When the end of a year approaches, people begin looking forward to a fresh start, and that’s never been truer than with the end of 2020. There’s hope on the horizon, but that doesn’t mean things will change quickly. The same can be said of ourselves, but with some small steps, a different outlook and a little bit of kindness, we can make (and stick to) some resolutions that improve our overall health.
“I wish we could tie up all the loose ends of 2020, but, unfortunately, there’s still some out there,” said Dr. Craig Martin, Vaya Health’s chief medical officer. “But in our lives, we have the opportunity to tie up some of our own loose ends. I think that’s what a New Year’s resolution is about.”
If you are not of the resolution mindset, don’t let that stop you from making positive changes in your life. Instead of making a firm commitment to change, try rekindling an old interest, such as playing a musical instrument, making some form of art or even just enjoying the outdoors. Or try a new one through online classes at local community colleges or places like the N.C. Arboretum. Whatever you choose, it’s a great, healthy alternative to hunkering down and binge-watching television.
“One of the important things we learned from the coronavirus is that if we want to have a healthy life, we need to practice healthy habits,” said Dr. Martin.
Turn your resolutions into a quality improvement plan
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, resolutions and our ability to follow through have both a physical and mental effect on our health. Mental Health First Aid reports that 40% of Americans set resolutions at the start of the year, but less than half are successful after only six months.
That doesn’t mean resolutions are necessarily a bad thing, though. Instead of trying to make a large, one-time change, treat your resolutions as a continuous improvement plan to be reviewed and evaluated on a frequent basis. Just like employees are reviewed by their employers, periodically review your own resolutions to adjust and improve.
“Waiting until January first is probably not as effective as taking a periodic stock of what’s working and what’s not and then implementing your own quality improvement plan,” said Dr. Martin. “There’s something called the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle. You plan what you’re going to do, do it, then check to see if it’s working. If it’s not working, make changes and if it is, you continue.”
There’s more than one way to climb a mountain
As the data shows, there’s a good chance some of those resolutions won’t be entirely fulfilled. While this could lead to feelings of failure and impact your mental health, there’s a different way to look at it.
“When we climb to the top of a mountain, I know very few people who go at the same speed the whole way,” said Dr. Martin. “Some people may stumble or slip, and others have to sit down for a moment to catch their breath. So rather than see it as a failure, I would reframe it and say, ‘Maybe I need to reevaluate my strategy.’”
If the goal was too big, change it to something smaller. If it was not doable in the amount of time you set, give yourself a longer timeframe. And most importantly, whenever you slip up, be kind to yourself.
“There’s more than one way to the top of the mountain,” said Dr. Martin. “We have to find the path that is right for us.”
Staying motivated throughout the year
Once you’ve made up your mind about the resolutions you want to make, how do you keep from being part of the percentage that gives up after six months? Too often, people set their hopes high with their list of New Year’s resolutions and feel disappointed when they don’t reach them. Here are some tips to help keep you on track throughout the year:
- Find an accountability partner
Sharing your goals with friends, family or even posting on social media can create a sense of accountability. Ask someone you trust to check in with you periodically about how you’re progressing. Support groups also work great for this and can provide a sense of community.
- Set achievable goals
It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to see big changes, but what can you realistically do to work toward that big goal? Mental Health First Aid states that by taking smaller, more achievable steps toward your goal, there’s a greater chance you’ll keep them.
- Address temptation
Relying solely on willpower can be draining. Give yourself a break and make your decisions easier. If you make a resolution to eat healthier, don’t keep junk food around. Clear out as much temptations in your path as possible to make it difficult to break your commitment.
- Ask for help
There are resources out there to help you reach your goals. A nutritionist or dietitian who has had success helping others can give you advice on losing weight. Quitlinenc.com or nicotine cessation medicine can help you kick the smoking habit.
- Track it
Writing down every single thing you eat in a day or whatever habit it is you are trying to make or break will give you a more accurate picture of what’s really happening. It can also give a little mental boost to keep your good streak going or to stop the bad ones.
- Connect whatever way you can
Part of the challenge during the pandemic is connections. It might not be as good as the real thing, but technology at least allows us to see and hear those we love even if we can’t touch them, and pets can help provide that physical contact we crave.
- Find success in approximation
You may not be able to cut something out of your life entirely, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a resolution. Instead of trying not to eat any junk food, give yourself a small limit. This way you can still enjoy it but keep yourself from going overboard.
Top Ten Resolution Recommendations
If you are going to make resolutions this year or want ideas of some to try, we’ve pulled together a list of ten resolutions that would benefit anyone. Try them all or pick a few to add to your own list.
- Get restful sleep
Adults need seven or more hours per night to restore our mental and physical health. If you’re not sleeping well, talk with your doctor about sleep hygiene.
- Stay active and moving
When we get depressed, overwhelmed or sick, we tend to decrease our activity levels. Keeping active helps combat these conditions, and there are exercises that can be done even from the sitting position.
- Spend time with others
Being in the company of other people makes you feel better and it makes them feel better. Whether it’s over the phone, in-person or a virtual chat, spending time together benefits everyone involved.
- Make your healthcare appointments
Don’t skip your regular checkups. Preventive care and routine doctor and dental visits can help catch health conditions early.
- Look at what goes into your body
Healthy eating is all about balance, and poor diets can lead to chronic diseases. You can still enjoy your favorite foods if you balance them with healthier ones and physical activity.
- Learn more about mental health
One of the best ways to improve your mental health is to understand it, according to Mental Health First Aid. Take routine online screenings at vayamindful.org to see how you’re doing and whether you need to speak with a professional.
- Be kind to yourself
It’s easy to get frustrated when you are not reaching the goals you set for yourself. Remind yourself that there’s “more than one way to climb a mountain,” and utilize the PDCA cycle to see if you need to adjust your plan.
- Quit smoking
We all know it’s bad for your health in general, but it can lead to chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Talk to your doctor about resources for quitting, such as nicotine patches or visit Quitlinenc.com for free cessation services to any North Carolina resident.
- Practice gratitude
Reminding yourself of even the smallest positive things in your life can make managing stress or depression easier, according to Mental Health First Aid. Try writing it down in a journal each day and revisit at the end of the year for 365 grateful reminders.
- Remember that life is about love for one another
This can be the easiest and sometimes the hardest resolution to make. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest trends in how we look or what we own, but remind yourself of what is truly important in your life.
Although 2020 was an unusual and tough year for most, there’s light (and hope) at the end of the tunnel. Things may not go back to what we consider normal quite as quickly in 2021, but we know that it will continue to get better. Making a few resolutions for ourselves can help bring us toward that sense of “normalcy” that we may have lost during the past year.
“I think many of us are struggling right now with managing a different world than we ever thought would happen,” said Dr. Martin. “It’s a worldwide tragedy, but out of it there is hope. It causes us to think about our purpose in life and the kind of legacy we want to leave behind. That’s the opportunity for spiritual growth.”
Helpful resources to meet your resolutions