The “clean slate” of a new year almost always leads us to think of resolutions … things we could change to make our lives better. This is a great time for reflection to realize what you have accomplished, where you’d like to be in a year, and what changes you need to arrive at that goal. I just finished reading Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick by Jeremy Dean which provided some useful ideas about making resolutions.
Know why you want to make the change
“There has to be an ultimate goal that is really worth achieving or the habit will be almost impossible to ingrain.” Jeremy Dean
Let’s take one example – losing weight. It’s fine to say you want to lose weight… but why? Wanting to fit into your clothes is not a trivial reason, but will it really motivate you when it gets tough as much as these?
- Being able to “walk the walk” when you talk to patients about losing weight
- Reduction in your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a variety of other health problems
- More energy, better mood, less pain…
What’s important is that you find reasons that resonate for you. Do a little research and write down why you want to make the change. Plan to review this, and revise it when needed, on a regular basis.
Make the resolution then make a plan.
To continue the losing weight example, what are the specific new habits you want to develop? Are they “SMART” changes? (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based). For example…
- I will eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- I will set the alarm clock 15 minutes early to do push-ups, crunches and squats before I go to the hospital.
- I will plan my meals and shop once a week so I can take healthy food with me to work.
- I will schedule my workouts every weekend so I can attend at least two spin classes a week.
- I will cook one healthy dish on the weekend that I can eat for at least 4 meals during the week
Develop the “what if” plan.
The next step is to imagine all the things that might derail you and write down a specific plan for each of them. This will be an ongoing process… as you come up with new excuses to not follow through with your new habit, add it to the list.
Back to the example of losing weight….
- If I forget to bring fruit/veggies with me to work, I will go to the cafeteria or lounge to get at least 2 servings to eat at work.
- If I walk by MacDonald’s and feel drawn in by the smell of the fries, I will remember that I’m trying to set a good example for my patients
- If I hit snooze on my alarm clock, I will move it across the room.
- If I think I’m too tired to go shopping for the week, I will remember that this is the key to having healthy food at work.
“Making healthy habits should be a voyage of discovery.” Jeremy Dean
Self-monitoring is critically important to maintaining a new habit. It doesn’t matter if you use an app like My Fitness Pal, a calendar, a spreadsheet or a system like the Bullet Journal… stay accountable by keeping track.
As the habit becomes engrained, change it a little to keep it interesting.
Working out with exactly the same routine quickly becomes boring. It’s one of the reasons people love group classes like spin classes – the instructors are always changing the routine. Be mindful and creative… but stay out of ruts!
“Making or breaking a habit is really just the start. To develop a truly fulfilling and satisfying happy habit, it’s about more than just repetition and maintenance; it’s about finding ways to continually adjust and tweak habits to keep them new; to avoid mind wandering and the less pleasurable emotional states that accompany it. There is great enjoyment to be had in these small changes to routines. When life is the same every day, it gets boring.” Jeremy Deans
Looking for inspiration? Here’s a list of New Year’s Resolutions for medical students, residents and busy docs. Pick 1 or 2 and start working on your plan, your what-ifs and how you will monitor them!
- Learn to meditate and spend at least 10 minutes every day meditating with HeadSpace. (Here’s the TED talk that introduced me to this great app.)
- Eat fruits and veggies with every meal.
- Walk 10,000 steps per day.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevators.
- Learn the names of all the people you work with… the guy who mops the floor, the clerk at the desk, the person who works in the blood bank.
- Write down three things you are grateful for every night before you go to bed.
- Log all cases (if this applies to you) the same day and finish medical records within 24 hours.
- Use a system like the Bullet Journal or Remember The Milk to become more organized and never miss a deadline (including the birthdays of your family and friends)
- Cook your own meals at home (take a class if you need to).
- Be on time to conferences, rounding, meetings, classes, etc.
- Spend at least half a day a week “unplugged” and use it to play.
- Keep a journal to remember the important events of the day, vent about things that upset you, and make plans for the future.
- Read something that is not medical every day.
- Stop eating fast food.
- Drink less alcohol or stop all together.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep any night you are not on call. (and have a plan post call to sleep more)
- Cut out all added sugar.
- Drink more water.
- Keep your house neater… or at least a part of your house!
- Stop texting while driving.
- Learn about motivational interviewing to help your patients.
- Read a major textbook in your field in one year.
- Learn something new from every patient you see
- Try a new way to exercise every month
- Set your intention for the day every morning.
- Eat breakfast every morning.
- Set limits on checking email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Plan your meals for the week on the weekend to make sure you have great food on call and at work.
- If you have to sit a lot at work, come up with a plan to not be so sedentary.