By Sue Tiffin
Published Jan. 8 2019
Updated Jan. 9 2019 *With correction see end of article
When the clock struck midnight bringing us from 2018 into 2019 for many the change of the date also brought about new focus in the form of New Year’s resolutions. While some who engage in the tradition might joke they’ve already failed at bettering themselves or their lives just a week into the new year local experts talked to the Echo about how goals and even small changes in habits can occur throughout the year.
“I think almost anything anyone does is a way of investing in yourself” said Barb Fraser social worker with th e Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team. “Whatever people choose they’re probably going to feel better because they’re moving towards an intention or a goal.”Fraser tends to use the word intention rather than resolution.
“It instills movement as opposed to a finished product” said Fraser. “Resolution means you did it you’re over with it and intention means I’m moving toward this. I just think it’s a little softer …You can set an intention each day because you’re not probably going to fulfill your resolution today but you can have an intention this day and this moment.”
Being mindful of daily patterns and habits including improving the quantity or quality of sleep in one’s life can help anyone feeling weary feel better about what they’re going to do next in life said Fraser.
She said if people can figure out how they are spending their time and how that use of time and time management makes them feel they might be able to make small shifts such as getting to work 10 minutes early to be able to go for a walk first in order to find time for oneself and new habits.
“I was talking to someone recently who said they don’t want to default to social media scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or whatever scrolling and wasting time doing that” she said. “So I said OK what are you going to do instead? That’s a good idea if that’s what you want to do for yourself what are you going to do instead? We all get sucked into the vortex. How do you catch yourself? What’s your plan and what are you going to do instead? Maybe it’s reading maybe it’s going outside or doing some art or some drawing or phoning a friend. If you’re giving something up you need a plan of what you’re going to do instead with the time you’ve been doing that. What’s more fulfilling for you?”
Fraser said sharing an intention or resolution with friends or family members could help people to stay motivated and be held accountable but that it was important to not feel bad if goals weren’t met. Additionally it was essential that people not feel alone or afraid to ask for help or guidance she said noting numerous sources including online resources physicians and other health professionals were available with an option for any budget.
Thinking out a plan and doing a gentle inquiry into what will work best helps people stay motivated and on task said Fraser.
“Most people if they want to do an activity they’re probably not going to do it seven days a week” she said. “So start small. Say I want to get outside and walk a little bit or snowshoe or something like that. Well OK what’s realistic for me? Well maybe it’s two times a week. Start small. If you do more than that it’s fine.”
Fraser suggested recognizing small steps within larger goals.
“It’s like we set these big goals … you just have to start small and be kind and caring to yourself as you’re stepping through it because it is hard to change patterns and behaviour we just tend to slide into the same things we do over and over” said Fraser. “Even some small things what do I want for myself? What will make me feel good? It might be deciding you want to reconnect with some people or you want to write some letters or you want to take a course there are so many opportunities out there. For your health and well-being maybe you do need to go for some counselling or maybe you want to change jobs so you have to think about that because what’s unique for each of us … it is unique for each of us what makes us feel better. But sometimes one small change leads to the next leads to the next leads to the next and it’s OK to maybe be a little daunted by it but when you break it down you think what’s the first thing I need to do.”
As for following the news online Fraser said it’s important to take a break sometimes.
“Balance the good stuff out there because we’re bombarded – not that we don’t want to know what’s going on out there in the world but we don’t need to hear it 42 times a day” she said. “Watch something funny and laugh because that creates that shift in your body emotionally and biologically. We all need to laugh a little bit. It can be hard but it’s good for us.”
Rosie Kadwell registered dietitian with the HKPR District Health Unit said she believes the most common health-related resolutions that people focus on are to be healthier and feel better to lose weight to eat healthier and to exercise more.
“We know that if we are more physically active or eat healthier we will feel better” she said. “These are all good resolutions but they do not state how someone is going to achieve these goals. The secret to success is to break down your healthy living goals into mini goals that are easy to manage. Start with one small clear goal that is right for you and once you achieve it and it becomes part of your daily routine then you can set another goal.”
For example she said if your resolution is to eat healthier it’s important to ask yourself how you are going to do that – maybe it means you might prepare and eat another vegetable with your dinner.
“Once you have accomplished that goal and it becomes part of your daily routine you are ready to set yourself another goal” she said. “For example instead of eating ice cream every night for dessert I will only eat it twice a week and top it with fresh or frozen fruit. The nights I am not eating ice cream I will make my own frozen dessert using a banana and frozen fruit whipped together in the food processor.”
Kadwell said being realistic about a resolution will set people up for success.
“I believe most people set goals that are too high to achieve or a goal that is not measurable” she said. “If a goal is not measurable there is no way to determine if you were successful.”
To make a smart goal Kadwell suggests using the following checklist when setting a goal to make sure it’s ‘SMART’:
Specific : When will you start? What will you focus on? How will you do it?
Measurable : How often will you do this? How much will you do? What will you track and how?
Action-oriented : What eating or activity behaviour will you change? Focus on a behaviour that you can change rather than a feeling or a thought.
Realistic : Can you see yourself completing this goal? Be honest! Setting small goals that are achievable is a strong motivator and a positive way for you to track your progress.
Time-framed : How long will it take you to reach your goal?
“A goal such as ‘I want to lose weight’ is not a ‘SMART’ goal” said Kadwell. “Instead think about what you need to do to lose the weight maybe you will want to snack less on sweet foods. This may be your SMART goal: ‘Starting tomorrow I am going to buy fresh fruit to store at work and will substitute my sweet snack for a fruit and piece of cheese. I will try this for one week and reassess.’”
As for simple changes or habits people might consider if they’re looking to have a healthier diet Kadwell offers the following suggestions:
Add one or two vegetable or fruit servings to meals and snacks. Use the handy chart at http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Canada-s-Food-Guide/Vegetable-and-Fruit-Checklist.aspx to help you keep track and aim for seven to 10 half-cup servings each day.
Have a meatless dinner once each week. Enjoy tofu eggs or legumes instead of meat or poultry.
Get more fibre. Aim for 25-38 grams per day. Many Canadians fall short of this valuable nutrient which helps with keeping your bowels regular and helps manage cholesterol levels.
Have breakfast each day. Try oats with milk and fruit or whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana. Adults who skip breakfast are more likely be to overweight.
Additionally Kadwell said using the free online My Goals tool at EaTracker.ca which was created by Dietitians of Canada can help people track eating habits and physical activity and help set and reach goals.
Sue Shikaze’s work with the HKPR District Health Unit focuses on healthy environments with a specific focus on climate change and health.
“Certainly there seems to be more in the news recently about climate change and the trajectory that we are on – and that it takes efforts from both individuals and governments to change course. Reducing our personal use and consumption of fossil fuels is part of that” she said. “…I hope more people are becoming aware of their personal actions and choices and perhaps forming New Year’s resolutions around these. For example choosing to eat more local food benefits our local economy and reduces our environmental impact by reducing the amount of transportation required to put food on our table. Buying local in general is more environmentally friendly – people may think that shopping online is better because they don’t have to drive to stores but the delivery system for goods bought online requires a lot of transportation – and consequently generates a lot of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.”
She made note of potential resolutions that are good for the environment “because ultimately they are good for our health as well.”
Reducing the amount of plastic you buy – for example bottled water straws packaging grocery bags plastic toys – using active transportation instead of driving when you can and switching to LED lights to reduce energy consumption are meaningful ways to contribute to a healthier environment as well as a healthier lifestyle.
Bessie Sullivan CEO of the Haliburton County Public Library challenges herself to read 100 books a year which she tracks online at GoodReads.com.
“I don’t try to challenge myself to go past that because I do have to have a life” she laughed. “I don’t want to go less than that because I think that’s a good mix. I think it gives me enough variety … By reading 100 you just get a lot of cross-section and I can also branch into stuff I don’t ordinarily gravitate towards. I’m a real fiction reader because it really is entertainment for me but there is some non-fiction worth reading. When you have that many you’re reading it gives you a chance to delve into some other kinds.”
Sullivan said the definition of reading might be more relaxed than some people think so reading magazines and newspapers as well as listening to audio books in different formats can be considered reading as well.
Book sales are up – 2018 book sales were up across all formats paper and e-books according to Sullivan and studies are showing that readers have a longer life span and that fiction reading has been proven to heighten people’s sense of empathy because they get to experience things they wouldn’t normally experience and put themselves in other’s situations.
She hopes those who make resolutions related to reading do so because they want to not because they feel they should which will ultimately help them more easily reach any sort of reading goals they set.
“Reading is supposed to be fun or leisure reading is so it’s not like ‘I’m going to eat better’ or ‘I’m going to get more exercise’ where you’re doing it because you know it’s good for you” she said. “You may not love eating better and you may not love getting the exercise but you’re doing it because you know it’s good for your health. Reading is good for your health too it’s been proven in a lot of ways but I don’t want it to be something people do because they feel they have to I want it to be something people do because they love it. To me it’s a little different than a diet or a fitness resolution.”
Sullivan said setting time aside for reading – she plans for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening – limiting social media screen time that might involve stressful reading to make more time for the escapism offered through novels and figuring out ways to increase reading time in your downtime like by listening to audio books while travelling can help readers reach goals.
“I always make sure I have a book on CD in my car” she said.”I sometimes go awhile between listening but I think road travel is great for listening to books. They’re not distracting and if you’re in traffic you just turn it off.”
Though resolutions might not last throughout the year those who make them shouldn’t feel despair if their goals for the new year don’t work out as planned.
“There’s no magic about Jan. 1” said Fraser. “Every day is an opportunity really. People are kind of reflecting on the year and their past year and what’s coming up this year. I think that’s good to do a little reflecting but any day is the day to do that. Any day is a good day to take a pause and think about what opportunities are out there. I think it’s about thinking OK how do I want things to look in three months or six months or a year from now.”
Fraser stresses it’s always possible to start again.
“Don’t be harsh or critical if you blew it this week just begin again” she said. There’s a quote … it’s like now is the best time for anything. That’s it it’s just what we do next. And you always have a choice about what you do next.”
*The original version of this story incorrectly stated Barb Fraser works for the HKPR Health Unit. She works for Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team.