Dear Readers,

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. When a person can’t stick with the changes they planned – which is what usually happens – they may feel like a double failure. Not only are they continuing the behavior they meant to change, they also have been unable to keep their commitment. Considering this, my first thought was that it might be best to swear off the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions. But on second thought, it would be a shame not to make good use of the motivation for positive change that many people feel at the start of a new year.

Here are some suggestions to help you choose a 2020 New Year resolution that you’ll be able to keep.

  • Successful behavior change is gradual, not sudden. For most people, a reasonable start is to change behavior by no more than 25% at a time. This means, don’t try to change your behavior all at once. Don’t even try to cut down by half. Instead, try cutting down by one quarter (25%.)

For example, instead of trying to quit smoking overnight, decrease the amount you smoke by one quarter (25%). If you now smoke a pack (20 cigarettes) a day, decrease from 20 to 15 cigarettes a day. If you currently eat meat with every meal and want to cut back, start with one meatless meal every day, or even one meatless meal every other day if that is what’s manageable for you. If you want to start exercising, start by exercising once or twice a week for ten minutes to begin with, not a one-hour workout every day. Continue with this 25% first-step change for at least four weeks before trying for greater change.

  • After four weeks, ask yourself, “Is this behavior change comfortable, or is it still an effort? Or, have I not yet made any change at all?” If the 25% change is still difficult after one month, don’t try to change your behavior any further until you are comfortable with the initial change you planned. It’s fine if that takes several months. Remember that when you are making changes for your health, the goal is to make changes that will last for the long term. Improving your health can’t be done short-term. It’s done by making gradual changes which become a permanent part of your daily life.
  • Decreasing or stopping drugs or alcohol requires support. Managing addiction is not a solo, do-it-yourself project. You may be able to keep from using on your own for a while, but to stop using for the long term and achieve sobriety you need education about the disease of addiction and support for recovery. Please seek help. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not the only way, but they are good places to start because they are free and are available in most communities.

Here are a few easy resolutions that will make you feel good!

  • Spend at least 20 minutes outdoors in sunlight on most days. This works best if done between 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun is highest in the sky and sunlight is the most intense. Increasing sun exposure will improve your sense of well being, help relieve depression, and increase your vitamin D level.
  • Twenty minutes of brisk walking, outdoors or indoors, on two or more days a week can have noticeable positive effects on depression, on feelings of sluggishness, on irritability, and on constipation. If you can walk for longer or more often, that’s even better.
  • Promote your own positive mood. It’s worthwhile and in your best interest to find and spend time with activities and people that make you feel good, positive, cheerful, and energetic. Pay attention to the way different activities, people, and places make you feel. If the TV annoys you, turn it off or go in another room. Is there music you love but never listen to? Find your headphones and listen to it regularly. What about the friends or family members you love but never see? Get back in touch. Increase the time you spend doing activities you enjoy. Whenever possible, at work, at school, and at home, spend more time with people you enjoy and less time with those who bring you down. Mood has powerful effects on the functioning of both brain and body. Mood is also self-reinforcing: people who frequently feel cheerful, happy, or content get into the habit of being in a good mood. People who often feel annoyed, angry, dissatisfied, negative or low tend to become habitually irritable or depressed. Most likely you could give some examples of both kinds of people.
  • No one knows better than you do what puts you in a positive or a negative mood. As much as possible, keep yourself positive for your own sake and also for the people around you. Your emotional state affects their moods as well.

Wishing you increasing health and happiness in the new year, Dr. Eva

Author Profile

Dr. Eva Hersh, MD
Dr. Eva Hersh, MD
Eva Hersh is a family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at dreva@baltimoreoutloud.com