Dr. Kevin Most: New Year’s Resolutions and the ways they impact our mental health
Well, NY Eve is tomorrow and we all think this time of the year is a great time to proclaim some possibly outrageous resolution that we will begin following in 2 days. For most people a realistic goal will just not hit home and may be discounted by those you share it with, a grand plan is often just that, a grand plan. Execution on the plan is key and if the plan is beyond what we can really do we fail and that impacts our mental health as we enter the worst weather of the year which just multiplies how we feel. The intent for many NY resolutions are health related so we know there is some passion to improve our health, there is some insight of what an individual wants, the issue is that many are not realistic or very difficult to sustain. The individual who decides that Jan 1st is a great day to go cold turkey and quit smoking is wonderful however the rate of success is quite low.
If you look at research, 92% of all resolutions are broken within the first month of the new year. This is not surprising as often the goal is not possible or we have not planned the execution of the plan.
The most common resolutions to be broken are fairly predictable
- Lose weight and exercise- this resolution is broken the most often and the quickest. Even the best intention will often fail on this resolution. 60% of new health club memberships are used sporadically for the first month and then often not used again after February. The middle of the winter is not a good time to think losing weight and exercising will be easy. Our ability to get outside and exercise is nearly impossible between cold weather and dark days, changing dietary options in mid winter is difficult as well. One suggestion is that you set a goal of sustaining your weight for January and February. Not putting on weight in the winter is a success that may lead to weight loss in the spring.
- Quit smoking- only 15% of those who make this resolution are still smoke free by June. With the concerns around vaping still present the options for treatment have been trimmed as well.
- Drink less alcohol- following NY parties this one is often broken first as the Bloody Mary bar at the NY Football Party is often too good to pass up.
- Get more sleep- this resolution one would think is easier in the winter as the cold dark days lead us to appreciate bedtime a little easier, yet studies show that only one in three individuals are getting 7 hours of sleep each night as is recommended.
- Eat healthier- for this resolution old habits and cooking methods are tough to break. The craving for fast food will be there and being winter the availability and cost of fresh fruit and vegetables also make this a bit tougher.
So what do I suggest? Break your resolutions down to smaller bite size and achievable resolutions. This is a concept called micro resolutions. Many physicians are big fans of this concept. It is quite simple, if you said I am going to quit eating fast food as my resolution for the year, achieving that is quite difficult if you are someone who enjoys fast food. Once you break the resolution you are done for the year and thus fall back to your old habits. If you instead said, this month’s micro resolution is that I am going to only eat fast food twice in the month, it gives you a goal that is reachable and a goal that still has a little slip allowed. These micro resolutions are easier to achieve, easier to track and still give the individual a sense of accomplishment. Completing a micro resolution reinforces that you are able to achieve the resolution and are now ready for the next one. It gives you a positive feeling and in many cases will actually be somewhat sustainable in the future. For the fast food example after cutting back dramatically for one month the rebound may not be back to the old state and you may make an impact going forward. This concept also gives the individual to start to plan and think about the next month’s challenge.
Think about some personal goals you may have but don’t have the confidence you could sustain them, some goals you are afraid to commit to because of the chance of failure. Think of some of those goals in Micro goals. The small victories can be shared in conversation and the current micro resolution can be shared as well. Let others celebrate with you or be supportive of you in your journey. Who knows you may impact someone else with your journey and bring them to think of a few small ways they can impact their health.
The biggest thing about the success of this is planning, coming up with a yearlong micro list can be difficult and in many cases you may duplicate a challenge later in the year. Here are a few examples you could use to build your micro resolution calendar.
- One month of no screen time in the kitchen or at dinner, check the phones at the door, great for social and mental health
- One month of taking a walk after dinner, great for heart and digestive system
- One month of doing a crossword puzzle, sudoku or a mind challenge puzzle, great for mental health
- One month of no fast food, great for your heart, weight and kidneys, plus saves money for mental health
- One month of avoiding dessert, great for your weight and chance of diabetes
- One month of actively saving $5 day- may not sound like much but it approaches $2,000 for the year
- One month of dieting where you actively count your calories each meal, can be great for your heart, and weight
- One month of volunteering each weekend, great for mental health and sense of well being
- One month of decreasing your smoking habits by 50%, great for your heart , lungs and decreases your chance of stroke and many cancers
- One month of having a fruit or vegetable at each meal, great for your weight, digestive system and heart
- One month of going to sleep one hour earlier than normal for you, great for mental health and your heart
- One month of donating food or time to a local food bank
- One month of not doing work emails from home, great for mental health
- One month of reading at least 5 books, great for mental health
- One month of micro vacations with the kids, great for mental health as well as relationship
- One month of giving up Facebook
- One month of decreasing your alcohol intake by 50%, great for your heart and liver
- One month of taking the stairs instead of elevator at work, great for your heart, lungs
- One month of parking at the far end of the parking lot and walking in, great for your heart, lungs and weight
- One month of taking a friend you rarely see to lunch on weekend, great for mental health
- One month of learning a new word from a foreign language each day, Great for mental health
- One month with 50% less TV, great for mental health and substitute that time with a walk and it is great for your heart
- One month with less sitting, great for your back as well as your heart
- One month of extending 3 personal complements each day, great for mental health
Each one of these would be a great single resolution that probably would have been broken quickly and left you with a sense of failure. Goals with a shorter focus are attainable and in fact will grow on each other, a single failure will not be felt as a failure but will reinforce the next month. Each of these will impact your health, it may be mental or physical health. The small successes may carry over, the individual who knocked off 50% of their smoking for a month may end up only going back to 75%, the individual who does the walk after dinner each night may include that 5 times a month in the future. The month without fast food may impact not only your weight but it will improve your heart health and your wallet.
This should be a year you measure in inches because those successes will be measured in miles in the future.