As we head into the first month of the New Year, inevitably many people will have made a New Year’s resolution which they secretly know they won’t keep in its entirety. As I get older I find more and more people are joking and even making a farce of the whole idea of a resolution, and rightfully so. They, through years of experience, have understood that people more than likely won’t change by simply creating a New Year’s resolution.
Yet the sparkle of the brand New Year challenges many of us to participate in making another New Year’s resolution. The New Year is great because it landmarks a new chapter in our lives as to what may come. We celebrate the New Year with new vigor because it brings new hope. Like all books, we can read the first several pages but if it’s not compelling we won’t continue. In other words, in order to make effective change in our lives we need to understand WHY we really want to make that change in our lives; to go beyond the first chapter and complete the story. For example, the most common New Year’s goal is to lose weight. This is really a perceived goal. Nobody wants to lose weight; what we want is to gain something from that weight loss such as more energy, to look younger, to stop taking too many medications, to keep up and play with our kids, to live longer, etc. In summary, to participate in our life in a more positive and empowering way!
I tell patients the key to getting what you want in the New Year, or any time of the year, is to be clear and write down why you want it. Only then will you be able to begin moving forward to the feelings you want from your resolution. Once you know why and have many reasons to support them, then and only then will you create a life that you truly want.
The next step? How to make that change you desire really happen. Once we have the WHY, it’s helpful and necessary to harness strategies that will work for you. In my lectures and workshop I go through many strategies that work incredibly well and that allows for sustained change and results. Here are a few that I’d like to share with you using weight loss as an example.
1. Focus on the present moment
Failure and disappointment comes when our focus is on long term results without celebrating or focusing on short term goals. Don’t look into the future about losing 20 lbs of weight …it doesn’t work. Look at the moment-to-moment events in your life because in reality that’s all we can control is our moment-to-moment thoughts and actions. When we look too far ahead, we walk into potholes or trip over a curb because we are not focused on the present moment. Think of your life in terms of hours and the day you have in front of you. The past is gone and tomorrow will come again and again; don’t jump ahead.
2. Focus only on changing 1% daily
For the majority of us it is difficult for us to change our whole life and behaviour by trying to be the “new you” immediately. If you could improve your behaviours and thoughts by only 1% a day, in one month, you’d improve by 30% and that’s a great investment. So if you don’t drink enough water, make that your “1% goal for the day” and continue with that behaviour consistently. Try drinking a bit more daily and add that new routine to your life. Water is a vital fuel for life, and you can’t feel 100% healthy if you don’t fuel your engine. The body runs on water, not caffeine, soda pop, juice, or alcohol.
Even if you have digressed, remember to celebrate the 1% change you’ve made daily. Daily celebration is the key to feeling that you are moving in the right direction. Too often, we think we need to only celebrate after we have achieved our end goal, but really your end goal should be a daily goal that you are trying to achieve. Don’t set the bar too high, even high jumpers progress upward slowly when they are practising.
3. Remember the important principle of conditioning and establishing routines
The one reason New Year’s resolutions fail is because we forget this crucial principle. We condition ourselves to new change for the moment and the excitement of the “New Year” moment. We all can change for a moment, but by the time spring rolls around, the “New Year” has turned around and become an “Old Year” resolution. So write (or recall) your “New Year WHY Resolution” somewhere that you will see it daily. We need to remember what the reasons are that we want to change; to gain a new empowering emotion, state, or wellbeing that the change will bring us. So think of this as a New Day’s Resolution vs. the New Year’s Resolution. (I’ve touched on this point briefly but there are more in depth ways to add this principle in our lives.)
4. For weight loss, use the buddy system
Most people need a friend to keep them accountable and aligned. That’s why so many sports have cheer leaders. Choose a friend who can keep you honest and committed. Don’t plan to exercise with a friend who doesn’t do it on a regular basis; you both might give in and say “Let’s skip our walk and go for a coffee.” That’s why people hire personal trainers, they won’t let you sleep in and they won’t take you for coffee. The best motivator is a friend with a megaphone and not afraid to use it.
5. Make your resolution fun and use your imagination in terms of meeting your goals
Making weight loss fun, for example, takes the work out of it. There are new ways to be challenged online and still be connected. There are many online activities and programs that also add a sense of community and purpose to the goal you are striving. So linking up with others who share your sense of purpose and excitement helps you achieve what you are going for.
These are a few simple strategies to help things move along. So as you don’t really need to make New Year’s resolutions anymore but actually make New Day’s Resolutions to live your best life on a daily basis. As cliché as this may sound, the old saying “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” and each health step certainly does matter!
Let’s talk again soon,
Dr. Lalit Chawla, MD, CCFP, FCFP
A highly sought after International Speaker, Family Physician in Chatham, Ontario, and an Adjunct Professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, Ontario.