It's almost time for the New Year and that means a great time for New Year's resolutions. Did you know that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to see their goals to completion than those who don't make resolutions? In addition, people who actually write their goals down on paper have a 70% higher rate of adherence to these goals.
We all know making resolutions is usually the easy part, while keeping them can be more difficult. Staying healthy is now an uphill climb as we battle temptation from multiple sources: the food we eat, the media we expose ourselves to, the people we surround ourselves with, the home and work environments in which we spend our time. Bottom line: being healthy in 2019 is going to be hard work; you have to make an effort to stay healthy.
Health is not something that just happens, it is not passive, it is active and participatory - it takes energy. You will have to take the time to make your lunch to bring to work, make the time to meditate (you will never “find” time), exercise because you know that after it is done you will feel amazing, schedule protected sleep time. This year make the choice to give yourself something you can actually use - give yourself good health.
Imagine how you feel physically and mentally 25 minutes after:
· Eating a chocolate donut compared to eating an apple or a handful of almonds.
· Sitting on the couch watching the news compared to taking a 25-minute walk outside (with or without a friend).
· Staying up until 1 am watching TV then getting up at 6 to go to work compared to getting into bed at 10 pm and getting up at 6 to go to work.
You get the idea, sometimes you need to take the longer view to have the strength to make the decisions that ultimately really benefit you.
I cannot overstate how much people can improve their overall health by focusing on what we at Integrative Health & Medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health refer to as “The Five Pillars of Health”. In all my years practicing medicine, I don’t think I can recall a single patient that did not improve their life by implementing positive lifestyle changes. Regular exercise, an enjoyable and healthy well-balanced diet, increasing resilience coupled with stress management, getting more sleep and being true to what brings meaning to life all result in significant positive improvement to you. These concepts serve as the foundation for all health, which is why we call them pillars.
Evidence strongly supports these lifestyle practices as a path to significantly change your life, and even the lives of those around you in a profoundly positive way. Leading by example and changing how you interact with those around you increases your quality of life, no matter where you are starting. Can you envision how more compassion and less negativity, more acceptance, and less judgement of others would improve your overall sense of wellbeing, satisfaction and joy in life?
One of the most important things in making a New Year's resolution is that it is in alignment with your own core beliefs. The resolution needs to be for you, what you feel in your heart, as opposed to what you think you should do, or what society tells you to do.
Utilizing S.M.A.R.T. goal planning significantly improves the likelihood of success for any goal. This means your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.
Specific: instead of simply saying you're going to “exercise more" a better option would be “I am going to commit to go to the gym three times a week for at least 45 minutes each time and when I'm there I'm going to spend 20 minutes on weights and 25 minutes on cardiovascular and stretching.”
Measurable: goal achievement is enhanced by using metrics such as waistline measurement or charting your vegetable servings. Other ideas are taking photographs, recording something you want to improve, journaling, or a log tracking progress. A measurable goal would be saying, “I am going to lose 10 pounds over the next three months” as opposed to “I'm going to lose weight this year."
Achievable: Even small victories enhance successful behavior patterns. Reward yourself once you have completed these goals. Studies show small rewards for achievable goals reinforce your positive behavior and make it more likely you will continue with positive changes. Tip: rewarding yourself with junk food is somewhat counterproductive; consider lunch at that cool new organic restaurant that’s a little pricey. Bonus tip: Better than material rewards, give yourself experiences. Studies show that for long-term happiness, experience far outweighs material.
Relevant: As noted above, make sure that the goals you set are for you and align with what you want for your life.
Time: Allocating specific time periods is also beneficial for completing your goal. “I am going to do learn to play one simple classical piano song in the next 3 months”, “I will be able to run or walk 1 mile in the next 3 months.”
Goal setting is enhanced by asking yourself some deeper questions:
· “How do I want to feel?”
· “What do I want my life to look like?”
· “What is the natural result of the current patterns I am in? What would be the natural result of a change I will make?”
· “What do I want more of?” (Examples: health, happiness, companionship, etc.)
Consider identifying the why of the changes you want to make. This also increases your likelihood of sticking to a goal.
· I want to eat healthy so I will be there for my family.
· I want to exercise so I have more energy to play with my kids.
· I want to mediate so I can form a deeper relationship with my partner.
· I want to practice stress management so I can be a better leader at work.
Often beginning a lifestyle change seems daunting. If we focus on these deeper questions, the why of the changes, and specifically how you will feel once you have completed the goals, it can serve as a beacon to get us to our goal.
Remember that this is a non-linear path to improvement. All people who do things of importance fail multiple times along their path to success. Those who succeed overcome adversity and continue to see their goals through. It’s how we respond to failure that determines whether we are ultimately successful or not.
Some final tips:
· Focus on what you are adding as opposed to what removing. Start by adding fruits and vegetables worry about removing “bad foods” later.
· Modify your environment to increase chance of success. (Examples: Get rid of junk food, prepare your workout space, make sure your piano is tuned before you start)
· Have patience and focus on what you can do, not what you cannot do.
I wish you all the best on your journey to improved health. I can virtually guarantee you will be better for the changes you are going to make.
In health and happiness, David C. Leopold, MD Medical Director, Integrative Health & Medicine
Hackensack Meridian Health