As the year ends, we start looking forward to making resolutions that improve our human condition in 2017. The most common New Year’s resolution is, of course, the ubiquitous “get healthy and stay fit,” which generally includes the dreaded diet.
There have been many fads to accomplish this superhuman feat over the last several decades including the all-tuna diet, multiple fat-burning drugs of questionable efficacy and the big favorite of stapling the ear lobe to curb any and all detrimental behaviors.
Although 60 percent of us make resolutions upon ringing in the New Year, only about 8 percent are successful. Perhaps it's time to reframe our resolutions so that we have a fighting chance of seeing them through.
Firstly, the definition of "get fit and stay healthy "should not equate to pounds lost or marathons run. Interim improvements are extremely valid and more likely to lead to long-term success than an epic failure out of the gate.
To start, define what “getting healthy” means to you. Do you have the stamina to do the activities you enjoy with family and friends? Are you satisfied that you feel good about how you present to others? Keeping healthy and fit should feed your self-esteem, not lower it. Set reasonable goals. If you have not been a runner in the past, running four miles a day is not likely to happen. Rather, start with a goal like walking or exercising 20 percent more per month than you do right now. Be honest about your baseline and then set targets for each month until you feel great.
We know more about nutrition now than we ever have before. Look up the information and make a list of recommended foods and incorporate them daily. Start small, develop a taste and then make intentional increases monthly until the end of 2017. Chart your improvements so all the world, including you, can see success.
Focus on feeling better – not turning back time. If you are a smoker, stop. Whether it is cigarettes or vaping or anything related, the risk benefit-ratio is definitely to the negative. One in 15 cigarette smokers will die of cancer. Lung cancer kills more people annually than the other top three cancers combined. Vaping has been shown to deposit toxic chemicals directly into the lungs. For your own health and for your loved ones, make this a priority in the coming year.
Secondly, be a caregiver to yourself. In the U.S., about 43.5 million of us provide unpaid care to someone else every year. It is honorable; it is the right thing to do. But how many of us provide the self-care needed to sustain these efforts?
Start with sleep. Rest is required for rejuvenation but it has many other benefits, too. Sleep has been implicated in affecting depressive tendencies, accident risks, memory, life span, inflammatory response, creativity, attention, academics and yes, even maintaining a healthy body weight. Yet, at least 40 percent of Americans do not get the recommended hours of shuteye.
Add to that the fact that the number of people visiting the doctor to maintain their health continues to decline, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and about half of us do not comply with recommended medications. Not surprisingly, our health continues to crumble. So, we are tired and ill, which does not lead to the get-fit-and-healthy goal above. Just like putting our oxygen mask on first in an airplane emergency, we need to work on ourselves – and then assist others. Not to the point of narcissism, of course, but we need to be strong to support those in our lives. So take your medicine, get some sleep and call in the morning.
Beyond the physical, we also need to nurture our spirit to find the nirvana of feeling well. Maybe it's in the form of art or music. Maybe it's in communing with nature by hiking. Maybe it is experiencing other cultures or food. Whatever the outlet, it should allow you to let go of stress so you feel calmer and happier, and it should make you smile if not laugh out loud. Laughter can relieve stress, improve blood pressure and even burn a few calories. It's OK (and even necessary in this day and age) to schedule time for leisure and pleasure. It is even OK to relax, sit on the couch and enjoy a television show (in moderation).
Thirdly, give up non-productive anger. Whether your trigger is politics, inflation or taxes, ask what you can do to impact it directly. If the answer is nothing, let it go. Anger in itself can have detrimental effects on our health. Freely expressing your anger often impacts others around you, battering their emotional well-being and productivity. It also increases fatigue, adding to our poor sleep habits, and is nothing but an energy drain.
While "focus on the positive" might sound like a slogan from a simpler time, it is as true today as ever. Use the five-to-one rule. For every negative statement you make, say five positive things. Keep track on a little index card. Or at the very least, refrain from saying five additional negative statements in a day. You might be surprised how quickly it becomes habit, but it won’t without some effort.
Lastly, practice kindness. Whether you focus on random or intentional acts of kindness, the effects will be more beneficial than we imagine. Kindness has been touted to improve success, cognitive functioning, energy and heart health; it has even been said to slow aging. Regardless of the science, kindness actually makes us feel better when we show it to others. More than that, it models the way for those around us to continue to pay it forward. It gives us reasons to get up off that couch and act. It connects us to our fellow human beings, the crux of trying to live in a community.
So, yes, make your resolutions. Make them count by making wise choices that help you incrementally find success. Don’t beat yourself up before you even get started by making goals not even an Olympian could attain. Make your goal self-love and satisfaction this coming year. In the end, 2017 will be a chronicle of the year that was and that story will be in the books. Make yours a best-seller.