m still unable to talk with my mother-in-law.  I have five months left in Latin America. I can’t leave without being able to have a basic conversation.

Affirmation: Estoy aprendiendo español.

SMART: I will practice/learn Spanish with intention for at least 30 minutes every day, whether it’s in a class (I’m taking morning classes in Oaxaca for six days), through the app Duo Lingo, or working in a Spanish textbook I bought before we left. I will also write down at least one new vocabulary word a day in my notebook. By May, I will have a phone conversation with my mother-in-law with no help from my husband.

Gratitude, compassion, or pride: I will take pride in learning another language and being able to navigate through situations in Latin America on my own. I will practice compassion for people I encounter who don’t speak English well by trying to meet them halfway with my own Spanish.

Have you tried any of these strategies? What are your resolutions for 2018? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!