Now that the new year is well underway, many people may concede that they have thus far not started or accomplished their New Year’s resolutions. Promises made to oneself or one’s family to lose weight, save money, or learn Italian have by now fallen flat, to be replaced by that creeping feeling that time is slipping by. “I can’t believe it’s already February!” is a common refrain, followed by a sigh or admission of some failure to live up to New Year expectations.
One of the problems with deciding to transform one’s lifestyle (health/finances/waistline) overnight may be that waiting until after the holidays to make changes is an institutional form of procrastination. Everyone, it seems, goes through December spending too much money and eating too many cookies, and the ensuing resolution-making feeds whole industries. So the question becomes: how can we see this insidious pattern coming down the road next time so that we can avoid it? Can we face our shortcomings before they become a big end-of-the-year mess?
Imagining what things will be like a year from now would be a good place to start. It’s likely that without a plan in place, next year will have a shocking resemblance to this year. The flipside of procrastination is impatience, which may impose the real obstacle to our goals. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that our main deterrent from starting a large project is that it takes too long to enjoy the rewards. It takes a feat of imagination to see an entire novel when faced with that first empty page or to imagine oneself as twenty pounds lighter when confronted by a plate of brownies. The goal visualization is pretty, but our Microwave Generation needs to work within the limits of a short attention span. Thus we have the persistence of weight-loss pills and get-rich-quick schemes.
The way around our inertia is to trick ourselves into achieving smaller goals. Instead of falling short of losing twenty pounds, the game could change to counting how many days you can go without eating any cookies, chips, or Cheez-Whiz. Then each day can be a victory. The immediate payoff may not have the drama of the ubiquitous before-and-after-the-diet photos, but by December of this year, you may have made a lasting change.
Many health concerns can be addressed with this bit-by-bit approach. Say, for example, that you find yourself feeling devastatingly tired in the middle of one too many afternoons. You need a late cup of coffee just to get through the rest of your workday, and you find yourself getting takeout yet again because you don’t have the energy to make dinner. And since you didn’t get much done during the afternoon, you keep yourself up late answering emails, thus forcing yourself to lose sleep in the name of productivity. The next morning starts with the snooze button and double-parking in front of the coffee shop for your latte and chocolate-chip muffin – you can worry about your mid-morning crash later. Lunch is just as hurried, and there you are again in the afternoon: tired, with no energy to wonder how the vicious cycle will end.
If you want to get off of this horrible merry-go-round, a few small lifestyle changes can create a healthier domino effect. The root of the above issue of exhaustion is really a lack of sleep and proper nutrition, which are inexpensive to fix; it just takes a bit of forethought. The best time to work on that flagging afternoon energy is actually the night before. After a healthy dinner, chop up a few veggies, or set aside some leftovers, and pack them for your lunch the next day. Then start your nighttime ritual (hot shower? yoga stretches? reading a book?), and get to bed a bit early. When you wake up refreshed in the morning, you can substitute your ultra-caffeinated coffee beverage with some green tea, and skip the late-morning crash. Be amazed at how much you can get done when you are well rested, and enjoy the lunch you brought from home instead of running out for something that does not charge your nutritional batteries. By mid-afternoon, you’ll get your second wind, so that by the end of the day you won’t be left with piles of work to do when you get home. Once again you can get to bed early, and thus the cycle eventually gets re-set.
Of course, there may be times when do-it-yourself fixes aren’t enough, and you need some help with some aspects of your new plan. Difficulty in falling asleep, or crazy food cravings may require professional help. However, this too should not be put off. Healthcare providers who take a detailed health history can pinpoint the moment in a person’s life when a chronic issue had its start, and it is oftentimes months or years before the person sought help – making it all the harder to treat. That old “ounce-of-prevention” adage is true: get help if you don’t get results by yourself in a few weeks. Pain should work itself out in a week, weight should come off slowly but steadily, and the time to treat springtime allergies is actually in winter.
This strategy can be used for all of the commonly made resolutions, with the uncommon result that you may actually reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. Start with small lifestyle changes, get help, and be patient. Next year you’ll hardly recognize yourself!
Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist based in the Lakeside Village/West Portal neighborhood of San Francisco, California.
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