Every year, when the New Year rolls around, we find ourselves motivated to create change. Some of us are motivated by the 10 pounds of fruit cake and mulled wine we put on. Others, I suspect, are motivated by a genuine interest in self-improvement. Somehow the New Year inspires us more than the other 364 days in the year. As if the expected calamity of the holidays, the gatherings, the gluttony, the swiping of our credit cards, and the stress of our relatives has passed, and now – now! – we are ripe for change.

We are going to stop eating sugar. Start running more. Quit drinking. Go on a diet. Not swear in front of our children. Our all-or-nothing approach begins with great commitment and fervor. We are going to turn a new leaf! There will be no gray area! From this day onward, all will be right! By mid-February, the gym is empty again and life is just as it was. Only we can’t find mulled wine in stores and the fruit cake is too stale to eat.

Here’s a little secret though: We are always capable of change. Not just on January 1.  Change is something we create slowly, so that we can shift the things in our lives that support the change and develop the neural pathways that wire our new actions. This year, consider taking small steps to long-term change. These are not black-and-white, pass-or-fail steps. They are changes that take continued, conscious effort, renewing a commitment daily.

For example, my family has determined that we would like to not waste food. This isn’t just a matter of eating all our food (or not covering it in a pound of blasted ketchup and THEN deciding we are full), but a matter of refrigerator accountability. The grownups have to actually check the fridge for things and make grocery lists. The kids have to serve up smaller helpings. Meal planning needs to center around available and aging ingredients. We cannot do this overnight. Instead of drastic change and disappointment in our failures, it is possible to plan a slower conversion and celebrate our successes. Instead of reaching the end of February and thinking we’ve failed, we may discover we’ve almost entirely eliminated waste.

Whatever the change is that you want to create, take some time to understand how you will get there. Write down the steps one by one, write the potential challenge, then write how you will respond to those. Put your goal and plan somewhere visible. Then remind yourself that everything is a journey, especially your health. Even if you pause or back up a few steps for a dodgy cheeseburger or a trip to Mexico, you can continue the journey of your original intention. Just take a deep breath and a careful step forward.

This year, embrace the small changes that make a big difference. Eat a little less sugar. Drink a little less beer. Buy a little more local. Start eating a side salad with your dinner. Put a glass of water by your bed to begin your morning with good hydration. Do not give up on your journey. It will last the rest of your life. Might as well embrace some self-compassion and take it one small step at a time. //

Ammi wrote about backcountry swashbuckling in October. Read more of Ammi’s writing at www.twobirdsnutrition.com.