The Problem with New Year’s Health Goals and Some Tips

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 Putting pressure on January to start a new health journey is daunting and quite frankly, arbitrary. Anyone can make steps, large or small, starting today to take action to make positive changes. Waiting until January 1st or 2nd can actually trigger people into worse behavior prior to the new year. There is a kind of “all or nothing thinking” which can lead to thinking such as “I’m quitting alcohol cold turkey on January 2nd, so I’m going ham until then because #health.”

People become overwhelmed when their goals are too lofty. For example, running every morning when you haven’t exercised in two years is not a realistic goal. Smaller, incremental goals often yield better results. It’s tough too, when everyone talks about their health goals around the new year – it can be easy to compare your goals to a friend or family member, or worse – to someone you don’t even know on Instagram.

Here are some tips!

  1. Start in small increments. For example, if you want to consume less sugar, start by eliminating the sugar in your daily beverages, rather than completely depriving yourself of all that is good and sweet in this world. A lifestyle change can be just that – a change – rather than the complete elimination of something altogether, which can lead to failed goals. Write down your goals (more on this below) and then record the daily habits in a planner (paper or digitally) that you’d like to accomplish. For example, if you’d like to exercise more often, plan and block out time on a calendar exactly when and how you will work out.
  2. Think about your why. Why is it important to you to reduce sugar, exercise more, start journaling, etc. Do you want to be more physically fit to keep up with your children, lead a longer life, or go on a big hike? Hint: this is from my subjective experience, but I have observed that fitness/diet related goals stick when the reasoning behind them is related to quality of life, rather than vanity or body augmentation. This kind of motivation, to improve overall health, rather than to be a smaller size, is psychologically more healthy too.
  3. Write down your vision in great detail about how you will feel if you accomplish these lifestyle changes/goals. Future-thinking is a technique borrowed from solution-focused therapy in which people are encouraged to envision how they will know a change has occurred. Write responses to the following questions: What does it look like, how does it feel, what do others observe in you?
  4. After writing about your motivation and envisioning the goals, break down in manageable terms how you plan to make progress toward success. What is is that needs to be accomplished each month, week, and day? Schedule in a calendar the daily habits and routines you’d like to perform.
  5. Remove barriers to success. This looks different for many people. Try out automated systems that make new habits easier. For example, lay out exercise clothes the night before, keep nutritious snacks on hand, take your journal in a purse or briefcase with you so it’s easy to pull out and write any time.