2013 Resolutions: Make Changes Incrementally in Small Steps

2013 is knocking on our door, and with it many wishes to improve one or more things in our lives.

My first resolution is to get through the post-holiday blues without becoming overly depressed. Once everything gets “back to normal” around January 4th and holiday trimmings come down, I always find myself falling into a low mood. It’s exciting and happy to be around loved ones during the holidays and relive decades old traditions. Later, when I’m back in my apartment behind my computer alone again, there’s a big let down. Returning to “the grind” sucks. I wish holidays were spaced out better.

I think many psychologists and psychiatrists recognize there is a disappointment after all the joy has passed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes the DSM one day. Some people experience depression when winter hits – which I believe is Seasonal Affective Disorder – and that’s a well documented phenomenon.

My second resolution is to make “big” changes incrementally.

Most people set a goal of getting a “beach ready body” by May so they can vacation looking their best when the summer arrives. Naturally, people join gyms in droves after January 1st, but most give up by February when a new exercise routine is too strenuous, doesn’t fit into their schedule, or their life presents more pressing challenges.

Others set different types of goals: get IN a relationship, get OUT of a relationship, be more patient with the children, find a new job, move elderly parents into long term care facilities, be proactive about following a therapist’s suggestions for improving oneself opposed to staying in the same old rut.

My advice for any of these resolutions: take baby steps, not giant leaps. Most importantly, be flexible about what you determine as your ultimate “goal”. Unexpected things come up all the time and many will hamper your efforts. Make the resolution less about a numerical or emotional “target” and more about the process of improving your life on a day-to-day basis.

If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, make a reasonable plan that includes progressive changes in diet and exercise. Don’t report to the gym January 2nd and workout for 2 hours unless you can actually sustain that effort for several months. Also, don’t immediately change your diet to celery and water. Ween yourself off junk food slowly and experiment with healthier foods you actually enjoy eating.

Can some people “drop everything” and change on a dime? Sure, but they might be ignoring many other aspects of their lives that need constant attention. There’s always one guy or girl your local gym will trot out in June as the “biggest loser” who has rock hard abs and killer muscle tone. They went from “bloated” to “Baywatch” in 6 months, and you might ask yourself why YOU failed to do the same.

The truth is, they might have little else to do with their time besides working out and making hummus. Or, the weight they gained was an anomaly after an injury that prevented them from doing their normal exercise routine. If you haven’t exercised in years, it will take a couple years to get back into shape. Someone who had gained 30 pounds since July after surgery from a football injury will lose that weight much faster because they are accustomed to tough workouts and strict eating habits.

The same can be said for psychological changes. Want to quit gambling? Cold turkey works, but you’ll probably need to shore up other aspects of your life as well. Many addictions are actually symptomatic of greater psychological problems or stress. To keep yourself off the slot machines, see a therapist for support, join a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, and talk to your family about limiting your access to cash.

Otherwise, the process of putting your foot down and trying to cease all addictions, bad behaviors, or other personal problems starting January 1st, 2013 can lead to extreme disappointment when you “fall off the wagon” without laying the proper groundwork to stay on the wagon in the first place.

Random Small Steps for Honoring Your New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Follow your shrink’s recommendation to improve your sleep hygiene. Sleep earlier, sleep less, or sleep more if necessary.
  • Drink 1 less alcoholic beverages per week over the course of 8 weeks. By March, you’ll be spending less money on booze and your liver will thank you.
  • Have a salad with every meal BEFORE eating your main course. Vegetables will fill up your stomach and make you feel less hungry for heavy entrees. Don’t feel bad about requesting a take away bag or giving your food to someone else.
  • Drink an extra glass of water per day. Water is boring but it is vital to many of the body’s core functions. Plus, you can excuse yourself to the bathroom legitimately for a pee break at work and not be wasting time.
  • Send your boss an email requesting information about getting a promotion or salary increase. If you’ve been slaving away at your job for years, you need to be thanked the right way on your paycheck.
  • Spend 20 more minutes a week talking with your kids or other family members, even if it’s about inane subject matter. When your loved ones want to talk about something serious, they’ll feel more comfortable with you. Kids also like to hear from their parents; it shows you care about their well being.
  • Plan a family vacation and hold everyone firmly to the plans, no matter how young or old. Obviously emergencies take precedence over downtime. Otherwise, plan to spend time together in an enjoyable setting WITHOUT cell phones, laptops, or video games.
  • Try internet dating even if you think it’s weird. Match.com and eHarmony.com are multi-million dollar businesses. That means there are thousands – if not millions – of people paying to join these sites. You won’t be the only one. Give it a shot if you’re single and looking to date.
  • Join a support group for some aspect of your life that needs improvement. I need to find a support group for social anxiety. If you drink, gamble, smoke, drug, have anger issues, or suffer from OCD, get out of the house and talk about it with others. If the group sucks, leave and give yourself credit for trying.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive 2013!