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It’s not uncommon to begin the new year with a resolution, but there’s no wrong time to start making healthy changes.
Keep goals attainable and realistic for your lifestyle.
Make a flexible plan to help keep you on track.
Once again, we find ourselves turning the pages of our calendar amidst challenge and uncertainty. 2021 was another upside-down year, full of stress, and for too many of us, loss. Among the many feelings traditionally associated the new year is a readiness for a fresh start. We take stock of our lives and how we live with the aim of reorganizing emotionally and physically. We look to the future, inventory our dreams and think about change.
And we aren’t alone. Almost everywhere you look, there are suggestions for weight loss, exercise and building a new you from the outside in. Books and magazines promise your “best body ever!” with diet plans that can restore you to optimal health and turn back the hands of time, all while shrinking your body, expanding your mind and generally making you a better you.
Helen Zhang, M.D., a psychiatrist with Swedish Behavioral Health at our Ravenna campus, reminds us that there is no magic when it comes to making changes. Our resolutions should be about gentle progress based on sustainable and realistic goals that address our overall health and well-being.
“The start of a new year is a natural time for personal reflection and re-alignment of values and setting resolutions can be a constructive outcome of this,” says Dr. Zhang. “However, it is certainly not necessary to set resolutions based on a calendar date. At the end of the day, you set your own timeline for change, whether that date is tomorrow or January 1.”
Keeping it real
A lot of us have big dreams, and in these times, they’ve been especially helpful by focusing us on the future and the things we want to do and be. In many cases, they’ve kept us from languishing, and sometimes, despair. Resolutions play an important part in moving us toward our aspirations. Sometimes we may feel that we’re falling short, but we’re actually making great headway. Central to this is the notion of keeping it real. Sure, we might not be an ironman triathlete today, but we can sign up for and run that local 5k. We may not be ready for tonight’s performance at McCaw Hall, but we can enroll in that Zoom dance class.
“Resolutions can be great in helping to stoke motivation, especially for starting new projects or building new habits that keep getting tabled or deprioritized,” says Dr. Zhang. “But it can be easy to get carried away with setting goals that are too lofty or not sustainable in the long run. We should remember that motivation is just one part of the equation.”
Find your why
To help with this, it’s important to think about the “why” of a goal. What’s behind our desire for this achievement? Is the driving factor something external or momentary and fleeting, or is your resolution based in a long-term desire or goal you’ve been carrying, but haven’t yet figured out how to make real? To help with this, Dr. Zhang suggests finding actionable ways to support your resolutions. What are some things that will improve your chances of sticking and succeeding? Are you reward-driven? Is community support vital to keeping you on track?
“In thinking about resolutions that sustain and produce long-term behavioral changes. Whether it’s improving physical health, changing spending habits, or prioritizing self-care, consistency and self-reflection are key. It is important to reflect on which factors have been historically helpful to you in achieving long-term change. Is social accountability useful for you? Do you need a material reward? Or are you more motivated by visible results? Some people may even find taking scheduled breaks helpful,” says Dr. Zhang. “Whatever speaks to you, make a plan that builds in those factors: have a workout buddy or treat yourself to something nice every time you complete a stage of your plan. These are small things that can help you stay on track.”
Be gentle with yourself
As in the rest of life, it’s important to build some flexibility into our resolutions. Changes that work today may not be realistic in a few months. We may be doing well on our plan, but as often happens in life, we get sidetracked. Whether it’s a health and wellness goal or learning a new skill, give yourself space and remember that progress isn’t necessarily linear. One of the most important things is to set aside time and formulate goals that are appropriate and achievable for you in this moment.
“Your resolutions should be living goals,” says Dr. Zhang. “They may, and sometimes should change over time. Realistic assessment and reassessment are vital; the most important thing is that goals should fit your life and your needs as they really are, not from an aspirational or completely external perspective.”
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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