Well, it’s almost New Years! I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I am FULLY READY to say goodbye (perhaps along with some choice expletives) to 2016, which has been such a difficult year for many people, myself included.
Along with the New Year comes a time-honored tradition among many Americans: making, and then almost immediately breaking, New Year’s resolutions! The dawn of a new year has traditionally been an ideal time to take stock of one’s life and make bold new plans for how to improve it. We survey our situations, determine the necessary next-steps to become happier and healthier, and we resolve to do what must be done!
Unfortunately, it rarely works out that smoothly. In fact, Forbes reports that only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions! And what type of resolutions are we regularly failing to fulfill? You probably guessed it. Nielsen found that staying fit and losing weight are the two most common types of New Year’s resolutions. Not only is it a shame that so many people struggle to accomplish these goals, but also failing to meet a New Year’s resolution can lead to feelings of failure, lower self-esteem, and can worsen the spirals of depression and anxiety. No bueno!
Those with chronic health conditions, such as PCOS, as well as people who struggle with mental health conditions like depression, know how important staying healthy and active is to their physical and emotional well-being. Simply put, the stakes are higher. But what if you’ve fallen off the wagon recently? Or perhaps you never got on the wagon at all? Maybe you are so far from the wagon you aren’t even sure what a wagon looks like?
In those cases, making a New Year’s resolution can be a great motivating tool to help you take charge of your health, as long as you can stick to it. But how?
Here are my tips for making, and keeping, effective health-related New Year’s resolutions:
1. Keep it realistic. This is the biggest way people stumble in making resolutions. Resolving to lose weight is fine, but resolving to lose 50 pounds is going to raise the likelihood that you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
2. One resolution at a time. Remember that self-control is like a muscle. That means it both grows stronger the more we exercise it, BUT that it also sometimes needs to be given a break to rest. If we make multiple challenging resolutions at once, we may not be giving our self-control muscle adequate recharge time, and it will raise the likelihood that it (and we) will fail. So go ahead and resolve to quit smoking, or to go to the gym regularly, but don’t try to accomplish both at once. Instead, focus on one goal at a time.
3. Create a series of small, progressive goals. Large, impressive goals can help us feel motivated and excited because we imagine what things will be like if we accomplish them. The problem is, impressive goals often tend to become imposing, increasing avoidance, procrastination, and low motivation when results come in slowly. When setting a New Years resolution, chart out a series of small, progressive goals for yourself over the course of the year. Weekly or monthly goals work well for this. And remember that sometimes, progress looks like two steps forward, one step back. So if you stumble in your journey, don’t beat yourself up! Just take the next step forward.
4. Start (too) easy. In concert with tip #3, it’s crucial to start VERY small. Want to set a New Year’s resolution that you will meditate for 20 minutes every day? Great! Perhaps a good first goal would be that you will meditate once, for five minutes, every week. Once you’ve hit that goal for several weeks in a row, progress to five minutes twice per week for a few weeks, and continue increasing in that fashion. Too easy, you say? Good! The goal is to get yourself on a roll of successfully meeting your goals. This will increase motivation and what we psychologists call self-efficacy, or your belief that you can do something. We often sabotage ourselves by setting the bar too high, too fast.
And here are some bonus tips: Don’t forget to keep yourself accountable! Keeping a calendar or log of your progress will help you stay motivated and focused, and sharing your goals with your family and friends, as well as asking them to periodically check on you about them and provide encouragement, can be really important.
Finally, remember to practice self-kindness and self-compassion no matter what. So if things feel difficult or if progress seems slow, don’t forget to give yourself some love. Making positive changes in our lives is hard. If it was easy, New Year’s resolutions wouldn’t be a thing! However, if you follow these tips, you are much more likely to set yourself up success. Join the 8% club!
As a health psychologist, I know that our brains excel at making associations between things. As a person with common sense, I know that people tend to really like sleeping and having sex. One of the problems of chronic sleep issues is that the bedroom becomes associated with lots of different activities: watching TV, checking FaceBook, working on a laptop, or laying awake wishing you could sleep.
Clean the slate! Move the TV out of the bedroom and move all non-sleeping or sexing (is that even a word?) activities to other rooms or, if you’re tight on space, at least not on the bed. When getting into bed is only associated with sleepy time (or sexy time), it helps our minds relax and our brains send signals that it’s time to fall asleep.
In order for us to fall asleep, we all need to accrue a “sleep debt,” which lets us feel tired and ready for bed. Napping cuts into that sleep debt and leads to difficulties falling asleep, or sleeping in increasingly disjointed chunks. To keep your sleep schedule more regular, and your sleep more restful, it’s better to avoid napping at all and instead let yourself be a little more tired going into the evening. Worst case, if you simply must take a nap, try to keep it brief and before the early evening. A better alternative might be taking a brief walk outside, doing some stretching, or spending a few minutes on an enjoyable task (like playing a game) before returning to your to-do list.
As a health psychologist, I’m big on exercise! It helps regulate your mood, keeps your body in shape, and improves health. But regular exercise can also really improve your sleep! The key is to exercise at the right times, namely in the mornings, afternoons, or early evenings. Regular exercise helps regulate and deepen our sleep overall. However, exercising tends to amp us up for a few hours afterwards because of the hormones it tells our brain to release. So if you’re one of those people who like to hit the gym or go for a run late at night, this may be contributing to your sleep difficulties. Instead, make sure that you exercise at least three hours before bed or earlier.