To help you achieve your health goals this year, in this issue of Health e-News we have interviewed local experts in fitness, mental health and smoking cessation about why it's so hard to keep New Year's resolutions. They have generously shared their top tips for success.
Why New Year's resolutions fail and how you can succeed in 2018
While many of us will have made a New Year’s resolution, only about 8 per cent will actually achieve our goal, according to Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services. So why do so many of us make a promise to better ourselves on 1 January only to break it weeks later?
The State Government’s Better Health Channel website tells it straight: ‘Habits are hard to break and change is difficult.’
Psychologist Alison Hicks, who consults at Campaspe Family Practice, explains that as humans we have unconscious emotional conflicts that can sabotage our goals. While on one level we may want to start a diet to lose weight and look better, another part of us might be saying ‘I don’t want to give up food that tastes good and is comforting when I’m stressed’ or ‘I don’t want certain sexual attention that might come from being thinner.’ She says the animated children’s film Inside Out shows how unconscious processes and emotions that operate within us are sometimes in conflict.
Alison says the more psychologically flexible people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Flexibility leads to creativity in identifying and removing obstacles. ‘The more rigid you are the more likely you are to fail.’ If you miss a session or break the routine, you may feel like a failure and give up altogether. She says planning for failure is an important part of emotional resilience and success.
It’s helpful to consider ways to measure the incremental successes on the way to your goal, Alison says, so that you can see easily what you have achieved. This positive feedback can then continue to motivate you.
While symbolic resolutions have been part of various cultural traditions for thousands of years, nowadays promises made on New Year’s Day are often imbued with magical thinking; https://theconversation.com/symbolic-gestures-magical-thinking-new-years-resolutions-34243
an irrational belief that if we wish for something on this symbolic day then it will come true. We overindulge at Christmas and on New Year’s Eve and then repent on New Year’s Day, promising to mend our ways so we can enjoy a healthier, happier or more financially successful life in the coming year. And then many of us do it all again the next year.
Despite the mind games we can play with ourselves, New Year can be a valuable time for us to take stock of the past, forgive ourselves for being human and make plans to start again.
Many New Year resolutions have to do with bettering our health or lifestyle. So how can we make our resolutions stick this year?
- make only one New Year’s resolution: Changing habits is hard so you need to give this your full attention and energy. If you take on too much you can easily become overwhelmed, Alison Hicks says.
- be realistic: Often we aim too high with our goals, fail quickly and become discouraged. Choose smaller, achievable goals. Once you have developed a healthy habit, you can slowly build on it.
- keep it simple and specific: Break down the practical actions towards your goal into specific, bite-sized steps. Write down the details of the actions you need to take each day in your diary. Make sure to record your progress so you can celebrate achievement milestones along the way.
- plan ahead: People who stick to their goals often have a well thought out, realistic plan in place. Set small daily or weekly goals in your diary and tick each one off as you draw closer to your larger goal. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield wanted to be an astronaut as a nine year old… just like hundreds of thousands of other children around the world. He achieved his goal by identifying the small steps he needed to take to get there, such as taking the right subjects at school, studying hard and learning to fly.
- choose resolutions you believe in: Does your resolution resonate deeply with your core values or is it merely a superficial wish? You are more likely to stick to a resolution that is meaningful to you because you will be committed to it for clear and compelling reasons.
- get support: Tell people you trust will be there for you how much your goal means to you and ask for their help. If your goal is one you think will be hard for you to stick at, consider getting professional help such as a life coach, a personal trainer, a psychologist or a smoking cessation professional.
- set yourself up for success: Remove temptations or obstacles to achieving your goal. For example, don’t buy treat food you know you are likely to binge on or keep your runners and gym gear next to your bed where you can find it easily in the morning. Arrange to exercise with a committed friend you know has an established routine.
- plan for failure: Alison says it’s important to plan ahead for times when you might fail or things might go wrong. It’s useful to think about what failure might look like, how you might feel if you miss a goal one week, and how you might choose to do things differently if your strategy isn’t working. Have some back-up strategies ready to help you get back on track.
- be gentle with yourself: No one is perfect. If you miss a training session, for example, talk kindly to yourself, just as you would speak to a dear friend who was struggling with a goal. Think about the progress you have already made and strengthen your resolve to do better next time.
Grand gestures such as buying new exercise equipment or taking out a gym membership may be wasted if you don’t back up your financial commitment with practical and consistent planning. If you buy a gym membership, schedule realistic, achievable workout sessions in your diary. If you buy expensive runners, make plans about alternative exercises or stretches you could do on days that are too hot or wet to run or if you are injured.
Relying on will power is not enough in most cases to achieve a goal. The more of these strategies you implement when you embark on your resolution, the more chance you will have of achieving your goal.
Start the year in a better headspace
Psychologist Alison Hicks's top 3 tips for better mental health this year:
- learn to practice mindfulness: It creates new pathways in the brain, helping you become more resilient. Alison says you can practice mindfulness through meditation, yoga or even by simply being aware of the taste and texture of your food as you chew it slowly. It doesn’t have to be complex. There are numerous books, podcasts, YouTube videos, apps and classes to help you find something that works for you.
- engage in activities that help regulate your nervous system and put balance back into your life:For example, practise Tai Chi, singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument.
- breathe: Breathing is very underrated, Alison says, and is often taken for granted. Paying quiet attention to the breath helps regulate the nervous system and helps us feel more grounded.
According to Alison, the more we can regulate emotional triggers that send chemicals into our brain and body, and can calm our nervous system (an evolutionary system to help us survive when faced with danger, through flight or fight), then the better we will be able to operate the thinking part of our brain in our every day life.
Quitting is hard: you need a plan
Quitting and cutting back are common resolutions among smokers at New Year. According to Quit Victoria, while most smokers want to quit, they are not only trying to break a habit, but are also tackling nicotine addiction and the emotional reasons behind their dependency. Having a plan can be critical for success. Kyneton smoking cessation facilitator Yve Bayley (left) says her services for people wanting to stop smoking are always in high demand at this time of year.
‘People wake up on New Year’s Day and say they’re going to stop smoking, but they really need to have put an action plan in place first. Unfortunately New Year’s resolutions to quit sometimes don’t last if people haven’t planned for it well.
Yve specialises in helping people whose previous attempts to quit have been unsuccessful. She uses scientifically based methods to tailor a plan for each individual. ‘I work with people who have a greater sensitivity to nicotine; people who find it harder to give up.’
Yve says it can be much harder for some people to give up than others. ‘We now know there is a genetic predisposition in some people to have a higher nicotine dependency.
‘A common smoking fallacy is that people will be healthier if they cut down the number of cigarettes they smoke. It’s not only the number of cigarettes you smoke that’s critical, but how you smoke them with regards to drawing back.’
While nicotine affects the brain, Yve says it is the burning of tobacco that causes the most damage to the body with carcinogens, tar and carbon monoxide. Reducing the number of cigarettes smoked usually doesn’t help, she says, because the brain wants the nicotine and people will drag harder on those fewer cigarettes.
Yve assesses a smoker’s nicotine dependency and carbon monoxide levels with a Smokerlyzer device that gives her information about a person’s smoking habit and where they fall on the nicotine dependency scale. She also identifies smoking patterns and emotional reasons for smoking before explaining what products are available to help. Once she has devised an individual program, she teaches people how to use the products properly and tracks their progress.
Yve’s husband Dr Noel Bayley is a cardiac respiratory physician who consults at Campaspe Family Practice. While he treats patients with serious smoking related illnesses, Yve does her best to prevent such illnesses through her smoking cessation programs. Yve does not charge for her services.
Yve says it can be helpful for smokers to discuss their plan to quit with their GP. This is especially important for people taking mental health medications. ‘Your doctor can write you scripts for appropriate smoking cessation medication.’
‘The best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking because it impacts on so many parts of your life. If you could stop smoking before the age of 30, it’s a very good predictor of better health long term. You can reverse some of the damage.’
Yve plans to hold an introductory information and education session for people wanting to quit. Those interested should contact Campase Family Practice on 5422 2877 to secure a place.
‘I say to people never give up giving up.’
Yve consults in Kyneton fortnightly at Campaspe Family Practice.
How to prepare for exercise success
You are never too old to start exercising. The secret to being fit for life lies in proper preparation and building up slowly, says personal trainer Declan Neale.
Kyneton personal trainer Declan Neale, founder of XIST Functional Fitness and Martial Arts, says mental and physical preparation is key for people serious about exercising to improve their health.
Below are Declan's six tips to help your New Year’s exercise resolution last the year … and your lifetime.
- Focus on long-term goals not short-term goals‘
'Some people only consider short-term goals like “I want to lose 10kg in six weeks.” But if you still want to be moving when you’re 90 years old you have to have a long-term plan, not just a quick fix objective. If you want a lifetime of health and happiness, think long term.'
- Be realistic
My clients are at different stages of life and have different fitness levels. Some have exercised all their lives and some are just starting. I look at the individual. Some people will see their GP before coming to see me. This is good because I can use the doctor’s referral to target particular health issues.
- Start slowly
You need to develop a foundation appropriate to your body and then slowly build on it. I start people working on their posture first. Then I get them doing corrective exercises and moving better so their body is better equipped when they start exercising. This helps prevent injury and keeps people sticking to their exercise program.
- Consider using a professional
Some people make a New Year’s resolution and go flat out and injure themselves in the first week and then give up. I don’t advocate pushing through pain. If something is sore I get people to rest that area and do something else. A trainer can push you a bit harder at the right time, so that you improve without hurting yourself.
- Think of exercise like your job
You have to go to your job so you can make a living, even though some days you don’t feel like it. Your health routine is exactly the same. You need that same commitment and drive to show up each day.
- Exercise gently on days when you don’t feel like exercising at all
Everyone has days when they are sore or don’t feel motivated to exercise. They sit around not doing anything and after a few days give up. If you’re not feeling so good, do something that day anyway very gently – stretching or muscle release work or go for a gentle walk. Just keep moving. You’ll feel better for it because endorphins will be released. Just do what you can until you can resume your program.
Declan believes that people can develop exercise habits that will keep them going for another 30 to 40 years if they start slowly and gradually build up their muscles using correct posture.
And if you think you are too old to start exercising, Declan takes a seniors’ exercise group at Campaspe Family Practice on Wednesday mornings. Group members are aged in their seventies, eighties and even nineties. The program is aimed at building strength gently and preventing falls. For some participants, it is one of their few outings and they enjoy the social contact as well as the exercise.
XIST Functional Fitness and Martial Arts
Rear 49 Mollison Street 3444 Kyneton, Victoria
Fitness options in Kyneton
Personal trainers and gyms
XIST Functional Fitness and Martial Arts
Eclipse Gym Kyneton
The Wellness Factory
Illuminate Yoga Studio
Pool and fitness centre
Kyneton Toyota Sports and Aquatic Centre
Kyneton - Cobaw Walkers