The holidays are the time of year when many people are at risk for losing sight of their behavioral goals (e.g., drinking less, losing 5 pounds less, quitting smoking, starting a new work out routine, etc). It’s the often the busiest time of year in terms of work (both professional and personal, considering all the additional cooking and shopping) and it’s often very socially demanding too. And, it’s often emotionally demanding, even though the holidays are “supposed” to be a time of family, togetherness, and celebration. Many people are in fact alone, have conflict with their family, or have suffered losses that feel more acute over the holiday period.
Unfortunately, this swirl of stress is often causes us to devote less time to the activities that actually decrease stress….like getting enough sleeping, eating well and exercising. No matter what your goal, most people need to identify the holiday period as a risky time in terms of staying with it!
Here are 4 ways to stick to your goals during the holidays (and decrease the risk that you will drift into drinking too much or gaining back the 10 pounds you lost over the summer).
Play the Tape Forward:
Go into the holidays with your eyes open and thinking not just about right now, but about tomorrow! Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel come January 1st.” “What would I like to feel good about when I reflect on this last year?” It’s all too easy to get lost in what you want to do in this moment and forget about what that might do to you going forward. By keeping in mind how you want to feel later on, you might make choices that help you get there now.
Set Your Boundaries:
It’s important to establish some personal limits. If you have your limits in mind as you go to each event where you might be tempted to break your goal(s), you will be better equipped to resist getting caught up in the frenzy of the moment and seduced by the thought that a couple of drinks or the second serving of dessert won’t matter. Before you go to a party, ask yourself how you want to feel the next day. Write your goals for the evening down in your journal or on your calendar and look at them before you go. Then (and this is really important) record how you did after each event. Keeping a journal of both your goals and the actual outcome of your decisions will help you stay honest with yourself and resist drift..
Prepare and Reward Yourself:
You may have been to a million holiday parties in the past, but going to one where you have clear goals that require you to behave in a different way than you usually do is going to make this party feel different. Reduce your stress before you go to the 3rd holiday party of the week…take a quick nap or jump on the treadmill, eat a little bit before you go. That may give you the energy you need to maintain those changes going forward. Also, don’t lose sight of the things that can compete with the pull to drink or eat too much. Giving yourself a small reward (that is also in line with your stated goals) can make a difficult situation feel all the more worth it (and therefore more likely to keep occurring).
Get Some Support:
Support from other people as been found to be a very important predictor of positive behavioral change. If you know you want to get home early, ask a friend to meet you at the gym in the morning so you are less likely to stay out late. If you know resisting drinking will be difficult, ask a non-drinking friend to come with you to heavy drinking events (or give yourself permission to avoid them all together!)
Which brings us to the benefits of alcohol. Alcohol, at least initially, can feel like a quick cure to tension, anxiety, and social discomfort. And during this stressful period of time there can be a natural pull toward drinking more as alcohol can feel like it’s available at almost every event and it works quickly. In other words, it often feels easier to have a glass of wine than to find 30 minutes to go for a run. Whether you are counting calories or trying to reduce or stop drinking…the holiday season is a particularly tricky time to avoid or manage alcohol use. We encourage you to ask for support, stay focused on your long-term goals and find ways to manage the stress of the holidays in healthy ways that you will feel good about as you enter 2016. You are worth it!