New Year’s Resolutions are incredibly popular, and yet they often fail to bring significant or lasting change into the lives of most resolution-makers. Though almost half of Americans make resolutions every new year, the success rate of these resolutions is estimated at less than 10% by years end. (1)
Additionally, almost one fourth of people consistently fail every year that they make resolutions. It’s amazing Americans continue to make resolutions year after year with success rates that low!
The problem may not be the making of resolutions in the first place, but rather the types of resolutions people are choosing to make. “Losing weight” is consistently the number one resolution made by Americans, and yet of those who manage to lose weight, 90 to 95 percent are unable to keep it off long-term. (2) It’s no wonder so many people fail to keep a resolution like weight loss, since the resolution itself is so challenging. And weight loss, maintained or not, is not a guarantee for finding health and happiness in the new year.
You may find that sticking to these alternative resolutions is not only easier, but more enjoyable and more beneficial to your health and happiness in the long run. And you may find that they even help you lose weight!
Manage Your Stress
It’s hard to escape stress, and stress management often takes a back seat to diet and exercise in the pursuit of health. Unfortunately, chronic stress is everywhere in modern society, and being stressed is often even considered a sign of success in life. But I believe that without some form of regular stress management, you will sabotage all of your best efforts with healthy eating and physical activity.
Chronic stress can be debilitating to your health if left unmanaged. Some of the symptoms of chronic stress include fatigue, headaches, decreased immunity, sleep issues, sugar cravings, mood swings, and digestive distress. Long term effects include higher risk for modern degenerative conditions like heart disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and autoimmunity. For these reasons, I think one of the best New Year’s Resolutions you could make is to figure out a way to purposefully manage your stress on a regular basis.
There are many methods of stress management; the trick is finding a method that works for your personality and lifestyle. Some options that have worked for my patients include yoga, meditation, guided imagery, tai qi, qi gong, deep breathing, and even simply taking a walk. It’s up to you to test the different techniques available out there and decide which is most beneficial for you and your needs. Check out my article on managing stress for more ideas.
The most important thing to keep in mind about relaxation exercises is that they must be practiced regularly to see lasting benefits. You don’t need to spend hours on stress management every day; even a few minutes, when performed regularly, can have a profound effect. Your New Year’s Resolution could be to incorporate your favorite stress relieving technique into your daily routine. Commit yourself to a regular, purposeful stress management practice in the new year.
Adequate sleep is another crucial component to our health that often gets little attention in most people’s New Year’s Resolutions. Much like stress management, getting enough high-quality sleep may be as important to health and well-being as nutrition and exercise (3)
The research linking poor sleep to chronic health outcomes has shown that missing sleep regularly can increase the risk of long term outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and poor immunity. In fact, even modestly reduced sleep – six to seven hours per night – can lead to low-grade chronic inflammation and worsening insulin resistance. This is highly significant considering that nearly one-third of US adults get less than six hours of sleep per night. (4)
Getting enough high quality sleep should be one of your top priorities for the new year. There are many ways to improve the quality of your sleep, such as reducing your exposure to artificial light at night, eating a light dinner so you’re not too full or too hungry, sleeping in a cool, dark room, and going to bed earlier. For more good recommendations on improving sleep, check out my article on sleeping more deeply. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, a program I recommend to all of my patients with sleep issues – and what I use myself – is Rest Assured, which helps with managing stress throughout the day in order to prepare for better sleep.
Try committing to 8 hours of sleep per night as your New Year’s Resolution, and make restful sleep a priority.
Learn a New Hobby
You may be interested in a New Year’s Resolution that provides higher quality of life and a sense of self-improvement. Committing to learning a new skill or hobby is a great way to challenge yourself mentally, express yourself creatively, and have fun while doing so. New hobbies could include artistic pursuits such as painting, knitting, playing an instrument, or creative writing. New skills can also be practical in nature, such as learning how to repair automobiles, building furniture, gardening, and even learning how to cook. The possibilities are endless, so it’s best to choose a new hobby that you think you’ll enjoy the most, not necessarily one you think will impress others!
Learning a new hobby can also have a great beneficial effect on mental health and happiness in general. (6) People who take part in hobbies such as playing board or puzzle games and reading have less memory loss as they get older and a decreased risk of dementia (7, 8) Many different hobbies have been shown to reduce stress levels, and people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from depression. (9, 10) Trying out a new hobby can help introduce you to new social outlets and possibly even make new friends, which can greatly improve your mood and outlook on life. You can check out websites like Meetup.com for local clubs that introduce you to others that share your interest in learning new skills.
Challenging yourself to learn a new skill or find a new hobby can be immensely rewarding, bringing feelings of accomplishment and providing opportunities for fun and relaxation on a regular basis. Your New Year’s Resolution could be to find a new hobby that you’ve never tried before, and commit to doing it regularly, such as weekly or biweekly. You never know what great new experiences you might have, or new friends you might meet!
If you want to spend your time doing something to help others, you may make a New Year’s Resolution to start volunteering on a regular basis. Volunteering doesn’t just help those who are receiving the service; in fact, research consistently demonstrates physical and mental health benefits to volunteers themselves. The Do Good. Live Well. survey found that volunteers had an improved sense of wellbeing, had lower stress levels, experienced an enriched sense of purpose in life, and some even found it easier to manage their chronic illnesses afterwards. Volunteering has been shown to promote longer life expectancy, improve your ability to cope with illness, strengthen your family relationships, improve your self esteem, and give you an overall greater sense of positivity. (11) Much like finding new hobbies, joining a volunteer organization can be a great way to make new friends and extend your social circle.
If you’re looking for a local volunteering opportunity, there are a variety of resources on the internet to help you in your search. One of the most popular websites is VolunteerMatch.org, which allows you to search for volunteer opportunities in your home town. They have a wide variety of cause areas, such as animals, children and youth, seniors, and others. Find something you’re passionate about, and make it your New Year’s Resolution to volunteer on a consistent basis.
What do you think is worth making a New Year’s Resolution for? Have you ever made a resolution that you were able to keep? Share your story in the comments below!