Happy New Year Everybody!!
I just love the fresh, vibrant new energy that the beginning of a shiny New Year brings. The dawn of 2014 was particularly special as January 1st also coincided with the New Moon – the ideal moon phase for new beginnings.
A New Year gives us an opportunity to…
- redefine our priorities
- redefine our purpose
- redefine our life’s vision
- re-establish worthwhile goals (don’t waste your time on goals if they don’t take you towards your vision – don’t be afraid to scratch a few things off the list!)
- bury the past and move into a future that we haven’t created yet – leave your baggage in 2013
Concluding our lap around the sun is the perfect opportunity to not only set new goals for the New Year, but also a great time to pause and reflect. Looking back on 2013 and recalling lessons you may have learnt, as well as goals you’ve ticked off the list, provides a great foundation from which to prepare for a Brand New Year.
Take Time to Reflect on 2013
So looking back on 2013, whether it was wonderful, awful, or somewhere in between – there will be pieces of gold hidden in the days and months gone past. So what did you achieve in 2013? What did you do well? Grab a piece of paper and write three columns:
|Practical Goals Achieved||Internal Growth Achieved||What I loved most about 2013|
|e.g. graduated a course||e.g. learnt how to say no||e.g. becoming a parent|
|e.g. completed a 5km fun run||e.g. conquered your fear of heights|
|e.g. started a project|
It’s important to take satisfaction with where you started and how far you’ve come, and it’s really important to note the things that brought you joy in 2013 so you can re-create and expand on them in 2014. After you’ve reviewed, and reveled in, the year that has gone – let’s take a look at what you’d like your New Year to be!
Making Healthy Resolutions
No matter what your vision for 2014 looks like, your best chance of success relies heavily on having the best health possible. And let’s face it, implementing new life strategies that will boost your wellbeing are always a good idea.
Donal Carr (a member of the CHEK Faculty, an internationally recognised wholistic system that supports people to reach their health, wellbeing and life goals) recommends you start by “checking in” with a few of the key areas of your life – diet, exercise, “me” time and goals – that can help you reach optimum wellbeing.
“A key part of our system is about getting to know your four doctors: Dr Diet, Dr Quiet, Dr Movement and Dr Happiness. They’re your panel of experts. Consult them daily and they’ll help you take control of your happiness.”
In a nutshell, the two most powerful strategies you can implement are simply eating less processed food and drinking more water.
“Most Australians eat too many refined carbohydrates, preservatives and additives,” Mr Carr says. He believes minimising these from your diet will immediately boost your health. I completely agree. Many people are addicted to fat, sugar and chemicals. Keep food simple and natural, as it occurs in nature. Food should come from the farm, not the factory.
It’s not about being perfect all the time but, as we’re creatures of habit, our habits define who we are. And only you are in control of what you eat. If we can make the majority of our choices healthy ones, this will make a profound difference even though we might make a few not-so-healthy ones on occasion too.
Increasing your water intake will help you physically and emotionally as well. “There are 10 billion biochemical reactions per second in the human body and they’re all water-dependent,” Mr Carr says. He says a dehydrated central nervous system can contribute to emotional disturbance.
- Calculate how much water you require daily using the formula 0.033 x body weight in kilograms = number of litres. Remember you will need more than this during times of stress, exercise and heat
- Prepare nutrient-dense meals with grass-fed meat and dairy, organic fruit and vegetables, seafood, eggs and whole-grains. Count nutrients, not calories
Basically this means build downtime into your schedule as you would important meetings and events.
“The most important thing to understand is we all run off a system that is powered by what can be likened to rechargeable batteries,” Mr Carr says. “Regular quiet time helps us refuel so we can get on with the things we need to do to achieve our dreams, without falling in a heap along the way.”
To honour our need to rest and recharge, the CHEK system recommends between 20 and 30 minutes of either active, passive or total rest. Total resting is sleep; passive rest is something your body is not actively involved in, but you are consciously aware of; and active rest is a light activity.
Make sure you’re getting enough Zzzz’s too! Skimping on sleep can work against you and cause weight gain by raising appetite-stimulating hormones, such as cortisol. In fact poor sleep the night before may result in the consumption of an additional 500 calories the next day. On top of this, the better rested you are, the more likely you are to get up and get moving the next day!
- Spend 20 minutes meditating or doing a mindful activity such as yoga, qi gong or tai chi
- It’s called beauty sleep for a reason! Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual for extra total rest. Aim for a minimum of 7-8 hours of precious slumber a night
Get active, or up the ante!
If losing weight and looking better is not enough motivation to inspire you to exercise… consider that not only is exercise the most under-utilised anti-depressant at our disposal, but regular physical activity may be the best preventative drug we have.
The most important thing you can do for your long-term health is lead an active life.
Studies show that exercise:
- reduces the risk of early death
- lowers the risk of heart disease
- lowers the risk of stroke
- lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes
- lowers the risk of depression
- lowers the risk of some types of cancer
- lowers the risk of anxiety disorders
- lowers the risk of cognitive decline
- lowers the risk of hip fractures
- helps control weight
- helps improve sleep
- helps improve memory
- helps improve concentration
- helps improve mood
“If you stop moving, you stop living,” Mr Carr says. “We weren’t built to be stuck behind a desk for eight hours every day. What we want is to get the body pumping. If you exercise properly, 30 minutes is more than enough time to sustain optimal health and wellbeing.”
If you’re just getting started, however, it’s important you don’t exercise too hard, too soon. “If you do too much too quickly, you will run your battery flat,” Mr Carr says. “Make sure you understand your food choices and quiet time activities are the things that give you the right energy to work with Dr Movement.”
- Spend 30-60 minutes exercising, including your warm-up and stretches – if not daily, every other day. Write a plan to keep it in your schedule throughout 2014
- If necessary, start with a low-intensity program such as walking (aim for at least 100 steps per minute), tai chi, yoga or swimming. Build up to higher-intensity workouts that include weight resistance and interval training
- No matter how and when you choose to move your body, it should be enjoyable and for the purpose of celebrating it, not punishing it. Hate the treadmill? Try a dance class. If you’re already going to the gym regularly but find it hard to stay motivated, try something new to revive your resolve and boost your fitness level – perhaps join a sports team?
- Consistency is key. Don’t let unrealistic expectations see you throw in the towel and don’t be too hard on yourself either. Do your best on any given day, and know that your best may be better on some days than others
Achieving true happiness is a multifactorial cocktail. But a large part of feeling at peace with ourselves calls for working out, and then honouring, our core values.
Mr Carr says unhappiness is often the result of making decisions that don’t support your core values. “When you identify your core values around quiet time, work, health, family and friends, it’s easier to make optimal decisions that will help you find happiness,” he says.
Making poor decisions causes stress, and chronic levels of stress can present physically as excess fat, fatigue, anxiety and diarrhoea. “Underlying stress produces excess amounts of cortisol and keeps the adrenals working overtime,” Mr Carr says. “When the body is in a constant state of flight or fight, it holds onto fat because it thinks it will need excess reserves of energy.”
- Ask what value you place on your health, personal time, work and local community. Use your new awareness to decide what to spend your time and money on. Ask, “Will this move me closer to my overall life goal?”
- Be aware of your “doctors” throughout the day. Have you made good food choices? Have you met Dr Quiet when you notice you’re a little flat and need recharging?
Why People Often Fail at New Year Resolutions
The start of the New Year is often the perfect time to turn a new page in your life; a new beginning, a clean slate. Which is why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. Every year, on January 1, around half of us will vow to make the year ahead our healthiest and fittest yet! But somehow that resolve disintegrates as the days, weeks and months go by, and life starts “getting in the way.”
In fact January 24th, aptly dubbed Fail Friday, highlights the typical New Years resolution trend. The first few weeks go swimmingly and then the wheels start to come off. According to responses from 750 participants who said they would be making resolutions this year and had made them in the past, the average length of time a person can expect to keep to their promise is around three and a half weeks, or 24 days – making ‘Fail Friday’ as the day you are most likely to break your NY resolution.
But why do nearly 90% of resolutions fail? New Year’s resolutions self-destruct for a few simple reasons and both fear and ambition play a role. And knowing them may help yours succeed where they might not have in the past.
There are three main reasons for this problem:
People make unrealistic resolutions
A. Too Many Goals. In his book How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer writes about a study done by Stanford University that found when people tried to memorise more information, their willpower suffered. The more goals the subjects made, the less likely they were to achieve them. I know it’s tempting to try and achieve everything on your list, but for best results, it might be worth just focussing on your top three goals. Or… instead of creating a list and attempting to chip away at each goal whenever you have the opportunity, you could focus on just one resolution at a time, starting with the one that’s most important to you? You can always tackle more later, or add a new goal when you achieve one on your short-list.
B. Too Many Abrupt Changes Too Quickly. Dr. Coral Arvon, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, said the biggest thing people need to understand when achieving resolutions is the difference between changing habits and making resolutions. “Often times, our resolutions are too large – or we make too many—and therefore we set ourselves up for failure,” she said. “To successfully achieve these resolutions, understanding that small, short-term goals are the most effective and taking resolutions one step at a time is the best way to succeed.
C. Setting The Bar Too High. Personal trainer Maria Brilaki, founder of Fitness Reloaded, and author of Surprisingly…Unstuck, said people often set their goals too high, and the totality of the situation can backfire because once the initial excitement is gone, fear takes over. “And that’s exactly how we start sabotaging ourselves,” she said. “Before we know it, we’re back to square one. We’ve stopped going to the gym or keeping a budget.” Don’t set yourself up to fail, please.
People don’t equip themselves with the mental ammunition to fight off doubt and continue with their goals.
A. People focus on Broad Goals and Hopes, rather than Creating a Roadmap for the Formation of Good Habits. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, suggests making a plan for keeping your resolutions in 2014, saying that routines and habits are a powerful force underlying much of our behaviour – he suggests the resolution should be as action and not a goal. He said that people design their resolutions incorrectly – very often they write out a list of goals, rather than writing a list of actions they’re going to take and thinking hard about how to structure those behaviours so that they become habits.
B. Being Unprepared for Obstacles. Duhigg said another major resolution mistake is that people fail to anticipate what the obstacles are going to be, so in the heat of the moment when you encounter that obstacle, it’s kind of devastating, and it totally throws you off your stride. But anticipating obstacles ahead of time can help you stay on track. It is important to acknowledge that setbacks are part of the process and sometimes they can even get you closer to your goal.
Using guilt, shame or fear as motivation, or resolving to stop doing something (negative framing)
A. Fear Gets in the Way. Counseling educator Diane Lange said fear is the major reason people give up on their New Year’s resolutions. “Fear is such a powerful emotion it can override our priorities and goals we set for the New year,” she said. “We can have a fear of failure, success, or just fear of change—stepping outside our comfort zones—that stops my clients in their tracks before their resolution becomes a habit.” Lange said facing fears is an important step to achieving goals. “It will take you outside your comfort zone, which is scary, but look at the big picture and what the change will bring you at the end,” she said.
B. Guilt and Shame do Not Work. The worse you feel about yourself, the less self-control you have, and that of course only makes you ashamed (and makes you self-sabotage). In this paper, people who imagined eating cake and felt ashamed about it actually thought the cake would taste better. If you think about how bad you feel after eating you’ll eat more. It’s the same with addicts. The worse they feel about a minor lapse, the more likely it turns into a major relapse. More guilt = more problems.
C. The “what-the-hell effect”. This is where when someone makes a bad choice and then decides – what the hell – I’ve done something bad now, I’m just going to keep going… This can set off a landslide of bad choices with food, drinking etc. The solution to this complex situation in your head is quite simply self-compassion. If you forgive yourself after a transgression with food (or anything else for that matter), you are less likely to make it worse. Trust me, it works. In a study, people were given a bowl of chocolates to carry around. Those who got the self compassion message ate 28 grams of chocolate whereas those that didn’t ate 70 grams!! To put it into practice, imagine what you’d say to a loved one that had this goal/setback, then say it to yourself. Self-love, mental hug, pull up your socks and move on. Got it?
How to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Stick
Health experts agree that the abrupt changes may seem exciting at first, but when we have to change a good part of our daily routine to achieve our goals, it becomes too difficult and we fall back into old/bad habits.
Here are some tips from the experts to see you past ‘Fail Friday’ and sail through 2014 on track with what you want most!
About Goal Setting
- Focus on 1-3 resolutions, rather than several. And set yourself a due date – something to aim for. Working backwards from there, your plan will become clear.
- Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 kilograms in 2 months would be. A review in the American Journal of Heath Promotion found the more specific you make your goal, the more likely you are to succeed. Also write down how you are going to achieve this – for example ‘walk everyday for 2 weeks’ or ‘cut out chocolate, ice cream and soda for 2 weeks.’ An action plan, detailing the how, is essential to achieving your goals (the what).
- Set short-term goals. It takes around 3 weeks for an activity to cement itself as part of our rhythm (habits) so focus on sticking to a goal for 21 days to increase your chances of success. You could break-down a more long-term goal into 3 week chunks.
- Put your list up where you can see it – make several copies if necessary. Set your smartphone and/or computer calendar to give you positive messages or reminders about your goals a few times per day. I love a good post-it on the mirror myself – but whatever keeps your goals front of mind is great!
- Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big, requiring too big a change all at once. Soltanoff, president and co-founder of the workplace wellness program Voom, said the bit-by-bit approach creates the lasting changes people want to see in their lives. “The definition of success is doing the right things long enough consistently,” he said. Soltanoff stresses the “10% rule” – change 10 percent of habits each month. For people looking to improve their health, it could be adding five minutes of stretching one month and replacing a morning pastry with a piece of fruit the next. “We see once there’s a large disruption in your daily schedule—such as going to the gym for an hour—it ultimately fails because it’s too big of an interruption,” Soltanoff said. “If everyone had that process, those little changes, on Jan. 2 if they try to replace one meal a day with something a little healthier, that’s going to be more successful.”
- Wellness doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient with yourself! Long-term results are best achieved through small, gradual changes. Want to lose 10 kilograms? Aim for ½-1 kilogram a week. Want to run 5 kilometres ? Start by running (or even walk/run) 1-2 kilometres every few days. If you go all out and push yourself too hard, too fast, you may find it difficult to maintain new habits and end up giving up altogether.
- Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to or get group support from others on achieving your resolutions. Ask a friend or your significant other to go on a hike with you or to join you for a yoga class. Having a “partner in crime” not only makes exercising more fun but it also helps keep you accountable… Even better, research shows that couples who work out together develop a stronger bond. Interestingly, a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found lack of social support increased cortisol, heart rate, and anxiety. All of these factors weaken your ability to stick to your goals (and increase your likelihood of emotional eating I might add!). In order to succeed with your New Year’s Resolutions, seek support from friends and family, and take breaks. Mistakes are part of success, so don’t be afraid to make them. If you don’t get support from your friends, your first goal should be to get some new ones. If you prefer a little online motivation – The Resolution Revolution is a great place to sign up for accountability and motivation.
Develop and Support a New Mindset
- Celebrate your success between milestones. Don’t wait the goal to be finally completed – use positive motivation and small rewards to keep you focused (remember that self-love thing..?). For example, if your resolution is to lose weight and the activity you’ve decided on is to exercise twice a week, reward yourself each week you succeed to do this – ideally with something that inspires you to keep going. Of course celebrate the milestones when you get there too! Whether it’s dropping a dress size, running an extra mile or trying a new exercise class, celebrate each one you reach. Regular treats can motivate you to exercise longer and more frequently. If they’re food/beverage related – the key is to remember to keep these small and healthy so you don’t cancel out all your efforts!
- Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits. Just like physical habits, these take time and consistency. Meditation and positive affirmations may help you to reprogram you way of thinking but ideally should be employed daily.
- Be mindful. Focus on the present. Worry only about today. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal? Do that.
And finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, forgive yourself for being human, but don’t let the slip hold you back from working at your goal.
If you’re having trouble coming up with some resolutions/goals of your own perhaps you’ll find some inspiration here! My personal favourites – learn a new language, become an early riser, and keep my inbox at zero (yikes – wish me luck!).
Sending you all the best for a healthy and happy 2014. Here’s wishing you your best year yet!