Start the New Year without the Resolution Mindset

In the season of parties and baking, it is easy to become detached from your health goals and to react to the many stressors – family, finances, time – by making less healthy food choices, drinking too much and sleeping too little. Then, as the holidays draw to a close, there is a compulsion to react to one’s own relaxed behaviour by restricting, making unrealistic “resolutions” and wanting to wave a magic wand to be one’s “best self.” Avoid this tendency; it is rare that a person can maintain dramatic lifestyle changes over a short period of time, and the usual response by self is to feel a lack of confidence and hope as real life interferes with these goals. Before you do anything to attain the “new you”, follow these few tips:
1. Set up a consistent routine. As much as possible, go to bed and get up at the same time, eat meals at regular times, and avoid disruption by extra entertaining and holiday events, or by regular life as the holidays end and work life resumes. Establishing routines is important when you are making lifestyle changes; routine will make change easier by making the change a habit.
2. Get enough sleep. This is the key to energy, a happy outlook and a healthy immune system. Put focus on protecting bedtime from excess screen time, intense discussions and last-minute chores. Adequate rest is essential for setting and reaching health and other goals.
3. Schedule regular exercise. Like sleep, physical activity is essential for a positive mindset, energy and stamina. It will also help you sleep more deeply, if not done too close to bedtime.
4. Take time for yourself. Plan to have a bit of quiet time every day, whether for meditating, going for a walk, or just sitting quietly listening to music or reading (not watching TV or reading your FB posts). This time allows you to refresh your mind, gives you opportunity for creative planning, and helps you to defray the effects of stress.
Once you have worked on these four protective practices, then it’s perhaps the time to consider one change you want to make in 2019 to improve your health. Happy New Year!

Not-the-New-Year Resolutions

So here we are at the end of January, no longer a new year, but one that may already be feeling a bit worn around the edges to you. What has happened to the New Years’ resolutions you made at the end of December, maybe even on New Years’ Eve, in a rush of regret for all the alcohol consumed, all the shortbreads not resisted, the gym membership unused. Where are you with those resolutions now?

There seems to be a human need to start over, get a fresh beginning, which the New Year offers every year as a cure for all our broken promises to ourselves.

What about a different kind of New Year’s resolution? One which acknowledges that as humans, we are, above all, consistent in our inconsistency when it comes to changing bad habits into good. Good habits fit like a new pair of shoes, shiny and beautiful, but causing blisters after a while. Bad habits, on the other hand, fit very comfortably, like an old pair of sweat pants we put on after work. As a dietitian, I work daily with people who recognize the value of changing habits, but struggle with the discomfort of shedding old habits.

Maybe instead of planning sweeping changes once a year, we should work on taking baby steps. One resolution every month, then a check-in every month to see how things are going. How about a February resolution, to get at least 15 minutes of fresh air every day, or a June resolution, to start eating at least one serving of vegetables every day?

Set a date for yourself in your calendar, once a month, to check in with yourself and see what is working and what is not. Maybe your January 1 resolution to go to the gym every day coincided with a bout of family illness, a common theme this January in my house. An honest review of this resolution might reveal that going every day to the gym is not realistic in the best of circumstances, and illness has made it even less attainable. Revise the resolution to promise yourself to go at least once a week, then in March see if this could reasonably be increased to two or even three times. And plan a reward for yourself for getting there as planned: an evening of binge-watching your favourite show, or a massage.

Above all, avoid the temptation to slide into guilt and shame and negative self-talk when you don’t reach your often-lofty goals you have set for yourself. This negative self-talk is in fact our worst enemy, knocking our confidence and discouraging us from moving forward. Remind yourself of your successes, vow to set realistic goals, not unachievable feats, and get a “fresh start” when you decide, not when the calendar says it’s time.
Next time: how to set action goals, not “wish list” goals.