OK…I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution this year. Or really any year, to be honest. At least not one that worked. Last year, I gave a lecture at Bastyr University that did make me want to join more than 40% of other Americans in creating a New Year’s Resolution this year though. Really this decision to jump on the resolution bandwagon was based largely on one statistic:
Of people trying to make a lifestyle change, 46% of “resolvers” were successful and only 4% of "non-resolvers" were successful. (1)
That is significant. It is estimated that over 70% of Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease and about 75% of our annual healthcare spending is on treating chronic disease. (2) Most agree that lifestyle (including activity level, diet, social interactions, and overall satisfaction) at least contribute to chronic disease. At a minimum, it seems to affect how our genes are expressed. (3)
This Year's "Do Differently"
So I decided to try making a New Year’s Resolution this year. And then, this holiday season happened. Maybe this is why almost a third of people who made resolutions this year have already failed? The calendar can’t stop me this year though. A “do over” doesn’t really sound like that much fun, so I am taking a “do differently” and it is called Chinese New Year. It is on February 8 this year and I have a plan….
Here is the reality: making lifestyle changes requires changing the neural circuitry in your brain. This is difficult to do and advertisers know it. In 1984, there were more cigarette advertisements during the months of January and February than other months. (4) Hmph. I am having a difficult time finding more current data, it would be interesting to know what this trend is like today.
You Can't Just Keep Adding More
What does seem clear today is Americans spend a LOT every January trying to “get healthy”. More recently, a group out of Cornell University examined the spending habits of Americans when it came to groceries. They found that we do spend just over 29% more on healthy food in January. The problem is that our spending on less health food doesn’t actually decrease. In fact, the participants in the study actually purchased nearly twice as many additional calories in the beginning of January as they did during the holiday season! (5)
This brings me to my first inspiration for a New Year’s Resolution:
Inspiration #1: If you are going to add something in, you have to take something out.
Oliver Burkeman, a writer for The Guardian, also included this in his article New Year’s Resolutions Worth Making. (6) Another suggestion he offered was to meditate, it “could make you happier, more creative, less anxious, even less racist” in addition to the other health benefits. His final suggestion was my favorite: “resolve to cut everyone a massive amount of slack, including yourself.”
Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Goals
Ahem, that last bit about cutting slack, well, that was actually part of the advice from the Harvard Health Letter when they wrote about New Year’s Resolutions. (7) They say that letting go of perfectionistic tendencies is one of the best ways to ensure success with New Year’s Resolutions. Huhn, so constant self-criticism might actually not make the world a better place?
Harvard’s other tip? Amplify the intrinsic motivation which gave life to my second inspiration:
Inspiration #2: Let your resolution mean something to you.
Researchers at McGill University found that setting goals for others may actually impede their ability to attain those goals. (8) This means as tempting as it might be, keep your eyes on your own goals, folks.
Most seem to agree that it is important to set realistic and measurable goals. They also seem to agree it is important to have one or a couple of goals for the new year. Some suggest telling others is important, others disagree. Not surprisingly, the basics of goal setting seem to apply to New Year’s Resolutions. But, to test this out, here is one of my three resolutions this year:
Resolution #1: I resolve to write more. Specifically, I will write at least one article per month.
January done. Fantastic. And it isn’t even February 8.
Take the Opportunity
“Healing is a matter of time, but it is also sometimes a matter of opportunity.” Hippocrates wrote this lesson that is still true today. This time of year provides us with the excuse, the opportunity, to live the life more completely. Hope y’all will take the excuse with me this year.
Please schedule time to talk if you want help with your (Chinese) New Year’s Resolutions!
Sources: 1.) Norcross JC, Mrykalo MS, Blagys MD. Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology; 58(4):397-405; Apr 2002. 2.) http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/pdf/2009-power-of-prevention.pdf 3.) http://www.who.int/genomics/public/geneticdiseases/en/index3.html 4.) Basil MD, Basil DZ, Schooler C. Cigarette Advertising to Counter New Year’s Resolutions. Journal of Health Communication, 5:161-174; 2000. 5.) Pope L, Hanks AS, Just DR, Wansink B. New Year’s Res-Illusions: Food Shopping in the New Year Competes with Healthy Intentions. PLoS One; 16;9(12); Dec 2014. 6.) http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/02/oliver-burkeman-new-years-resolutions-worth-making 7.) Harvard Health Letter. How to Keep Those New Year’s Resolutions. 31(3); Jan 2006. 8.) Koestner R, Lekes N, Powers RA, Chicione E. Attaining Personal Goals: Self-Concordance Plus Implementation Equals Success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 83(1): 231-244; 2002.
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Jonci Jensen , ND is a naturopathic doctor in Carlsbad, CA who shares