A new year can mean new resolutions, but what’s the best way to set realistic goals you can actually accomplish? Read on for some useful tips and direction to keep your resolutions, reach your goals, and have a new year that’s happy and healthy.
It’s all Mental
An incredibly important reminder about any resolution: Be realistic! This is 365 days of change, and all changes begin with single steps. You are not going to be able to overhaul your finances, lose 40 pounds, train for a marathon and quit smoking all in the first quarter of the year.
Oftentimes we’re our own worst enemies, thinking that it’s “all or nothing,” and that if something in the resolution-keeping comes up short, we might as well scrap the whole thing.
Many wellness experts recommend a 90-10 mentality. 90% of the time, you eat in a healthy way, get regular exercise, sleep enough, etc. and 10% of the time, well, you don’t. For example, say on any given day you have a nutritious breakfast, a light salad and broth-based soup for lunch, grilled chicken and steamed vegetables for dinner, and then you have a few bites of a brownie? It’s OK. Some days you may be 100%, and other days 75%...as long as it averages that you’re doing healthy activities 90% of the time, you’re headed toward a healthy, fit life.
Steps to Becoming Healthier
Many people resolve to become healthier, both physically and mentally. This is a great goal! I want to emphasize that your goal is always a work in progress. We can all be a little healthier in some way.
With that thought in mind, I first want to encourage you to sit down with a notepad and write down what this goal actually means to you. What changes do you need to be healthier—physically and mentally? Eat more fruits and vegetables, or less fried/fatty foods? Exercise? Quit smoking? Control stress? Be more organized? Get control over your finances? All of these things—and more—are part of being healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. So decide which one(s) you need to focus on most or first.
After you’ve created a list, break it down into manageable, attainable pieces.
- After setting a goal, assess where you currently are. Example: If you wrote down exercise, how physically active are you currently?
- Realistically decide where you would like to be. Example: If you are currently inactive, your goal may be to go on a short walk every day.
- Evaluate your surroundings and what is a do-able goal. Example: Can you walk outside every day, or do you need access to a treadmill or indoor track?
- Look at your schedule and modify it to accommodate your new goal. Schedule is key. If you don’t schedule it, you won’t do it.
- If your goal is a priority, treat it like one. Do you need to get up before work to walk or will you schedule time in the evening to accomplish your goal?
- Set gradual improvements. Example: If your goal is walking, start with 15 minutes, then in February increase the time and so on. Your can mark these times on your calendar or log them in a fitness app on your smartphone. And as always, before starting any new fitness program, consult with your doctor to be sure your intentions are safe.
If your New Year’s Resolution was to stop smoking, I want to start by saying, “Congratulations!” This is an awesome change to make to improve your health and live a longer life. Making the verbal and mental commitment to quit is a critical first step.
Staying on the path to quit smoking can be a challenge, so reminders and encouragement along the way can make quitting easier. Deaconess has developed a free, online smoking cessation program called Breath of Fresh Air. It’s open to anyone (not just Deaconess patients), and helps you through your smoking cessation journey with helpful encouragements, reminders and tools to help you quit.
Another great program we refer people to over-and-over again is the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® Online program. Located at www.ffsonline.org, it’s a fantastic, step-by-step program designed to help you quit gradually over time. In fact, the program encourages a person to quit over a 3 month period. Quitting gradually is proven to be far more successful than quitting “cold turkey.”
The state of Indiana sponsors a tobacco cessation program that starts over the phone. It’s staffed by coaches whom you can speak with over time, or you can even get coaching in the form of text messages. Start by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Maintaining Your Goal: Create Accountability
Another tip I can share with you that will help you be healthier in so many ways is to create accountability for what you’re doing.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple creating a log. Designate a simple notebook with a page per day, where you write down everything you eat or drink (right down to the piece of candy you got off a coworker’s desk). Or, you might like a well-designed app for your smart phone, such as MyFitnessPal. Another great app is Lose It. It’s very well-reviewed and includes great features such as the option to scan in food label information.
Having a food log creates personal accountability. It’s easy to lose track of what you really eat and drink during the day. 100 extra calories a day adds up to nearly a pound a month, or 10 pounds in a year.
An exercise log can be as simple as putting on a pedometer and recording the steps you take every day. You can set some quick and easy goals of increasing your steps by 1,000 per day for a week at a time, over the course of several weeks, working your way up to at least 10,000 steps a day for good health. (12,000-15,000 is recommended for weight loss.)
Or find your accountability from other people. Can you find a walking buddy to meet you? Or a group of friends that meets weekly? Or join a class or club?
Fitbits—the tracking bracelet that people wear—can be a great tool in developing and maintaining healthy habits. They can be used to track steps and overall exercise, nutrition, and even sleep habits. Based on your current level of health and activity, you could try the everyday, active or performance level of band. They sync to various existing apps (such as MyFitnessPal) to help you accurately track your calorie burn and activity for the day. You can research them more on your own at www.fitbit.com.
Finally, some people even use social media to help achieve their healthy goals. Taking photos and posting a “food diary” to encourage healthy eating or a progression of your health or weight loss is a great way to stay on track and have friends support your healthy journey.
Quick Tips to Be Healthier for the New Year:
Now, some quick-and-simple tips that you can easily do to be healthier, one small step at a time:
- Eat more whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, steel-cut oats, whole wheat/whole-grain breads and pastas, etc.
- Eat more beans! Black beans, kidney beans, soy beans, chick peas, etc. The internet is full of easy and delicious recipes to prepare these protein-and-antioxidant-packed foods.
- Drink more water. Gradually replace your sodas and sweet teas with water.
- Try low-fat Greek yogurt. It’s packed with twice the amount of protein as other yogurts.
- Exercise—any amount is better than none. Park at the back the lot, take the stairs, go the long way around to another department or office at work, etc. Find ways to work it in, even in small doses. Three 10-minute walks a day are as good as one 30-minute walk. Break it up and get it in!
- Sleep! If you’re sleep deprived, you’re likelier to be hungrier, crave sweet/salty foods, and have lower resolve to make better choices. Plus, more stress creates more cravings.
- I hope some of these tips have been helpful. In summary:•Decide not only what you want to do, but why, and write it down.
- Break it into small, manageable, gradual steps—don’t try to change everything at once.
- Create accountability for yourself—whether it’s another person, an app or a notebook—make sure that there is something holding you to your goals.
- Remember, change takes place in small increments. Say you develop a new good habit once every 2 weeks. That means that by the end of 2015, you’ll have 26 new good habits. Slow and steady really does win the race.
Wishing you a healthier New Year!