January 24, 2018 | Sherry Dillon, RN, CPHRM

Strategies for highly effective New Year’s resolutions

You started 2018 on the right foot. You’ve made your New Year’s resolutions and you’re determined to stick to them. Now that January is almost over, are you keeping your resolutions? Have you broken some already?

The time-honored tradition of setting a New Year’s resolution is one most of us participate in, even when we know the most likely outcome. So what is the point of New Year’s resolutions when only eight percent of people keep them anyway? At first glance, the only surety of this personal commitment is that failure to follow through is the likely outcome. Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way.

A 2,000-year-old tradition

The tradition of New Year’s resolutions dates all the way back to 153 B.C. The ancient Babylonians saw the New Year as an opportunity to swear vows to pay off debts and make good on other promises. This was a way to hopefully find favor with their Gods. Therefore, virtually every member of society would make these verbal commitments.

Fast forward to today and the New Year’s resolution has become an annual tradition in our culture. While it may no longer serve to satisfy the Gods, the New Year brings the essence of a new slate and a chance to recalibrate. Regardless of the resolution one commits to—whether it’s to quit smoking, exercise more, or reform eating habits—the desired outcome for most of us is the same. We want to improve life in the coming year.

Knowing the desire is to have a better lifestyle, shouldn’t a New Year’s resolution be an achievable personal goal, rather than a half-hearted resolve just to keep up with tradition?

A good resolution begins with reflection

It’s important to remember that the New Year isn’t meant to serve as a catalyst for sweeping character changes. The people who take this approach make up the 92 percent of Americans who fail to keep their resolution. The New Year is, however, a time to reflect on our past year’s behavior and renew our commitment to personal improvement.

Unhealthy lifestyles over time contribute to an overwhelming majority of chronic conditions in the United States that lead to higher healthcare costs, increased mortality rates, and ongoing complications in the healthcare system. Congestive heart failure (HF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are both chronic conditions that typically stem from overeating or poor diet, chronic smoking, or living a sedentary lifestyle.

Decrease your risk for these and other chronic conditions by periodically taking a personal inventory to determine where you need to set goals and improve. The New Year reminds us to do this at least once every year. If you haven’t set your goals for 2018, get started now.

Set effective New Year’s resolutions

Here are some tips that will help you set and keep meaningful resolutions:

  1. Take an inventory of your current health status. Assessing your lifestyle choices over the course of a week will help identify areas for improvement. Diet, activity levels, reactions to stress, sleep patterns, and habits that would contribute to chronic conditions (i.e. smoking) are all characteristics which should be surveyed.
  2. Evaluate the risks of each of the areas where you can improve. Be sure to include the potential outcomes associated with each risk. For example:
    1. High fat, calorie, or sugar intake leads to obesity; high cholesterol with a potential long-term consequence of heart disease, diabetes, poor self-esteem, and lower quality of life
    2. Sedentary lifestyle leads to less bone density, decreased strength, endurance, and obesity
    3. Smoking a pack a day can lead to cancer and heart disease
  3. Once the risk evaluation is complete, put the behaviors in a priority order with the most critical risk/outcome at the top of the list. This will serve as a powerful visual, showing you which to pursue first. There is no wrong answer here. This is a personal choice based upon what you see as the biggest risks to your health and lifestyle goals.
  4. Set goals by establishing the outcome of what you hope to accomplish within one year. Putting a timeframe on your goals helps set realistic expectations for what you can achieve within a period of time. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is an overall healthier lifestyle. Make sure your goals for the year are realistic and you’ve accounted for the priority you set during the assessment phase.
  5. Start small. Don’t try to fix everything in one year. Overreaching often leads to failure or the perception of failure because the goals were unrealistic.
  6. Start slow and build up momentum. Put a plan together that is easy in the beginning and readjust as you master each of the tasks. If you haven’t run in years, it would be wise to start with walking and intermittent running. Build up to a 5K run. Don’t try to accomplish the goal for the year on day one.
  7. Find supporting friends and family that will hold you accountable and encourage you on days when you feel like giving up. The best support comes from people that are not afraid to speak truth in love. These people should encourage you, not sabotage your efforts.
  8. Celebrate every small victory, but don’t indulge in behavior that’s part of your resolutions. Reward yourself with a night at the movies or an overdue massage.
  9. Journaling is an excellent way to track progress, including what works for you and what doesn’t. Take notes and build on your goals every year.

Make 2018 the year that you achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Start with manageable goals that can be translated into actionable tasks. If you’ve set a realistic plan based on your goals, you’re guaranteed to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished by the end of the year.

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