At the start of every year, persons take the time to prepare some ‘well thought out’ list of changes or resolutions which they would undertake during the New Year. A lot of these resolutions, more times than not, are superficial, unrealistic, out of their immediate control; bottom line is these lists are usually abandoned by mid February, when it is realized how daunting it is maintain the schedule of all these resolutions.
It is important to remember that the New Year isn’t meant to serve as a catalyst for sweeping character changes. It is a time for people to reflect on their past year’s behaviour and promise to make positive lifestyle changes. “Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” says psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD. “It is important to remember that, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”Resolutions should be realistic in order to improve the chances that you will keep them throughout the year, as you incorporate healthy behaviours into your everyday lives.
Tips in making lasting resolutions:
1. Start small: Make resolutions that you think you can keep. If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym, instead of seven. If you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of seeing your diet as a form of punishment.
2. Change one behaviour at a time: Unhealthy behaviours develop over the course of time. Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviours with healthy ones requires time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.
3. Talk about it: Share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of co-workers quitting smoking. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself: Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you had some roast pork and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.
5. Ask for support when and where needed: Support makes everything easier. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviours and address emotional issues.
Have a wonderful and productive 2016.
Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.