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A fresh year lies at our doorstep once again, full of opportunity and promise. If you’re like most of us, you probably spent December reminiscing about setbacks and successes in the past year and looking forward—hopefully with eagerness—to what the coming year has in store. Allow me to challenge you with this thought: what if your experiences over the next 12 months were to be determined not by the fickle finger of fate, but by minor yet crucial lifestyle choices you improve or ignore now? If you believe in this approach to change, really believe it, you’re halfway toward reclaiming the champion inside you.

Although opinions on self-determination vary, imagine for a moment that the next year of your life is more a product of intention than previously imagined. Your beliefs and attitudes act as filters through which you understand life experiences and form expectations about goals you regard as achievable. They provide the discipline needed to carry out plans to realize those goals, and help infuse a sense of flexibility that allows for important adjustments to be made. While your efforts to improve your lifestyle choices will not always end in success (at least not as initially envisioned), what you believe and your attitude toward yourself are the cornerstone of what you achieve. 

Let’s apply some of this thinking to New Year’s Resolutions, Austin Fit Magazine-style. According to a recent Time Magazine survey, five out of the top ten New Year’s resolutions that tend to be broken by February are directly related to health and fitness:

1. Lose weight and get fit

2. Quit smoking

3. Eat healthier and diet

4. Drink less

5. Be less stressed

Undoubtedly, there are myriad reasons why most people give up a mere four weeks after committing to change. From my perspective, lack of belief in self and a non-winning attitude are tightly woven into the very fabric of negative outcomes to New Year’s resolutions. In other words, what you chose to believe and how you see yourself are the most important determining factors in whether you experience success or failure.

Belief in yourself and a winning attitude can be evidenced in virtually everything we do, so let’s jump-start your lifestyle from the ground up. Instead of aiming for common New Year’s resolutions, set your sights on smaller but exceedingly more consequential targets. To clarify, I’m not advising a less serious stance on resolutions. On the contrary, I’m suggesting that we approach the process of change in a more deliberate and step-wise way.  

In short, it’s time for spade work like we might do in the garden. Instead of vegetables or flowers, we are growing discipline, self-belief, optimism, fortitude, and momentum. We will promote these traits by cleaning up basic features of lifestyle that are all too easy to overlook in our run-around-in-circles world. Here are your behavioral targets for the next 30 days:

Get better sleep

Americans are woefully sleep-deprived. It’s a cultural thing, and it’s not good. There’s nothing noble or praiseworthy about trudging through life on a permanent sleep deficit. In fact, trying to do so for more than a couple days will have a decidedly negative impact on mood, attention, memory, sociability, as well as performance at school, work, and in athletics.  

The minimum goal should be eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. In a perfect world, you should shoot for nine hours a night plus a 30–60 minute nap two to three times a week. To most people, this standard may appear unreasonable and unrealistic, but don’t say “no” before you’ve given it an honest try. I’ve learned from personal experience about the innumerable benefits of healthy sleep. Of course, it will be necessary to make lifestyle changes to meet this standard. But trust me, the payoff is well worth it.

Limit calories from liquids you consume

The key to most successful diets is an understanding of beverages high in calories such as beer and mixed drinks, sodas, milkshakes, and flavored coffee drinks. It is always helpful to have easy access to fresh drinking water as one way to achieve this standard. You get bonus points for scheduling an appointment with one of the many wonderful registered dieticians in Austin for the purpose of cleaning up your diet. (Check out our Best Of cover story for a list of recommendations.) 

Do 30 minutes of mobility work 3 times a week

I’m talking about a total of 90 minutes on a weekly basis, or less than 1 percent of your week. A number of activities satisfy this type of work, including foam rolling, static and dynamic stretching, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, and yoga.  

As much time and effort as many of us invest in exercising (i.e., breaking down muscle tissue and stressing our fascia and joints), we often fall seriously short of recovery-based activities that are every bit as important to leading a vibrant, healthy, and enjoyable life. When our soft tissues are suppler and we have optimal range of motion in our joints, we are less prone to injury and our movements become stronger, faster, and more efficient. Let’s face it: if you exercise in the fast lane, you need more pit stops than the average Buick!

So there you have it, your 30-day plan for better living. Although I can’t promise overnight success, I’d bet my paycheck that you will slowly start to see improvements across the board—behaviorally, emotionally, socially, athletically, and more. While this isn’t rocket science, consistency and patience are key. You’ll thank yourself come Feb. 1—I guarantee it!

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