The holidays are over, and it’s the New Year. Have recent travels, visitors, parties, illness, or other things wreaked havoc on your routine? You may have missed a day or two – or a week or two – of sticking to habits and behaviors that help with living with MCI. This inconsistency can make it difficult to continue with good habits.
What better time than New Years to make resolutions that support sustaining and maintaining good brain habits!? We all know those healthy habits we think we should do, things like following a good diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, engaging in activities to stimulate your mind, simplifying your life, writing in your calendar, and all that good stuff. How do we start, or get back to these good habits?
If you went through the HABIT Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking® Program with us, you got a good start on keeping a memory organization system (the calendar), exercising, practicing relaxation, and getting out and about being more social again. If you have fallen away from these things, we want to encourage you to start again. Maybe one of your habits was a little less painful than the others, or there was one that you were pretty good at before the holiday interruptions. Re-assess what is most important to you now, and commit to one change at a time. Don’t try to jump back into everything at once, this may be too overwhelming and increase your chance of failure.
Identifying the thing you want to change for many can be the easy first step. What becomes more difficult is sustaining the new habit. The enthusiasm that we had on New Year’s Day to commit to a resolution may already be fading by week 3 of 2018. How do you keep it going?
Do you have a clear plan? It is one thing to say you are going to eat healthier, it is another to clearly DEFINE what eating healthier means (more of a Mediterranean diet? The MIND diet?) Once you’ve defined what you are going to do, for example eat more fish instead of red meat, you will need your supplies to do it. This means finding new recipes, buying your ingredients, and learning how to prepare fish to your liking. You also have to pick a date to start: I’m going to the grocery store this Saturday to start with Saturday’s dinner. Are you allowed cheat days so that you don’t have to give up your precious cheeseburger? Plan these! If you know that you are allowed to have a burger next Tuesday at your Men’s Lunch, you will be more able to resist it today when you are hungry.
Also, check your environment. Is it helping you stick to your habits? You may need to simplify and organize your surroundings again. For example, do you need to transfer notes and lists that are scribbled on post-its, notepads, and multiple calendars into one place? Should you tidy up the area around your “drop zones” for your keys, phone, wallet, glasses, remotes, and other important things?
With memory loss, it may be helpful to enlist the help of a friend or family member and remind them of your goals. Talk to them about how they may help you. Should they cue your memory when you need it? Would you like a regular time to check in on how you are doing? Can they help by modeling the good habits alongside you?
Think of ways to increase your enjoyment of the habit. Are you making it as fun as you can make it? Can the habit be incorporated into a social activity, or done with a friend? For example, it can be much more fun to walk with a friend than alone.
Write it down! Just thinking about change isn’t that useful. Write down your specific plan in your calendar. Make entries and notes in your calendar to support your commitment to the habit.
Communicate the habit/change to at least one other person – so they can praise you when you work at it!
Other ideas include joining a club, class, or group to motivate you; Finding someone willing to coach you; Rewarding yourself for sticking to your habits for a certain period of time.
Remember that slips will happen and mistakes will be made, but don’t expect perfection and don’t be discouraged. After a lapse, you can always try to start working on your habits again, and reap the benefits!