Resist resolution hype and protect your health all year long
Article by Dr. Kristen Lee — internationally recognized, award-winning behavioral science clinician, researcher, educator, speaker, and comedian.
New Year’s resolution season is upon us. Our social feeds flood with new year-new you messages, inviting us to make sweeping changes and self-care our way to our best lives. That we need to craft the perfect plan to jump through all the hoops set out before us, as if we’re stars in Cirque de Soleil.
Many of us know that the pressure to submit a five-point plan to better ourselves the second the ball drops isn’t necessarily a humane way to start the year off, nor is it realistic. The constant hype on total transformation that taunts us might compound the very reason we set resolutions to begin with.
Rather than falling for the notion that we can rebirth ourselves, become bullet-proof, and enact habits that will last indefinitely, it can help to understand the complex mental health scenario we’re navigating, and how it impacts our well-being.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global mental health crisis, projecting that lifestyle and stress-related illness will surpass communicable diseases by 2030. WHO reclassified burnout as a condition of modern life and the workforce in 2019.
Quiet Quitting within the Age of Anxiety, along with The Great Resignation, have left many with telltale features of burnout-emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of cynicism. Rates of mental health distress have escalated, and many are facing increased demands to do more with less, with little time for recalibration and well-earned rest.
It makes sense that we pine for expedient solutions and high impact remedies as we begin a new year. Yet, setting lofty resolutions will unlikely help us sustain needed upgrades to our lifestyle “medicine” – the ways we nourish our bodies through sleep, rest, proper nutrition, movement, time in nature, and relationships.
Given the perils of modern life, tapping into the science of behavioral change can help us adopt the mindsets, behaviors, and habits that help cultivate resilience, and help us stay and do well.
Here are twelve ways to resist resolution hype and work towards enacting meaningful, sustainable positive behavioral change:
1. Think tiny. While the temptation to go big or stay home can be intense, science shows that change is best attained in small doses, bit by bit. As we get traction with our intended micro-changes, it can generate momentum to sustain and add to them strategically over time. For example, if more exercise is a goal, start by adding a short walk rather than an elaborate fitness plan that will be hard to follow.
2. Rethink resilience. Research shows we’re wired for resilience, but it’s not a matter of sheer will or mere “grittiness.” When we can understand the complexity of our contexts, we can enact positive behavioral change, not just as individuals, but in ways that ripple out within our spheres of influence. Even if we don’t feel resilient, we can remember that it’s a process, not a trait.
3. Include break rituals each day. Recognize you are not a robot or machine. Humans are beings, not doings. We’re not meant to be on 24-7. You are not above the laws of science, which emphasize the importance of breaks and replenishment as a catalyst for well-being. Research shows that even small slices of time can provide needed recalibration, such as a short meditation or brisk walk.
4. Resist the urge to audit yourself non-stop. Self-reflection can be helpful, but when feelings of never-enough dominate your thoughts, or your toxic inner critic constantly has its way, it might be time to stop approaching life like you’re a problem to solve. Practice self-compassion. Treat yourself like you would a close friend.
5. Set the right pace. Think sustained progress over the long haul, not urgent and dramatic sweeping change. Burnout can quickly creep up when we think we have to sprint to new horizons the moment the new year arrives. Set a pace that’s reasonable and humane for you.
6. Guard against technostress. Constant screen use is associated with poor mental health outcomes. Set boundaries with technology and instead invest your time in activities that bolster well-being.
7. Spend time in green spaces and nature. Numerous studies reveal the positive impact of nature on well-being. Studies have shown it can reduce cortisol levels and reduce rates of depression and anxiety.
8. Let them see you sweat. Relationships where trust and psychological safety are established are vital in the workplace, home, and beyond. Hiding in the shadows exasperates burnout and mental health distress. Instead, find trusted people and reveal your struggles as a catalyst for healing and growth. Many of us are willing to give help, but asking for it can feel counterintuitive.
9. Laugh and play. Humor is a protective factor for our mental health. Taking life too seriously inhibits joy. Play and be playful.
10. Enlist a therapist or coach. Evidence-based treatment modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help us develop a host of coping strategies and develop a strategic plan for thriving. Many insurance companies now cover virtual sessions to make for more flexible, accessible options.
11. Don’t go it alone. Healing, growth, resilience, and well-being happen in a community. Our efforts are enhanced when we have caring people to cheer us on and hold us accountable. Relationships are protective factors, buffers, and enhancers of mental health.
12. Celebrate your progress. Visualize your progress over the past few years and stop and acknowledge ways you’ve been brave and resilient. Own your strengths at this moment. Appreciate the ways you’ve endured, overcome and are doing your very best. Practice gratitude for what’s true right now.
While New Year’s resolution promotions can be well-intended, it’s worth taking time to develop habits, mindsets, and behaviors that can be sustained to help prevent burnout and position us to stay and do well all year long.
Dr. Kris speaks about burnout prevention, workplace wellness, the science of mindfulness, and so much more. Her book “Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World,” is available now.
Visit AAE’s website to book Dr. Kris for your next event.