Saying good-bye to 2020 means it’s time for New Year’s resolutions again. Many of us make them, most of us break them.
Research shows that by February, nearly half of people’s resolutions go out the window. Only nineteen percent of people keep their resolutions at least two years after making them.
This year may see even greater challenges with sticking to resolutions. 2020 has been an especially difficult year due to forced changes and uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may cling to old, familiar, comfortable habits in an attempt to maintain some degree of stability in these uncertain times.
The American Medical Association recently discussed this topic as it relates to the current challenges with COVID-19. While many people will opt for eating healthier or working out more, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how everyone lives and it may be time to choose a different resolution. As we gear up for the new year physicians want patients to know how to take a new route for creating and sticking to New Year’s resolutions during a pandemic.
Physician experts Drs. Bisgrove and Clark offered tips to follow for the upcoming New Year resolutions:
Make time for self-care
“I can see a lot of New Year’s resolutions here revolving around being more hopeful. Put one foot in front of the other, work on being more kind to yourself and others—things that revolve around mental health,” said Dr. Bisgrove, who is also a member-at-large of the AMA Women Physicians Section Governing Council. “There should be at least a lot more about self-care, about survival, about giving, cutting yourself some slack and forgiving yourself.”
“Whatever you choose, make sure that it is focused on self-care because we can all argue that we all need to do better,” said Dr. Clark. “As we approach the holidays, it’s about being realistic—don’t bite off more than you can chew—and remember the importance of self-compassion.”
The Mayo Clinic offered some self-care tips:
- Fuel your body by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water.
- Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise every day.
- Take deep breaths and stretch often.
- Avoid risky or destructive behaviors, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, excessive gambling or ignoring public health recommendations.
- Spend time outside, such as going for a walk in the park, but follow social distancing guidelines.
- Set and maintain a routine at home.
- Focus on things you can control.
- Use technology to maintain social connections with your loved ones. Consider a regular check-in schedule to give you something to look forward to.
- Focus your thoughts on the present and things to be grateful for today.
- Listen to music or read books.
- Consume reliable news sources that report facts and avoid media that sensationalizes emotions. Limit your exposure or take a break from news and social media if you find that it makes you anxious.
- Lean on your personal beliefs and faith for support.
- Look for ways to help your community, such as blood donations, checking on older people in your neighborhood, or donating supplies or money to local organizations.
- Acknowledge and appreciate what others are doing to help you and your community.
Symptoms to watch for:
If any of these things become persistent or interfere with daily functioning and are outside the norm for the COVID-19 pandemic, contact your provider for help and guidance:
- Trouble focusing on daily activities
- Anxiety that turns into feelings of being out of control
- Strong feelings that interfere with daily activities
- Having emotions that become difficult to manage
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
Set SMART Goals
“Sometimes people become upset if they’re not accomplishing their goals because they’re not realistic,” said Dr. Clark who uses the SMART goals mnemonic, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
“Instead of saying, “I’m going to exercise,” using the SMART criteria, try committing to 30 minutes or an hour for three days a week. “That way, now I have something that’s specific,” he said. “We become less frustrated with ourselves if we can make goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.”
Along with setting these types of goals, Dr. Clark recommends finding an “accountability partner” to help you stay on track.
Focus on what you can control
In Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning”, he wrote that he believed that we are not controlled by our emotions and have access to a deeper consciousness and higher intelligence. We have the ability to guide, temper and channel our energy and emotional responses. He discussed the concept of a “space” between stimulus and response. When we honor that space, we control and shape the outcomes in our lives. Instead of being overwhelmed by an often uncontrollable big picture, we can choose instead to focus on whatever small steps and actions we can take within our sphere of control.
Using this concept can help us to focus more clearly on the achievement of resolution goals in the upcoming year.
With 2021 being so uncertain, “the focus should be about what you can control,” said Dr. Bisgrove. For example, “a New Year’s resolution could be making sure you’re wearing a mask.”
“We sound like a broken record, but it’s about making sure you’re washing your hands, your family is staying safe, you’re wearing a mask and you’re checking in on your loved ones,” she said. “If you’ve been feeling really down this year, just make a resolution to do something nice for someone one day a week.”
Find ways to remain connected
“Reaching out and helping other people by connecting in some way … are things that have really been cut off this year,” said Dr. Bisgrove. “Everyone feels so alone. They feel so isolated. That’s what we hear about—when people are getting together—is that they crave that connection.”
But physical distance should not equate to social isolation. Be creative with trying to connect in virtual ways. Your New Year’s resolutions can “focus on creating that community, that sense of belonging, but staying safe,” Dr. Bisgrove said. “We need to get through this together.”
Make small changes
“Encouraging people to make changes is about making the small change,” said Dr. Bisgrove. “I have two things I always say to my patients, in general: The tortoise always beats the hare, and slow and steady wins the race.”
“Anytime we’re working on habit changes, the way they’re going to do that is not by picking up some new trend or starting off on a massive exercise routine. It is by making the small changes,” she said.
Let go of guilt
“You can always restart. Don’t feel guilty,” said Dr. Bisgrove. “It’s hard to change habits—period. That’s why you take the baby steps and if you falter, you catch yourself and go, ‘OK, let’s do it again.’”
“It doesn’t mean that if you didn’t exercise three days a week, that you’re a failure,” added Dr. Clark. “It just means that this week was a week that things got busy. Next week is an opportunity to hit the restart button.”
Celebrate your wins
Even though we are physically distancing ourselves and taking all the safety precautions to help decrease the transmission of this deadly virus, I don’t want people to give up hope on those resolutions that they have,” said Dr. Clark. “We might just have to be a little bit more creative during these unprecedented times.”
For example, if someone’s resolution is to travel more, “maybe you travel virtually and explore a new country online,” he said. “We must be mindful of all the resources we have at our fingertips.”
“This year is harder for everybody in so many different ways,” said Dr. Bisgrove. “Every step you take, no matter how small—it should be celebrated as a victory.”
Teresa Amabile from The Harvard Business School studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance. When she and her associates designed and analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees in seven companies, they found that the efforts of tracking small achievements every day enhanced the workers motivation. They reported that the practice of recording our progress helps us appreciate our small wins which in turn boosts our sense of confidence. We can then leverage that competence toward future, larger successes.
They report that the occurs because of any accomplishment, no matter how small, activates the reward circuitry of our brains. When this pathway is opened some key chemicals are released that give us a feeling of achievement and pride. In particular, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released which energizes us and gives us a feel-good aura. This chemical enables us not only to get that sweet feeling of reward but also to take action to move toward what triggered its release in the first place.
It may be a little tougher this year to focus on our goals but staying focused and following the above tips can make the difference between goal abandonment and success.
John C. Norcross, Dominic J. Vangarelli, The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts, Journal of Substance Abuse, Volume 1, Issue 2, 1988,Pages 127-134, ISSN 0899-3289