The best way to make healthy changes that last beyond New Year's


The best way to make healthy changes that last beyond New Year's


We're not big fans of New Year’s resolutions. The season’s air is thick with them, they are well intended, but far more likely to fail than succeed.

So, what if we instead re-frame those good intentions and agree that any time of year is a great time to make changes that succeed? After all, you shouldn't have to wait until January to begin improving your health and life.

But if you need a starting point to make those changes, the New Year is a perfect time.

What do you want to change?

It doesn’t matter whether you want to lose weight, learn a new language, exercise more, or travel more: Everyone has an internal “I really want to…” list.

The emphasis here is on really.

So, please make it something you’re really serious about. Something you’re committed to, and will make part of your life over the long term.

To make extra sure you’re heading in the right direction, ask yourself this key question: Am I responding to pressure—from a friend, from my culture, or from any other external influence?

You answered no?

Excellent. Let’s move on—SMART-ly.

How to make a promise to yourself that you’ll keep

A commitment to change doesn’t have to be a battle between what you want and what you need to get it—if you play it SMART.

The SMART acronym provides a perfect roadmap for achieving your goals and making lasting changes. It stands for…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Let’s take a closer look.

  • Specific

    Let’s say you want to lose weight. What’s wrong with “I will lose weight?” Well, how do you know whether you’ve reached your goal—without setting a specific amount of weight, over how much time? Make it “I will lose a minimum of one pound per week.

    How about reducing stress? Be specific, “I will meditate for at least 15 minutes, three times a week."

    What’s your choice, what’s your timetable? Be as specific as possible

  • Measurable

    As per the above, be specific—”eating healthier,” for example, means something different to everyone.

    So make your goal clear—"I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables a day," or "I will eat no more than one sugary snack per week." 

    Make it anything you want, as long as you can track whether you’re on track.

  • Achievable

    It sounds so simple, but be realistic. Yes, there are occasional highly motivated individuals who resolve to be marathon-ready by the end of the year, for example—and do it.

    But let’s recognize our limits, and undertake change that challenges you just the right amount.

    Your overall health and lifestyle—bad diet, or a sedentary lifestyle, for example—might make positive changes harder to reach. But achievements, whatever the challenge level, will keep you going.

    The best part about that is how proud you feel every time you stick to your plan. It’s a wonderful feeling, and your body supports you by releasing happy hormones, including serotonin and endorphins.

  • Relevant 

    Back to the reasons people fail above. Are you being influenced by family, friends, or trends? Thinking about becoming a vegan only because your brother-in law keeps urging/nagging you?

    Choose a goal that really matters to you. It might help you to make a list or post a picture of your reasons for making this change.

  • Time-bound 

    Like “achievable,” the timeline for reaching your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself time to do it with lots of smaller intermediate goals set up along the way. That plan to lose at least a pound a week or to exercise for 10 minutes a day, three times a week is perfect.

Creating a personalized plan to achieving your goals the SMART way is a great way to make it doable and make changes that last.

And we have some fresh insight from research that can make it easier to stick with. (Hint: It’s got nothing to do with “willpower.”)

The willpower myth

The American Psychology Association tells us that the most common reason people give for letting New Year’s resolutions drift away is lack of willpower.

Let’s assume that goes for any kind of change.

For sure, there are times when you just don’t feel like keeping the promise you’ve made to yourself. But in reality, no one “lacks willpower.” If that were the case, workplaces all over the world would be empty.

Not only that, but to me “lack of willpower” is like saying “I can’t help it, I’m powerless.”

My friends, no one is powerless. Not us, not you. If this sound a bit preachy, so be it. There are countless hours of video online to prove that human beings can do anything we set our minds to.

And now science has shown us that this gets more true, the more we exercise our willpower.

The Science Behind Keeping Your Commitments

Experts in the field of self-control have determined that the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps us control our behavior—deciding, for example, to put the fork down instead of shoveling in another mouthful.

As we know, the brain is a muscle, and muscles grow stronger when challenged. Isn’t it sort of a no-brainer that the more often you make a right decision, exercising your prefrontal cortex, the stronger it gets, and the easier the next decision becomes?

Backing that up is research showing that the prefrontal cortex can “tire” at the end of the day—run out of the nutrients it needs. This makes difficult decisions even more difficult.

So let’s be sure that your prefrontal cortex—and the rest of your brain and entire body, is well fed and healthy.

Doing so will help feed this one last, essential step to getting your plan firmly planted in your life.

Build a change support team—and respect it

No matter what your change plan, or when, look ahead to anticipate the demands your behavioral change might make on you and your family and friends.

Quitting smoking, for example, can turn a good-natured lady or gentleman into a snarling beast in the first days or weeks. A change in diet or exercise will also need some settling in time.

That doesn’t mean you should forget your plan for change.

It means you should explain any possible withdrawal symptoms to people close to you, and ask for their understanding, forgiveness, and support (this one’s a biggie), until any uncomfortable days of kicking your former habit, or starting a new one, are over.

Final Tips for a New You in the New Year

We'd be remiss if we neglected to offer some suggested changes for you to adopt. You can tackle these changes one at a time, and you’re probably already doing some of them.

These suggested changes, when added all together will result in a truly healthy lifestyle:

  • Start taking the supplements that are right for you. for starters, we recommend an omega-3 oil and vitamin D for everyone
  • Sleep seven to eight hours a night
  • Stop smoking
  • Cut in half the amount of alcoholic and sugary beverages you drink
  • Drink enough water: half an ounce per pound of body weight per day. So: 150 pounds? 75 ounces of water—paced through the day. (This is is easier than it sounds, but has huge benefits.)
  • Walk for 10–15 minutes a day (increasing your time and distance as you build this routine to 30 minutes a day), or add interval and weight training. After all, movement is life!
  • Pick one goal for improving your diet (i.e., swap out processed foods for nutrient-dense produce, reduce refined carbohydrates for complex fiber-rich carbs, eat more healthy fats, "eat the rainbow"  by increasing the quantity and variety of vegetables in your diet, etc.), and stick with it for 3 months. Then, add another specific, achievable diet-related goal, until you have exactly the healthy diet you desire.

And be prepared to power your change. Remember what we told you about willpower as an excuse for abandoning your plan, it doesn’t fly.

You’re in charge here, as the new year approaches, and as every new day comes. All we can do is advise how to best use your power and provide you with high quality ingredients to design your healthy lifestyle.

If you put a proper plan together, and stick with it, we guarantee you’ll start feeling better on day 1.

Here’s to happy, healthy holidays—and all days to come!

Take good care.

 

References


Disclaimer:
Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Last Updated: December 26, 2020
Originally Published: January 1, 2018