The motivation to make big changes at the start of the year is a bit arbitrary, but you take motivation where you can find it. And if you’re feeling more drive than usual this week, you’re not alone: “I think many, including myself, see the new year as an opportunity to circle back to what matters most,” says Adriene Mishler, creator of the world-dominating Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel. It’s time, she says, to “notice what you have taken on that is no longer serving, and pay attention to what you can do to support your own growth—and commit or re-commit to that.”
Like many other fitness professionals, Mishler’s kicking off the new year by hosting a challenge, a 30-day yoga journey, encouraging her nearly nine million subscribers to join her for a month of movement, with the theme of “breath.” Of course, you’re not supposed to stop there, ultimately: “One of my overarching goals is to invite people to have an experience on the mat that will inspire them to continue,” she says.
Is that what really happens? Whether it’s yoga, the ever-classic Couch-to-5K, Dry January, or eating à la Whole30, are limited-time “challenges” really the right way to create positive changes that stick as the weeks continue? Or do they just lead to February relapses into the old you? That’s determined by your mindset, says psychologist Brian Wind, Ph.D., CBSM, chief clinical officer at JourneyPure.
“Typically, challenges work because they push a person to do something they normally wouldn’t do,” Wind says. “Once they experience the benefits of the challenge, it builds their motivation and momentum to continue. It also proves to people that they don’t need their old habits to feel good about themselves.”
Sounds good, right? Here are three more reasons to start the new year with a challenge:
There’s likely already an established community.
The great thing about a lot of challenges is that they go hand-in-hand with good information and built-in support, which is especially nice in the COVID era. “Ideally, your primary motivation is internal and positive, yet if you like external reinforcement, then involve others in your goals,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California. “This may come in the form of getting friends to exercise with you, supportive contacts with buddies who keep you on track with your goals, or joining a group that offers supportive check-ins.” So do your challenge with a friend, or just browse the relevant subreddit for motivation when you’re having an off day.
It will get you out of your comfort zone.
Ideally, a challenge will force you to think about the things you may need to get this effort off the ground, whether it’s figuring out where to stash your sneakers or setting aside time on your calendar to complete a day’s task. “You want to envision the changes you want and begin to plan out micro-steps to achieve the goal,” says Manly. Stretching yourself for a short period will pay dividends down the line—you’ll learn what your life looks like when you’re doing yoga all the time, or which bad habits make running the next day really hard.
Challenges are SMART.
The best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. (It’s a cliché because it works.) A challenge is almost by definition all of those things—it’s up to you whether it’s relevant (something that will actually improve your life) and achievable. By contrast, something vague like “Work out more” is not a good goal—it’s not specific or measurable. “Run every day” similarly fails—it’s not time-bound, and you’re destined to slip up at some point in the rest of your life. The fact that there’s an end point is the magic of a challenge, more than anything else: When things get tough—and they will—it’s helpful to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
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