Lifestyle Goals, Not Resolutions

Our new year kicked off with a start–my partner got a call offering her a well-deserved position with a local city department, and it feels like the last two weeks have been a rush of preparation that comes with changes in employers: insurance, doctor approvals, filling out information, new schedules, and what some call the good stress of moving in the right direction. Add to that a move in my office to a new floor in the same building, and we’ve both been a little frantic since we returned to work on January 3rd.

The start of a new year is a great time to make changes, as many of our resolutions lead us to believe; however, the optimism that comes with January appearing on our calendars rarely survives through spring and often fades as we neglect to make time for the gym, cave into food cravings, and justify skipping a savings deposit in lieu of working toward funding an emergency fund. It’s so common that my partner and I joke that the third week of the new year is the best time to go to the gym because all of the newbies who committed to losing weight have discovered that rushing into weightlifting without preparation does little more than leave you sore and hating your muscles after two weeks of painful recovery days. That’s why we skip resolutions and focus on two ways to make our year beneficial.

We set goals for our lifestyles, not just the twelve months of the year.

Rather than choosing the most common resolutions such as losing weight or saving more money, this year we identified goals that impact our lifestyle rather than a single activity. When you focus on one activity, it is easy to see when you think you’ve failed, which often leads to guilt and a can’t-do attitude. For example, rather than saying we are going to lose weight or go to the gym, we decided that one of our goals is to restructure our lifestyle so that we are being healthier. This encompasses any aspect we want to change: our diets, our activity levels, our stress relief activities, our relationship. It can reach as far as we want it to.

As part of this goal, we have been assessing our diets, which are better than they were a year ago; now we are very particular about the type of produce and meat we purchase and are aware of what types of processed foods we allow ourselves to eat. But we know it is not enough to have the results we want. With my partner’s autoimmune disease, we recognize that we need to identify inflammation triggers. That means eliminating certain foods and then reintroducing them slowly to determine what foods are best for us to permanently cut from our diets. We’ve slowly started eating less of certain foods in preparation for a full 30-day trial, and we are researching our options. We’re reading a book on how our bodies process foods and listening to podcasts by those who have restricted diets.

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A week’s groceries–very little processed food compared to our shopping a year ago when everything was boxed or canned and full of ingredients we didn’t understand.

In the same vein, we’ve reintroduced regular exercise into our schedules. We’re starting out small rather than jumping back into more strenuous routines so we can build up to a healthy workout schedule. Likewise, we recognize that our bodies cannot go to the gym every day, and our minds don’t care for doing that either. We need time together away from other people, quiet time where we can rest. On days when we don’t want to stay in, we can choose a different activity if the gym doesn’t fit our moods–going for a walk together, hiking at the nature center, a day trip to the island to walk the beach. It keeps us active while also putting us into nature, which fits into another goal of ours: working on stress relief.

I get stressed much more easily than my partner and sometimes have to work through anxiety issues, so controlling my stress is an imperative aspect of my self-care routine. Unfortunately, I’ve let that slip lately, so we are reassessing how we ensure that have downtime and positive interactions during our day to encourage stress relief. Simple things like having an essential oil diffuser in our bedroom to encourage better sleep, taking a teapot to work so I can make loose leaf tea at work rather than drinking sodas, and incorporating stretches into our routines to avoid muscle knots are easily adopted over time if you are attentive to how you interact with your environment. More influential influences will help as well, such as having an open line of communication in our relationship where we can discuss any aspect without judgment. Luckily we already have established such aspects in our relationship to ensure we are supporting each other, but others might need to work on those techniques to create a more supportive environment.

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My teapot and recycled tea box at work to give me a healthier alternative to sugary drinks when I have stressful days.

These might seem small, but they create a healthier lifestyle overall. We’re only on the third week of the year, and already some aspects have improved for us. So we are optimistic about how much we can change when we keep each other accountable and focus on what we want out of life, not just the twelve months of the year.

We remind ourselves of our accomplishments.

It’s easy to forget the good stuff and let the negative creep in and take over, making it difficult to evaluate how far you’ve come. This can get some of us down at the end of the year when we look back and have little to say we’ve been successful at whatever goals we were chasing. As another alternative to the traditional resolutions, my partner and I began a memory jar two years ago to capture all of our biggest memories that we can look through together on New Year’s Eve. This was only our second year to have a jar to look through before midnight hit, but we enjoyed it all the same!

This year we had a lot to be thankful for as we looked back on the year and all that we had done: our first cruise together (my first cruise ever), visiting Alaska and rock climbing in Skagway, my 30th birthday, flying an Airbus 320 simulator, seeing six games of the USWNT soccer qualifications for the Olympics, visiting California (first for both of us), touring the Queen Mary, five movies on the big screen (we were cutting back last year to save money), and several other adventures! The jar reminded us of all that we had experienced together in our relationship over the last twelve months and excited us about what we would experience during the new year. This also has the added benefit of starting the new year with a positive outlook.

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The contents of our memory jar for 2016 (spoons are from visits to our favorite local ice cream shop).

To do a memory jar, it’s rather simple. You literally just need an empty jar: any size, any shape, no lid needed. As events occur, drop in souvenirs such as tickets, pictures, brochures, or even pictures that you would like to keep and pull out at the end of the year. If the souvenir doesn’t clearly state what the event was, write a note on the back. It’s an innovative way to mark your successes as an individual or couple and to keep the focus on the positive as a new year peeks around the corner.

All in all, I think everyone experiences some stress about a new year; it’s built into our societal response. We see it as an escape from characteristics we don’t like about ourselves, a chance to change and be who we want to be. But after a few weeks, most people struggle and many give up altogether. And we know that at that back of our minds. A good part of that is because of how we approach our resolutions, which should in all good sense simply be considered goals. You’re not erasing who you’ve been but focusing on how you can become a better version of you with little changes. Don’t focus on how many pounds you’ve lost since the first or how much is in savings–instead focus your attention on one day at a time to be active or eat a healthy meal or pass up one cigarette instead. Focus on the big picture of lifestyle changes, not how you failed to meet that one goal every single day.

Focus on you.

How do you set goals for the year or your lifestyle changes? What goals did you set at the start of this year?

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