In Defence of New Year’s Aspirations

I’ve always loved the beginning of the year — the whole blank slate, fresh start vibe.

Catharine Utzschneider, a professor at the Boston College Sports Leadership Center compared midlife to “a book without any structure, without sentences, periods, commas, paragraphs, chapters, with no punctuation,” as opposed to young adulthood, when milestones are around every corner.

The New Year is one way to add that punctuation. It comes every year (of course), right after what can be an extremely busy time. For many of us, things quiet down around New Year’s and we have a little more breathing room to step back and do some reflection and planning.

I think for a lot of us, the goals, plans, “resolutions” or whatever we might make January 1 aren’t grand new schemes but rather a recommitment to habits that have waned in the frenzy of December.

So even this year, with the future looking uncertain, I’m taking a look at where we’ve been and where we hope to go. For better or worse I’m making goals, although they look less ambitious than in years past!

We’re coming to understand that we have less control, but we can still make a plan for how to live and how to respond to life’s upheavals. It may need changing along the way, but in my experience, it’s still better than no plan.

My 2022 focus

What am I thinking about as 2022 dawns? Healthwise, my focus is on relaxation. For several years my top priority was re-establishing good sleep after life with babies derailed it. I saw a sleep doctor who said that I had “a relaxing problem” (rather than a sleep problem). So as per his advice, I started shifting into relaxation mode at 8 or 9pm — for the most part — turning off screens and letting the task list wait.

But right now I think I need more active, intentional relaxation practices as well! With one disaster breaking before we’ve recovered from the last one, I feel like I’m always in a hyper-alert state. I can’t be far from my phone – it feels like a survival tool, keeping me abreast of the latest calamity, the day’s breaking news. But feeling this way all the time is tied to numerous health problems.

Relaxation has never been my forte. I’ve meditated off and on in the morning, but honestly, that’s already my most calm time! Not sure how much good it does me at that time.

So yesterday I set a recurring alarm on my phone at 4pm to remind me to stop and take a few minutes to breathe and recalibrate. (The kids get home from school at 4:15pm.) I’ve added it to my habit tracking app, which also helps keep me accountable.

The plan is simply to head for a quiet spot, check my to-do list, plan the rest of the day, and then do 5-10 minutes of breathing meditation. It might work, it might not! But that’s what I’m trying. If it happens even 3-4 days a week, I’ll call it a win.

Pretty simple right? I do have work and family related goals, but that’s it for health. Even in a less topsy-turvy year I wouldn’t go with overly ambitious or complicated plans. Looking back at my goals from years past, these are the ones that have stuck.

New year’s plans that have worked

Establishing these habits took several tries, ongoing tweaking, and (for some) professional support, but are now fairly well established:

  • The sleep routine – shutting down devices and the to-do list by 8 or 9pm, for the most part, then taking a bath and reading.
  • Daily morning movement – anything, even if it’s just 10 minutes, but ideally 30 or more if I have time.
  • Daily morning journaling and planning – I check my habit tracker, write down one thing I’m grateful for, look through my to-do list and figure out what’s on deck for the day.
  • Weekly meal planning Saturday morning, as described here. This works SO much better than back when my meal planning was on a random as needed basis.

How to set goals/plans that work

If you want to establish (or re-establish) these or other habits, think about your specific plan, not just vague goals. Figure out how you’re going to build it into your existing routine and keep yourself accountable.

For example, rather than saying that you’re going to eat “better,” you could make a plan to snack on an apple with mixed nuts on your way home from work.

And think foundational. As a dietitian you know I’m all for nourishing yourself with nutritious foods, but for some people, good sleep, regular movement, and stress management enable healthy eating habits, so they need to come first.

What NOT to do

Also, for goodness sakes, ignore the “New Year, new you” schtick. The old you is fantastic! You’ve survived this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic haven’t you? That alone makes you pretty awesome. But if you want to tweak a habit or try something new, go for it! Progress, not perfection, right?

And don’t get me started about the diet industry equating wellness and thinness, and raising that as a New Year’s ideal every year. (It feels like the ads are everywhere this week.) As I often say, health is more about what you do than what you weigh. (Not to mention the many ways it is outside of our control.)

So if you want to focus on food right now, focus on what you’ll eat versus what you’ll cut out, and definitely not on what the scale says. Eating more pulses, nuts, veggies, fruit, or whole grains will do you more good in the long run than restricting calories to temporarily shed a few pounds.

Connect, share, grow

How about you? Do you have any New Year’s goals, plans, or dare I say resolutions? Click over to our free Sweet Spot Heart-Healthy Cooking Club group on Facebook to connect and share.

But if you don’t want to partake in the New Year rituals, don’t feel like you have to! No pressure here. That punctuation Dr. Utzschneider mentioned can be the start of a project when you’re ready, your birthday, September 1, or really any day!

But if you enjoy New Year’s, and I don’t think I’m alone here, join us and share, or ask questions, and I’ll be happy to jump into the Facebook group and support you.

And Happy New Year! (Or as it feels more appropriate to say right now, hang in there! Together we’ll get through this.)


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