Last year on my blog I wrote about why I didn’t think that people should make New Year’s resolutions. Really it boils down to the fact that most people don’t make SMART resolutions.
The majority of resolutions tend to be based on outcomes that people want to see, such as losing weight or getting fit, without a plan for how to achieve them. Or, they’re extreme and unpleasant: going to the gym every day or never eating chips. These resolutions tend to get thrown out the window as soon as one little (inevitable) slip-up occurs.
But it really is possible to make New Year’s resolutions for your health that you can stick to throughout the year. It just takes a little shift in mindset.
You’ve heard of SMART goals before, right? In case you haven’t, SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. You can take any vague, overly-ambitious resolution and turn it into something manageable.
For example, change “getting fit” to exercising X number of days a week or always taking the stairs or something else along those lines. Sure, you might not see major results immediately, but look at it this way: if you plan to go to the gym every day and then stop going in February (as most people do) you’re going to be worse off than if you made a small change that you’re able to stick with for the entire year, and beyond. There’s also nothing stopping you from building on that initial resolution and doing more physical activity, but it’s better to start with something small and achievable than to go big and then just go home.
There are loads of resolutions you could make to improve your health in 2016, but here are five suggestions to get you started:
1) “I will eat X more fruit each week.” Try keeping a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter. There’s plenty of research to show that people are more likely to eat food that’s easily available. If you want to increase your consumption of healthy food in the New Year, having nutritious food in a highly visible, easily accessible place is a great way to start.
2) “I will go outside for at least X minutes every day.” As loathe as I am to admit it, my mum was right: fresh air and being in nature is really important to our physical and mental health. It doesn’t have to be a long hike or a run every day. It doesn’t even have to be the same activity every time. Some days it might just be parking several blocks from your destination and walking the rest of the way. It might be going for a walk around the block on your lunch break or after supper. It could also be something you enjoy, whether that’s a run, bike ride, hike, skiing, or reading in the park.
3) “I will get X more hours of sleep each day.” Sleep is essential to good health. Studies are showing links between sleep and our gut microbiomes, our weight, our mental health. The problem is that most of us tend to neglect sleep and push it down the list of priorities. Sorry, but if you don’t have a good bedtime routine, you’re probably going to put the “sleep when you’re dead” adage to the test a whole lot sooner than those who sleep more.
Good sleep hygiene
We all have different sleep needs but for most adults it’s between 7 and 9 hours per night. Good ‘sleep hygiene’ includes things like cutting out screen time an hour before you go to sleep. The light emitted from smart phones, televisions and laptop computers, and the stimuli from these devices, can have a negative impact on sleep.
Avoid drinking or eating too much too close to bedtime. If you have a full stomach, your body is going to have to work on digesting food when it should be resting. Also, too much fluid might mean getting up in the night to pee, which will disrupt your sleep. And while a nice, stiff drink may help you fall asleep, it will actually wreak havoc on the quality of sleep you get.
Keep your room dark and cool for optimal sleep conditions. Many people also benefit from things like a warm bath or reading a book before going to sleep.
4) “I will get at least X minutes of exercise every day.” OK, I know this seems to go against what I said earlier about people vowing to go to the gym every day, but hear me out. I’m not saying that you should go to the gym for an hour every day. (Although if you’re happy doing that, fill your boots!) Just do something every day. One day that might be an hour at the gym. Another day it might be just a few minutes of stretching. Just move your body. When it comes to exercise, more is usually better, but anything is better than nothing. Find things that you enjoy (or at least don’t positively dread) and do those things. If you don’t like running, that’s OK. You don’t have to run. There are many other ways to be active. Exercise is vital to both your physical and mental health and there are lots of ways to sneak it in during the day.
5) “I will be my own best friend.” This is probably the most difficult and the most important resolution of all (and, I know, not technically “SMART”). I know it’s hard. In our society, we’re programmed to put the needs of others before our own. We’re made to feel selfish for taking time for ourselves – whether it’s to exercise, cook or just have some quiet time alone to recharge. Yet, we’re so much better at being with others and caring for others once we have taken care of our own needs. It’s just like how, in the event of a plane crash, parents are advised to put on their oxygen masks before helping their children. If you’re not giving yourself what you need to function at the best of your abilities, you’re not going to be able to give your families, friends, customers, or employer what they need from you.
If (when) you fail at sticking to your resolutions, don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself, look up, dust yourself off and keep going. It’s OK if you’re not perfect all of the time. Nobody is. You are just as valuable as everyone else, and your needs are no less important than anyone else’s.