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Setting Sustainable Goals

It can be easy to think, “Once January 1st is here, I’m going to completely change my lifestyle habits and be the healthiest version of myself, for good”. You might have grand plans of meal prepping everything you eat, walking 10,000 steps every single day, and waking up at 5 am to meditate for at least 20 minutes every morning. While all the above are great ways to improve your health through eating nutritious foods, moving your body more, and practicing mindfulness, having an all-or-nothing mentality may be hurting your overall progress towards a healthier you.

The key to making real progress towards improving your health is minor, sustainable changes over time. Did I lose you there? Do you remember that story you heard growing up about the tortoise and hare? The hare thought he was the fastest, only to take a nap halfway through the race, allowing the slow-moving tortoise to beat him to the finish line. Well, when you set a goal of only eating the healthiest foods and moving your body every single day (when that isn’t already an established part of your lifestyle,) you’ve become the hare. Your determination to make a change and newfound excitement around the New Year has got you moving 100 miles a minute, which is excellent! Except, it usually leads to an eventual crash. Either you burn out, ditch the goal, say you’ll try again for a new month, or go in the opposite direction, neglecting your health altogether. That’s probably why studies show that almost 80% of all New Year’s resolutions fail by February. So when you’re setting a goal, remember not to be the rabbit.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you’re not currently active, but you have a goal on January 1st to wake up every day at 6 am to go on an hour-long run before work. Now, moving your body more is always a great goal to have, but you might be setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. A more sustainable plan would be to go on a 30-minute walk three times a week when you’re able to, like after work or during a break. You’re allowing yourself more grace by only doing it a few times per week at first, whenever your schedule allows.

The top three New Year’s resolutions generally fall under these main categories:

  1. Exercise More
  2. Eat Healthier
  3. Stress Less

Do any of your goals match what the rest of the world is trying to accomplish? Instead of just setting the above goals with an all-or-nothing mentality, here are a few fresh and attainable ways of approaching the New Year.

Exercise More.  While all movement is considered good movement, having a plan in place of what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it can help set you up for success.

Rather than telling yourself, you’re going to run before work every day even though you’re not a runner, here are a few gentler and more attainable ways to think of exercise and movement:

  • Set a date with a friend or family member to exercise together once a week
  • Increase your daily steps by 2,000 rather than trying to achieve an elusive number like 10,000
  • Find ways to move while working if you have a stationary job, like walking to a coworker rather than calling or emailing.
  • If you hate running, don’t run. Exercise isn’t supposed to be a form of punishment. Find a movement that you enjoy doing, and you’ll be excited to work out. Try swimming, yoga, tennis, or a group class. Test new activities until you find the one that works for you.

Eat Healthier.  If your goal is to eat healthier, your motivation may be to lose weight, boost your intake of nutrient-dense foods, or manage a health condition like diabetes. Whatever your intention, here are a few additional ways of thinking about eating healthy:

  • Cook and enjoy a homemade dinner a few nights a week. There are so many delicious and nutritious recipes online you can find and follow. Homemade meals can also serve as an opportunity to sit and enjoy a meal with your family.
  • Don’t eat while distracted. While you might do it unintentionally, this means not eating while driving, sitting in front of the TV, or on your phone. When you’re eating attentively, you might pick up on cues your stomach sends out saying you’re full that you would have usually missed.
  • Same as with exercise, if you don’t like a particular food, don’t eat it! If you don’t like zucchini or spaghetti squash, don’t fill up your plate with those foods. Eat what you enjoy but in moderation. Find nutritious foods you enjoy eating, and you’re more likely to stick to your goal.

Stress Less. There’s a lot to be stressed about, maybe you exceeded your holiday budget, or a work project just landed on your desk with a due date of next week! Here are proactive ways to approach your stress:

  • A breathing technique like the 4-7-8 exercise can reset your breathing and help calm you down when stressed. Try it! Inhale through your nose for four, hold your breath for seven, and exhale through your mouth for eight. Try this four times in a row and see how you feel after.
  • Recognizing your stress responses can help you identify an issue before it takes over. It might take a while but think introspectively about dealing with stress. Do you ditch your workout routine to nap, do you increase your alcohol consumption, or consume more TV? Whatever you do, find healthier ways to combat stress, like exercise or meditation.
  • Lean on your support system when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. If you have a partner or close friend, ask for their support. They can help you talk through your emotions, create a strategy to overcome the obstacle or be there with you.

If the three goals listed above have been your New Year’s resolutions for the past few years, it may be time to take a break from them for right now and focus on other ways to combine health and well-being into your life.  Below are a few ideas you can incorporate into daily life that not only will nourish your mental and physical health but will help others around you.  Now that’s a win-win!

  • Spend 10 Minutes a Day Reading. Find whatever topic interests you, discover a new book or article, and spend some quiet time, alone, reading.  Plus, reading before bed is a helpful way to prep your mind and body for rest.
  • Get and Stay Hydrated. Drinking water and eating foods with a high in water like fruits and vegetables helps your body with daily processes, plus it helps your skin look better in the cold winter months!
  • Go to the Doctor. It might sound like an easy task, but going to the doctor and staying up-to-date with wellness visits, vaccines, and prescription refills can help you and your provider when it comes to long-term care.
  • Reconnect with Friends. The holidays usually mean spending a lot of time with family. Don’t forget to take some time to reconnect with your friends too.  You can schedule a walking date or connect over a cup of coffee.
  • Give to Your Community. Spending time giving back to your community is an awesome way to feel connected to the people around you.  You can donate items to food pantries or shop from local businesses.  But you can also support your neighbors without spending any money too!  If you’re walking outside and see trash, pick it up!  Attend local events at the library or community buildings.  Like and share social media posts for local organizations and businesses.

In all the talk about goal setting and accomplishing something in the New Year, remember January 1st is a just another day.  Making small changes every day to improve your health is more important and impactful than making a massive change that only sticks for a few weeks.  Happy New Year, and remember not to be the rabbit!