Happy New Year! Many of us strive to make resolutions for better work and health habits. Resolutions are intended to help us mindfully develop and strengthen changes in habits and lifestyle that provide significant benefits for this year and future years.
Studies of healthy lifestyle habits indicate the value in developing new habits (improved exercise), discarding old ones (tobacco use, for instance). Making these changes has significant effects on our overall health and well-being.
Often, the goal to change a habit is based on a big change without enough planning that supports success. Research has shown there are ways in which individuals can be successful in achieving their resolutions and improvement goals. Here are a few keys to approach resolutions that can lead to impactful and lasting success in achieving goals in January and throughout the calendar year.
Identifying a goal that is meaningful, achievable and measurable improves our abilities to be successful.
Choosing a personally meaningful goal that is also interesting, supports continued activities toward success. There are often targets we feel we “must” try to achieve. When goals are self-chosen and driven by positive thoughts and positive experiences, the changes are lasting. To achieve a big goal, breaking this down into smaller and specific targets supports positive, frequent feedback of forward movement to the complete goal.
If the overarching goal is to “exercise more in 2022,” it is important to specify the time or frequency of exercise that is “more.” If this means moving from zero activity to exercising for two hours per week, the targeted change needs to be clear and easy to work toward using a measure for success. Identify the practical ways to reach that target with a plan to start gradually with smaller targets that build up over time toward the main “big goal.” If exercise is the goal, starting with short walks during breaks in the workday and increasing over time integrates the goal into daily routine more seamlessly.
One must also consider and plan for obstacles and identify ways to prevent or overcome these barriers.
For instance, having a friend to either exercise with you (walking in your neighborhood or the gym) can help prevent “skipping” days. This can add a social component to exercise. Sometimes commitment to scheduled time with an exercise buddy can be stronger than the commitment to the exercise itself. Setting a time for activity or exercise on your phone or calendar will remind you in the course of your day.
Lifestyle changes require a thoughtful and measured approach. Success relies on careful selection of the goal and solid steps to achieve success. Even with diligent planning and consideration of barriers, there will be times when the plan goes astray and one “fails” to reach the target. This is normal and expected. These cycles are an opportunity to learn which factors support or block success. These factors can be related to schedule or the actual activities.
For instance, if the goal is “exercise more in 2022” and an activity is to train for a foot race, and if at three months running is not enjoyable, a new activity (hiking, bike riding) can be explored. In the first six months as new habits are integrated, you will find the areas where old or negative habits emerge and you can identify which new habits support your goals. A steady, flexible approach to making a change will take at least six months to make a solid habit form.
Good luck. Here’s to your health in 2022!
–Dr. Colleen M. Townsend is a family physician with Partnership HealthPlan of California, a partner of Solano Public Health.