New Year is usually the time for new year’s resolutions. It’s the time we feel compelled to commit to a brand new self, an upgraded version of ourselves, a version that is very close to perfection.
You might be finalizing yours as we speak. You might be sketching that perfect persona or imagining the new heights of accomplishment, which – when reached – will bring you all the happiness.
At the end of 2020 you will be in a near-nirvana state, blissful and carefree.
That sounds great! But here’s a question: when was the last time you (or anyone you know) has achieved a meaningful and lasting change as a result of making a new year’s resolution?
I have not met anyone yet that has made any significant progress thanks to merely making a new year’s resolution.
Also, none of the successes I’d experienced on my personal journey originated on the first of January. Nor were they an outcome of a new year’s resolution!
The Challenges with New Year’s Resolutions
Why is it so hard to succeed with new year’s resolutions?
I certainly do not have all the answers, but I have a few thoughts on this.
The Gravity of the Word “Resolution” and the Pressure of the Timing
Here is the online definition of the word “resolution”:
“a firm decision to do or not to do something”
This sounds serious!
The first day of the year has great significance and is celebrated in most parts of the world. As a result, anything that’s connected to it seem to be more significant and have more gravity.
If you make a promise (resolution) to yourself and to others on New Year’s day, you MUST keep it.
How much external pressure do you already have in your life?
Do you really need more, especially one that holds as much gravity as a new year’s resolution?
How many times have you been successful under so much pressure?
Don’t take me wrong, some pressure is healthy and making commitments can be useful.
But, is it really helpful to make such bold statements?
Don’t we have the ability to communicate with ourselves in a more subtle manner?
When you “resolve” to do something, you run the risk of screaming at yourself, rather than talking smoothly, listening to your inner voice and connecting at a deeper level.
The “Magic” of the New Year’s Resolution
Even if it’s not entirely rational, you might feel that there is something special, perhaps even magical, in the new year’s resolution: a hidden power that will propel your efforts forward stronger than any other commitment or promise made in other circumstances.
It will automatically strengthen your willpower to sustain the required action until you achieved the set goal.
It’s an attractive…illusion. The problem is that it leads you to expect visible results from your efforts too soon. As if it wasn’t enough that we lack patience to begin with, this “magical” New Year dust that we sprinkle over our goals makes things much worse.
The greatest risk with the new year’s resolutions lies… in the outcome.
Best case scenario, you stick with it and achieve your goal.
You loose the weight, you double your maximum pull-ups, you run the half marathon!
Fantastic! Now what?
Hopefully, you immediately set another goal, to maintain the good habits that led you to success.
Probably the worst outcome.
You failed to reach your goal. Catastrophe, your world comes to an end!
You failed in the most important commitment of the year!
You feel terrible, a total failure. You will never be able to achieve anything in your life, since you did not even manage to keep your new year’s resolution.
Worst of all, feeling defeated, you go back to the old destructive habits, weaker and more disempowered than ever.
Now, you have to wait for another year and the next new year’s
resolution opportunity so that you can try and perpetuate the vicious
And… the Ugly
You achieve your goal, mission accomplished!
You feel on top of the world! You are invincible, you can achieve anything.
You are finally happy!
But, are you really? How long does it last? One, two, three weeks max?
And here comes the same question again. And now what?
Most of the times, like when you are successful with a diet, you gradually go back to old habits.
Soon, you are back to where you started, if not in an even worst place.
This outcome, unless you maintain the habits that led you to success, is not much different than not having achieved your goal at all.
The Alternative to the New Year’s Resolution
You are now very rightly to wander: if no New Year’s Resolutions, then what?
Here’s an alternative I want to suggest: small changes, easily integrated into your daily routine, which cumulatively will massively improve the quality of your life.
The concept of this approach is an implementation of daily actions, that produce an imperceivable outcome day by day, but a considerable result after a more extended period.
One small positive change to your daily habits can result in massive positive changes over time. Stick with it and very soon you will be feeling great.
This feeling will not be imperceivable; on the contrary, it will be evident every single day and entirely independent of any outcome or goal.
You will notice that the steps I lay out below are highly focused on well-being, and there is a good reason for that.
Establishing a healthy lifestyle was integral to my personal transformation.
You will find it very difficult to achieve internal balance and peace without feeling well.
Some critical aspects of this approach:
- Do not set a specific goal, like losing a certain amount of weight by the end of the year. If you must set one, then set it and forget it!
- “Visualize” the new you a) in the present, not at some point in the future, and b) not in terms of looks or performance, but in terms of how you want to feel every day! Not, how you would feel the exact second when you achieve the set goal. That feeling will start to evaporate within, yes you guessed right, a second.
- If you miss a day or two, or even more, no problem. You stumbled and fell. Just stand up and keep going. Which means, just continue the next day as nothing happened.
- Commit, push yourself if you must, to just the very first 1′ minute of the new habit. For example, for the walk, just put your clothes on and walk out the door (1′ action).
Great help on this approach, if you need any, is the book of James Clear “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”.
Regular Checkups and Work with Your Doctor
Despite the plethora of information on health online, and our tendency to become “doctors” ourselves, there is nothing more important than being able to receive expert advice.
Also, in midlife, making sure that we do not miss health checkups is extremely important. Being able to detect any disease early enough is vital.
No matter how much we educate ourselves, which we must, we should always work hand in hand with our doctor and other experts to ensure we get best possible guidance for our well-being.
This does not mean that we should not educate ourselves. On the contrary, we should participate actively, making sure we ask the right questions to better understand and implement the expert advice.
Being better informed also helps the communication with our doctor, making it easier for them to understand our situation, priorities, and habits so they can respond accordingly.
The 1′ minute action: put reminders on your calendar and spend 1′ to book your checkup or doctor’s appointment.
Cut Out Added Sugars
If I was following a standard western diet and could only make one change to it, this would be it.
Numerous studies have shown the adverse effects of sugar on our health and how we get hooked on it.
Avoiding sweeteners, although slightly more difficult at the start of our effort, can significantly support long-term success.
Here is a good source from the UCSF, University of California San Francisco, on Latest Sugar Science Research if you want to learn more.
The 1′ minute action: Just stop for 1′ and think if you really want to order that dessert. Or, have a sip of your coffee and wait for 1′ before adding the sweetener
Contrary to what we have been told for many years, studies as this one show that eating many smaller meals in the day is not good for our health.
Fewer meals make more sense, as it is easier to overeat if you are having five, six, or even more, meals per day instead of just two or three.
Especially for some of us, it is much more difficult to eating very little, many times in the day than having regular size meals, less frequently.
Also, it seems that not having insulin elevated throughout the day and giving your digestive system a break can be beneficial.
Avoiding snacking also helps to limit added sugars, since most snacks are sweet.
If you must have a snack, especially at the beginning, better go for some nuts, seeds of dark chocolate (80%+ cacao).
The 1′ minute action: Take an 1′ break before you get that snack from the vending machine. If you still decide that you need it, then go for the nuts.
Track Your Food Intake
Unless you have a medical condition or you are competing in a sport at a high level, you probably do not have to track your calories and macros in great detail.
However, embarking on a healthy lifestyle, you should be able to understand the caloric value of what you consume as well as the macros.
Understanding nutrition will be fundamental in order to have informed discussions with the specialists, your physician, dietician, trainer etc.
Taking responsibility of your health is paramount in midlife, as you will need to participate actively in the important decisions and implement accurately the specialists expect advice.
Also, many nutrition experts advocate that not all calories are created equal. Therefore, understanding macros (carbs, fat and protein) is important. So, 500 calories of carbs is not the same as 500 calories of fat or protein.
It is also very common that we underestimate the quantities we eat, leading us to consume more than we intend to and need.
There are many apps to help you with this. The one I use, which is free, user-friendly, and compatible with other apps is myfitnesspal.
The 1′ minute action: Just open the tracking App immediately after each meal. This actually takes 5″ seconds.
Walk 30′ daily
The health benefits of exercise, especially in midlife, are definitely not new to you, but the value of frequent physical activity had probably been underestimated.
As shown in this Harvard Medical School article, just 30′ minutes daily can have significant benefits to your health.
If you do not find 30′ minutes in one go, then split it into two 15′ or three 10′ smaller walks in the day. A good approach that shows other benefits too, like lowering blood sugar, is taking a short walk after each meal.
The 1′ minute action: Put your jacket on and walk out the door, after you have finished your meal and you have entered your meal in your tracking app
Sleep at Least 7 Hours Each Night
Another underestimated aspect of long-term health is sleep.
Quantity and quality, both matter greatly.
Many studies show the effect of sleep disorders on health and its relation to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, immune system, and life expectancy. You can read more details here.
Some useful tips for sleep success:
- Maintain the same waking time every day, including weekends
- Dim the lights and a couple of hours before sleep.
- Get off electronic screens a couple of hours before bedtime. Also, installing f.lux can help with your circadian rhythm and minimize the effect when you do not comply. It makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
- Have light dinner at least three hours before sleep
- Have a cool bedroom temperature and no lights
You can also read more on the importance of sleep for health at the resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation.
The 1′ minute action: Set a daily reminder on your smartphone to dim the lights and get off electronic screens
Meditate 10′ Each Morning
Meditation is probably the action that produces the most subtle outcomes, as it is rather difficult to see the results so clearly, at least day by day. However, you will surely feel the benefits after a short period.
But even before you see the benefits yourself, others will start noticing that you are nicer to be around!
There are many different types of meditation to choose from, depending on which one suits you better.
Studies have shown many benefits of meditation on health for the body, mind and spirit.
Benefits of meditation are perceived in different ways by each person.
In my case, mediation has helped me reduce stress, be more present and mindful during everyday activities and feeling more balanced in general.
My wife thinks that mediation has made me a much nice person to be around!
There are also many apps, audio and video materials that can help you get started. The one I used which is free is the Insight Timer.
The 1′ minute action: Take your favorite comfortable meditation position and start your timer or meditation App.
You may now, rightfully so, say that those seven steps are similar to new year’s resolutions. And I would agree to a certain extent.
However, my wish for you is not to treat them as such but to approach the new year from an entirely different angle.
Make “feeling slightly better every day” your goal for 2020!
Happy every day of 2020!