Are Your Health Resolutions For Real?

By Tracy Morris

pic1The New Year presents a handy spot on the calendar to rev up a fresh beginning, even if the truth is that we can resolve to live healthier at any time. Change can happen in the blink of an eye, as soon as that last cigarette is snuffed out, the final forkful of cholesterol-laden meat is eaten, or you’ve taken that first step on the walking path. Have you set your health resolutions for the new year?

At my friend’s annual New Year’s Day gathering, conversations often started, naturally, with “Well — any New Year’s resolutions?”

Resolving to do things differently is as common as a hangover on New Year’s Day.

Cigna, the large health services corporation with a vested interest in people staying healthy, did a recent U.S. survey to reveal people’s motivations for change. From their results: 70-percent of Americans reported making a resolution last year, but only 25-percent reported that they were very successful, and 40-percent fell off within a few months.

The most commonly cited health resolutions? Weight loss, exercising more, and quitting nicotine – no surprises there.

pic2Resolutions? Me?

Not everyone is buying into the resolutions kick.

When I asked Paul, a good friend of mine, what he thought about the topic, his response: “I believe [resolutions] to be harmful.”

He estimated (optimistically, as compared to the Cigna survey) that fewer than 20 percent of those promises to ourselves are kept, adding “and when we fail to keep them, our inadequacy as a human and lack of will are thus emphasized. Rather one should simply resolve every morning that they will live, eat, and exercise in moderation.”

He may be on to something. For all his lack of annually expounded resolve, Paul sports a rather fit physique through his moderate lifestyle.

My own sister, Donna, who at 43 is devoutly single-without-kids and devoted to her circle of lifelong girlfriends, scoffed, “I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution since I was in my twenties. I am sure they can be constructive for some, but since I consider myself to be an ongoing work-in-progress to my death, limiting myself to change on a specific date once a year seems rather, well, limiting.”

I’ve said for years that I don’t make resolutions when the calendar rolls from one year to the next. Adhering to rigid time boundaries goes against my grain, too.

Years ago, I made lifestyle choices that allow me to respect my inner timeclock in several ways. My work base is my home and the nature of my job – freelance writing – allows me to weave the schedules of my many hats (mom, writer, music-maker, friend) into an appealing pattern, most of the time. I use an alarm clock for morning waking, but it’s not really necessary since my eyes open at the same time each day. I eat when my body needs it, not just because the sun is at a certain point in its trajectory. I exercise in a variety of seasonally appropriate ways, because I’m fond of the outdoors, when it fits smoothly into one of those configured schedules of mine.

So I like to think of resolutions as things that happen whenever I feel they’re needed, or more honestly, when I feel like giving change a go. Besides, we’ve all seen the difference between outcomes from efforts we were ready and willing to put forth versus what happens when you feel forced or browbeat into changing.

And after all, change is what resolutions are all about. We may try to sweet talk ourselves into thinking that we’ll be happy enough about the results to tolerate the journey, but the hard truth is that we resolve to be different, somehow. Some way.

If You Must, Be Good to Yourself

The latest advice from “resolution experts” is at least a bit more humane than finger-wagging at yourself. Little bites of change, rather than attempts at clearing whole life-altering hurdles, are the key, they tell us. Instead of making your goal the finished ball o’wax, aim for a first dent. Then another.

Example: Want to get into better physical shape this year? Take the time to brainstorm a long list of all the ways you can think of to do that – even if you’d never actually do some of those things in a million years. For ideas, do some Googling on key terms like “healthy weight” and “getting fit”. Create your own related support group along the way by brainstorming with email friends or co-workers. Jot down or type every single possibility and make the list visible in your everyday life.

Then, try one on for size each day. Make thatthe carrying out of one health-inducing activity per dayyour resolution. Even if it’s only to drink more water or to replace your usual daily bag of chips at lunch with carrots.

pic4Will you transform into your ideal body type in a few short weeks? No way. You may not even enjoy some of the things you do on the way – but you only have to do them once. Your mantra then: This, too, shall pass.

What may happen, though, is you find something along your day-to-day journey that clicks with you, that boosts your energy, or relieves a headache. Think of it as a Fitness Smorgasboard of your own creation. If you run across a food, an exercise, or the giving up of something that makes your life better – healthier – do it again.

A few more times and you’re on your way to lasting change and keeping that resolution. Each day you’ll get a new chance to feel like a real success, all the way into the next New Year.

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