Well, it’s that time of year—again. You can either dread it or embrace it, but either way, it’s gonna happen. You return to work in January, and the first person you encounter in the break room is pouring her first cup of coffee in the new year. She turns to you, all perky and upbeat, and asks, “So, what are your New Year’s resolutions?” And unless you want to look like a disinterested, unmotivated slacker, you’d better have an answer at the ready!
What inclines us toward making New Year’s resolutions, anyway? In attorney-speak, it’s called a “bright-line point” (derived from the “bright-line rule”), which means a definite cut-off point—an exact moment in time, if you will—that distinguishes the past from the future. And January 1st is probably the most practiced and celebrated bright-line point in our human existence. We can practically feel the cosmic shift as the calendar transitions from old year to new, inspiring us toward self-reflection and personal improvement.
However, no matter how sincere and committed we may be about this year’s resolutions, it’s simply a statistical fact: most resolutions are jettisoned before January’s end. Want to know the most common New Year’s resolution? You guessed it: to lose weight. How about the second most common? To become more organized. (And I’m going to take a guess here and say that at least one of these two has appeared in your resolutions—possibly multiple times!)
So what goes wrong? Most likely, it’s several things at once. It’s important to think of resolutions in the same way we think of goals. In order to be successful in goal setting (and goal accomplishment), your goals must have several vital characteristics. They must be behaviorally describable, reasonable, quantifiable, measurable, and set within a timeframe. Instead, oftentimes our New Year’s resolutions are vague, unaccomplishable, and structureless—sort of like shapeless lumps of clay, waiting to become something tangible.
To make sure this year’s resolutions actually take root and flourish, start by making sure they’re worded in a way that connotes “action and consequence.” For instance, instead of saying, “I’m going to lose weight,” say, “I’m going to practice healthful eating habits that include choosing lower calorie options, and by doing so, I will reach my target weight by mid-April.” Or instead of saying, “I’m going to organize my office,” say, “Starting in 2019, I will begin the practice of always placing my most important files in a special folder on my laptop, where they’re instantly available when needed.”
Next, make sure your resolution is truly something you intend to buy into. If you don’t really care about your resolution, it will be very difficult to find the energy to accomplish it—after all, sticking to New Year’s resolutions can be tough work! So if you halfheartedly say, “I need to clean out my filing cabinet,” but your filing cabinet doesn’t actually bug you to the point of taking action, it probably isn’t going to happen. (FYI, getting rid of the things you don’t need is the third most common resolution.) There’s nothing wrong with doing some soul-searching and realizing that you really don’t mind your messy desk, or that you’ve actually become friends with that pile of old trade journals in the corner of your office. After all, they’re your resolutions and no one else’s, and by being honest with yourself, you won’t waste valuable time and energy pretending to care about things that don’t really matter to you.
And finally, have a little fun along the way! Think of a few resolutions that will make you healthier, happier, and more satisfied with your present life. Sure, we’ll all toss a few of the old boring standbys into the mix, like “promptly returning all phone calls” or “weeding out my inbox each Friday,” but my personal favorites (and the ones that make me feel most triumphant when I accomplish them) are the ones that make me a better person, both mentally and physically. And trust me, when you’re feeling great about yourself, the most amazingly good things seem to “just happen” in your life: your work performance improves, your energy increases, you’re more pleasant to be around, you’re more likely to be noticed for promotion, and your self-esteem soars.
I assume that you’re going to come up with typical resolutions on your own, like paying better attention in staff meetings or remembering to hand in your weekly sales reports. So, to add to your list of “usual suspects,” here are six out-of-the-box New Year’s resolutions—ones that you might not necessarily think of—that are quantifiable, readily incorporate-able, and totally, downright awesome!
1) Get Some (Quality) Sleep
Yes, you, the busy person who doesn’t have time for such nonsense. But let me tell you the honest truth about sleep. You, just like every other mammal (that’s correct; you’re a mammal), need the amount of sleep you’re programmed to need in each 24-hour period.
Want to take a guess at how much sleep kitty cats need? Around 15 to 18 hours. (And possibly my university-age sons, too.) Horses need around 2.5 to 3 hours. Opossums need 18 hours. And humans: 8 to 9. It’s a biological programming thing, and you can’t cheat Mother Nature. You need all of your sleep, every night, for a contiguous 8 to 9 hours.
Sleep allows all sorts of good things to happen. For example, your body repairs itself, big time, when you’re sleeping. You grow new white blood cells to fight off infections. Your heart rate decreases, thus giving your hardworking heart muscles a tiny break. Your eyeballs relax and rehydrate. You dream, which is essential to your mental health. Your brain decides what to send to long-term memory and what to discard from the day’s activities. The research is extensive on this topic, and it’s indisputable: you must have your sleep. So hit the hay tonight and get some much-needed zzz’s.
Bonus tip: To gain the optimum benefit from your sleep, do your best to go to bed at the same time, and sleep the same amount of time each night.
2) Make Sure You’re Properly Fueled
There’s so much info out there these days about what we should and shouldn’t eat—no wonder so many of us throw in the towel (or more likely, the kale) and head for the chips. However, if we think logically and listen to reason—and to our bodies—we know, almost intuitively, how to navigate through the supermarket or the buffet line. It’s not so difficult: each and every day, you need to eat some protein, carbohydrates, and (yes) fats. They’re all essential to your health.
Here are three super-simple rules of thumb:
- Stick to lean proteins and low-glycemic carbs as much as possible, and avoid all trans fats.
- Weight gain, loss, or maintenance is a simple formula that you already know: to gain weight, you must eat more calories than you burn; to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than you burn, and to maintain your weight, you must eat the exact number of calories that you burn. We like to pretend it’s not that simple, but believe me, that’s how caloric intake/output works.
- In your heart of hearts, you know that if you can’t pronounce the stuff that goes into your frozen TV dinner or your QuikTrip microwave burrito, it’s probably not really a food, and you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
So calm down about all the crazy diets and the what-to’s and the what-not-to’s, and just eat sensibly. You already know how.
3) Get Some Exercise
Again, we can become overwhelmed with all the often-conflicting information about exercise, but just like diet, exercise doesn’t have to be that complicated. If you can’t do anything else, move! Move around. Take a walk. Do some stretching. Perhaps some weight lifting (and carrying small children and groceries does count). And before you tell me that you don’t like to get sweaty, or you don’t have the time, or that work is more important than exercise, let me simplify things. Yes, there are recommendations for how much and what type of exercise you should get, but how about starting with two uncomplicated guidelines:
- Get some aerobic exercise and some weight bearing exercise each and every week (five days a week is a nice goal).
- Any amount of physical activity is better than none!
So just get out there and do something—you’ll feel better, you’ll have more energy, you’ll sleep better, you’ll reduce your chances of developing a myriad of nasty diseases like Type II Diabetes and Congestive Heart Failure, your mood will improve, you’ll live longer, and you’ll be more productive, to name just a few proven benefits.
4) Calm Your Inner Chatterbox
You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to meditate. You don’t even have to learn a “formal” meditation method to benefit from quieting your mind. All studies confirm the following: much like exercise, doing some amount of mind-calming practice in some form is better than doing nothing at all. Yes, people will tell you it must be done in the morning. Others will tell you that 15 minutes per day is optimal. But I worry that those sorts of “rules” simply lead to easy excuses for not trying—i.e., “I’m way too busy in the morning,” or “I simply don’t have 15 minutes to devote to meditating.”
Instead, here’s what I suggest (and the research backs me up on this):
- Just find a quiet place, if possible (although you can also do this in Grand Central Station if you have no other choice), sit down (on the floor, in a chair—don’t worry about where) and close your eyes if you wish (it actually doesn’t matter).
- Commit to two to three minutes of “mind-calming” per session. Don’t even call it “meditation” unless you want to—you don’t want to get all hung up on the name and then decide you don’t have the skills to pull it off.
- As you relax, rather than “thinking thoughts,” put your mind “in neutral.” To do this, you can repeat a favorite word (either silently or aloud), like “love,” or “peace;” say a calming phrase, like “I am bathed in a beautiful light;” or slowly count from one through ten, over and over (or one through thirty, or say the alphabet—again, it doesn’t matter). Counting, or using a word or phrase, is sometimes called your “mantra.”
- Know ahead of time that your mind will wander around and cook up all sorts of interesting things to think about—and that’s perfectly okay! It’ll happen, but that doesn’t mean you’re not reaping the benefits; it simply means that you have a human brain, programmed to stay in active mode until you allow it to take a breather. When you notice that you’ve moved into “thinking a thought” mode, simply return to “neutral,” by going back to your mantra.
See what you can do to practice mind-calming every day—and if you miss a day, or a week, or even a year, you know what to do: just love yourself and start again. The benefits of this practice are amazing! Among them are lower blood pressure, better focus, increased IQ (wow!), mood improvement, better sleep, and reduced illness/disease.
Talk about conflicting research. That old “eight glasses per day” is pretty much out the window, and don’t even bother to look up what’s replaced it—you’ll walk away confused. So let me throw some light on the subject and untangle a few things.
First of all, here are a few facts about good hydration that remain true: Your body is made up of 60% water. Literally every system in your body needs water to function. If you become dehydrated, all sorts of bad things can happen, from headaches, to constipation, to impaired thinking ability, to kidney stones. Water helps to regulate your body temperature, it improves your cognitive functioning, and it lubricates your joints. You need to increase your water intake when you exercise, if you’re in a hot climate, or if you’re at an altitude of greater than approximately 8,000 feet.
But how much water should you be drinking? Here’s what most research shows for average adults:
- Women: Approximately 72 ounces/ 9 cups/ 2.1 liters per day.
- Men: Approximately 104 ounces/ 13 cups/ 3 liters per day.
The key word is “approximate.” After all, we’re all different shapes, sizes, and ages. And the guidelines are definitely different for children, older adults, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, so check with your health care practitioner if you fall into one of those categories.
Now, are you ready for some good news? You’ve probably heard this alarming warning, told to you by a well-meaning newscaster: “If you’re thirsty, you’re already seriously dehydrated.” What? Why wouldn’t our bodies tell us sooner? Well, that’s now been disproven. And when you think about it, if our bodies were this maladaptive, we would have gone the way of the dinosaur a long time ago. Happily, it turns out that of course our bodies are smart and clever. They know when we need water—and they tell us by becoming thirsty! So the next time you realize that you really need a drink of water, don’t panic and assume you’ve blown your health routine—just find some water and have a nice long drink. You’ll be just fine, I promise. (And do your best to stay ahead of the curve by drinking water during your waking hours.)
Bonus tip: When someone (an office receptionist, your co-worker, or your grandmother) offers you some water, say yes and drink it. By simply making a commitment to drink all the water you’re offered during the course of a day, you’ll increase your intake automatically.
I’ve saved the best for last. This is probably my favorite resolution on the list—and possibly the most important, for both you and for everyone around you. What’s more, it’s easy, fun, and completely within your grasp. In essence, it’s the perfect resolution.
For starters, smiling is simply one of those things our bodies love to do. (Laughing, too.) When you smile, a cascade of wonderful chemical fireworks goes off in your brain and your body. Neurotransmitters, called endorphins, are released when your facial muscles position themselves into a smile. And it doesn’t even have to be a “real” one: your brain doesn’t actually distinguish between whether you’re playing with a puppy or you’re fake-smiling at your annoying office co-worker. When your brain senses your facial muscles moving into smile position, it releases the endorphins—just like that. Amazing!
Here’s another thing: the more you smile, the more endorphins are released, and the happier you feel. And endorphins are also stress reducers and natural painkillers—some studies show that endorphins literally work better than ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Next, when you’re smiling, while your endorphins are on the uptick, an unpleasant (and dangerous) stress hormone is on the downturn. You’ve probably heard of cortisol. It’s associated with anxiety, panic attacks, headaches, muscle pain, exhaustion, and heart disease, so reducing it is definitely a good thing. Smiling puts cortisol at bay.
And if all this good news isn’t enough to make you smile, research has found that smiling people appear more attractive, approachable (you might’ve guessed those two, but wait for the punch line)—and intelligent! Are you convinced yet? Okay, then here’s my final lure: studies also show that it’s nearly physically impossible for people to look at a smiling person and not smile themselves, so smiling is quite literally contagious.
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So there you go! If you can manage to nail just one or two of these resolutions, you will improve your quality of life, your energy levels, and your ability to tackle challenges—I guarantee it. And once you’re feeling like the superhero that you are, you can always add resolutions like “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” or “seeing through walls with X-ray vision…”
Denise M. Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 12 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Denise holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, a hospital administrator’s license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in the United States and Canada. She’s also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities across the US, and the author of Simon and Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.” Denise speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, communication, personal relationships, interviewing skills, and career readiness. Denise’s latest book, “Work it! Get in, Get noticed, Get promoted,” is currently available on Amazon.com, and is receiving all 5-star customer reviews.
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