For many people, the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve are awash with big dreams of losing weight, finally getting fit, reading a book a month, and learning how to cook—all during the next 52 weeks. We make long lists of resolutions about how perfect life will be, how perfect we will be. Then life happens, we feel stressed, nothing changes, and we feel badly about ourselves. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for healthy New Year’s resolutions, only to consider changing how you try. The key to healthy change is making little shifts that add up over time. These four tricks for achieving (the heck out of) your resolutions are best paired with one or more of our five favorite New Year’s resolutions for pain patients.
Why New Year’s resolutions usually don’t work
The mind naturally rebels against sizeable shifts. Habits and routines are so deeply ingrained in each person that they must be gently lifted out and replaced by the seeds of healthier behaviors. When we focus on too much at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up entirely, when all we needed to do was narrow the focus.
To make successful New Year’s resolutions, consider selecting just one change that you want to make and focusing only on shifting that specific behavior. After a month, you may find the change has become ingrained, and you can expand on that first behavior or start working on a second healthy habit.
As you work to implement change, create specific goals—such as, “on Monday I will do x”—and decide beforehand how you will respond to obstacles that usually arise. Building a road map that leads to your goal helps you stay on track or at the very least, return to the track if you veer off of it.
If you’d like to improve one or several areas of your life in 2017, but are unsure where to start or need help setting yourself up for success, read on for tips sure to help you reach the next level. Then check out our picks for our favorite New Year’s resolutions for pain patients.
1. Pick a resolution that resonates
Most people have several areas of their life that they’d like to improve upon. Maybe they’d like to eat healthier, exercise more, achieve more at work, or take more time for travel and leisure. All of these are noble goals, but there’s probably one thing that hits you right in your gut—something you’d really like to do that stands apart from the rest.
If you’re having trouble identifying the one thing, think back over the past 12 months to the times you felt really challenged or stressed. Was there something that continually caused you pain over the past year you could resolve to change? Maybe you’re having trouble sticking to a healthy diet and have suffered poor health as a result. Or maybe you tend to over-commit to responsibilities and end up stressed out, tired, and angry.
It’s important to pick New Year resolutions that hit at a deep level because there are going to be times you want to backpedal. During those times, think of what it feels like to fall back on your promise and use that discomfort to fuel the change. (And remember, success isn’t a straight line. You will backpedal at times and make mistakes!)
2. Get inspired
Planning is the fun part of resolutions, the part where you get to envision your life exactly how you want it. If you’d like to dream a little bigger in 2017, there are plenty sources of inspiration to help you think of things you might like to do or achieve.
Here’s a link to 12 TED talks to inspire New Year’s resolutions. You’ll find talks on everything from the importance of body language to the power of introverts to tips on unleashing your inner creative genius. You might also think big and tackle the global food crisis or commit to completing more random acts of kindness.
But staying inspired will also help you stick to those resolutions later in the year, when the going gets tough. Take a day or two to compile a list of inspiration to reach for whenever you feel like giving up.
Is your New Year’s resolution to eat healthy? Subscribe to food blogs like Green Kitchen Stories, the blog of a couple living in Sweden. Another option is Oh She Glows, the recipe collection of blogger Angela Liddon who recovered from an eating disorder by nourishing herself with healthy, delicious food.
Perhaps you would like to exercise more. Nerd Fitness aims to help “desk jockeys, nerds, and average Joes level up their lives.” Blog posts incorporate tips for exercise, diet, and a mindset that’s conducive to living a fit life. The website covers the nuts and bolts of getting fit, but also includes blog posts about overcoming the obstacles to fitness. Workout Mommy covers fitness and nutrition for busy moms with kids, and the official blog from the American Council on Exercise cuts through the hype about fads with no-nonsense tips and analysis. It also alerts readers to the latest health gadgets and suggests workouts.
You might also create a Pinterest page filled with inspirational images relevant to your New Year’s resolution, follow Instagram personalities posting about your interests, read relevant books, or listen to podcasts.
3. Get organized
Tracking progress and staying accountable will help you achieve your goals. Ways of tracking progress vary, and there’s an abundance of technological tools to help you along the way.
Let’s say you want to work less and spend more time with your family. You might ask your spouse, relative, or friend to call you at a predetermined time if you haven’t left the office yet. Or, you might track the number of hours you work in a spreadsheet to ensure you don’t exceed the number you’ve predetermined. You might also experiment with a time-tracker to make the most of the time you do spend at work. Work less, get more done, and spend more time with the family.
Returning to the New Year resolution of eating healthy, you might download a food journal app such as My Food Diary, which also has a component for tracking exercise. Alternatively, you might set weekly goals on a spreadsheet and then track progress to see how well you’re faring.
Spreadsheets and apps could also work well for people looking to reorder their finances. Programs like Mint help you set goals, track spending and income, and analyze your finances to meet goals.
If you’re looking to become more mindful in 2016, try downloading a program like the Mindfulness App which allows you to set reminders to stay present or meditate.
4. Find accountability partners
Some people find it helpful to report their progress to others. The process of telling someone else that you didn’t exercise for two weeks straight might make the difference in whether you continue the behavior or shift gears to get back on track.
An accountability partner could also be someone you join forces with who’s working on the same goal. As you plan how you’ll meet your New Year resolution, ask friends and family to see if anyone plans to work on the same goal. You might find yourself an exercise or diet buddy, or someone who’s also writing a book or looking to commit random acts of kindness.
You might also join a group. Programs like Weight Watchers help some people succeed in losing weight not only because of the dietary changes, but also because participants meet in groups and commit to weigh-ins.
You might even start your own group. Post signs at your local gym, health food store, or even on Craigslist to find like-minded people with similar goals. Commit to meeting once a week, sharing challenges and triumphs, and encouraging one another. You might make some new friends in the process, too.
Our 5 favorite resolutions for pain patients
Now that you have your path, find your focus by trying out one of our pain-inspired New Year’s resolutions. These five are classics, helping to reduce pain and improve your overall life by just a few simple changes each day or week.
1. Eat (at least) one cup of greens a day
Many people will make vague New Year’s resolutions like “eat healthier,” however that’s a vague goal and not easy to achieve when it’s time to decide what to eat. Chronic pain patients wanting to shift their eating habits may want to start small by including more greens into their daily diet.
Leafy greens contain an abundance of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory micronutrients that help keep the body healthy. They’re the most important food to eat when it comes to creating health, according to WebMD. Healthy options include spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
Sneak greens into lasagna, omelets, pasta, and smoothies. Adding a small side salad to every meal is also a wonderful way to increase the amount of green foods you eat.
2. Exercise four times each week
Some health experts call sitting the new smoking. The dangers of sedentary lifestyles are becoming increasingly well-known. Fortunately, you can combat some of the effects by exercising several times each week. Physical fitness is also a wonderful way to reduce the discomfort of many pain conditions.
To keep this habit, start small. If you’re not exercising at all right now, try taking a ten-minute walk after dinner four times each week, or even five minutes if ten seems overwhelming. That short amount of time may seem too miniscule to matter, but small steps plant the seeds of new habits. Before you know it, you’ll come to enjoy these small walks and perhaps start taking longer ones.
To increase your odds of success, decide in advance which nights you will go. You might ask a friend or family member to accompany you and help provide accountability, but make sure that person is reliable. The best motivation comes from within but outside help sometimes makes it easier.
3. Meditate for a few minutes a day
Incorporating short periods of meditation into your day is one of the most beneficial ways of managing stress, reducing pain, and improving the amount of joy you feel. Some people like meditating in the morning. They find it gives them a good start to the day. Others like sitting for a short time at night to calm the mind before bed.
When you’re first starting to create the habit, it’s easy to forget the intention to meditate. Consider setting an alarm on your cell phone to remind you. Sitting in stillness for even three minutes daily paves the way to longer periods of time. Once the habit is ingrained, you can increase the length of time. However, to start it’s a good idea to set small goals that don’t elicit a large amount of resistance.
4. Practice yoga
Yoga is a mind/body exercise that reduces stress, increases flexibility, builds strength, and for many people, helps to reduce pain. Many people with back pain or other pain conditions that result from lifestyle factors like poor posture can benefit greatly from yoga.
If you’re one of the many people who want the benefits of meditation but find it difficult to sit still, yoga can substitute as a form of active meditation. A great place to practice is a yoga studio, however many gym classes offer yoga at more affordable prices.
To keep the habit, find a class that fits into your schedule with a teacher you enjoy, and make it a point to attend every week. It’s worth the effort to find a class that you anticipate with excitement. When you look forward to going, the habit becomes much easier to keep. Over time, you may find yourself practicing more and more. The key is to start small and take baby steps, changing the habit bit by bit.
5. Stop smoking
If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking and chronic pain have a strong relationship. Smokers are three times more likely to experience lower back pain than non-smokers, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Different people successfully quit in different ways, sometimes stopping cold turkey or maybe using a patch. Smokefree.gov offers a wealth of resources, from a helpful mobile app to text message support to sample quit plans. Preparation is key for this amazing goal that IS achievable with the right mindset and support.
What is your New Year’s resolution for 2017? How do you plan to achieve it?