Mentally Healthy New Year’s Tips

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Recently, our CEO, Dr. Rolf Gainer, contributed a great article to our brain injury blog, NeuroNotes, and I thought it would be worthwhile to repost it here:

Every New Year we make our annual resolutions of how we will improve and enrich our lives over the forthcoming year. Our New Year’s resolutions may involve taking off those extra pounds, starting a fitness regime, spending more time with children or loved ones, giving up a bad habit or learning a foreign language. With each New Year’s resolution there is the risk of a failed promise. How can we keep ourselves on track to accomplish what we set out to do in our New Year’s resolutions?

Here’s some ideas to consider:

Set realistic goals. For example, if weight loss is your goal, should the goal be the total weight you want to lose or an attainable number of pounds? It’s easier to achieve success if the goal is realistic. This requires creating steps so that you can move towards your goal. Identify the resources you’ll need to achieve your goal.

Establish a plan to achieve your goal. We often fail in our goals because we don’t identify a plan. Start by defining a plan that’s compatible with your life, and one you can add to your daily routine. A good example is exercise. It’s easier to add 20-30 minutes of exercise per day, such as walking with a friend or family member, to your daily routine than working out in a gym where you may not feel comfortable at first. You may want to use the stairs in your office rather than the elevator or take a nightly walk with your dog to add exercise to your life. As you succeed in your plan, you add to the scope of your activities and begin working out in the gym on a daily basis.

Support your plan by making changes to your life that are enjoyable. If your goal is improve the quality of time you spend with your children, then select an activity that you mutually enjoy. This may be a good opportunity to try something new and different and for everybody to be a new learner.

Establish measures of your success. This may not be always be numbers, but solid indications to yourself about your progress. Use weekly and monthly measurements to track your success and celebrate each step towards progress.

Don’t let the thought of change keep you frozen. We may plan to initiate change for ourselves, our families and loved ones in our New Year’s resolutions. You should expect that the process of establishing new habits and life patterns will require your attention and devotion. Learn to accept some frustration and anxiety and look forward to enjoying the new aspects of your life. Remain flexible in your outlook and keep your options open.

Making changes is a two-handed process. A person cannot simply stop an old habit without considering what to do in its place. Smoking is a good example–it’s a hard-to-break habit because it involves so much our daily routine. What can be substituted for a cigarette break? Identify an activity that you like which you can consciously substitute for the old habit which you are trying to eliminate. When you reach for that cigarette, it’s time for the substitute.

Don’t expect change to occur overnight. Allow yourself the time and resources you need to begin making change. Anticipate that some frustration will occur. It is important that goal setting be realistic, attainable without turning your entire life upside down.

Seek support and help. It is hard to make change and often support and help may be needed. It is not a sign of weakness to turn to friends, family and even professionals for help. There are many self-help groups which can offer support for a variety of changes. Look for resources in your community and consider professional support and help to assist you in achieving your goals.

Have fun with yourself. Break out of the mold and try something new. We” get stuck” in many of our habits in life because we haven’t considered that alternatives are available. Reframe how you think about solving a problem and add “fun” to the solution.

Learn to manage stress. It is important to manage stress on a daily basis to avoid the cummulative effects. In the development of your plan, add activities which are relaxing. Give yourself opportunities for private time, even one to two minutes of a de-stressing activity several times a day can allow you an opportunity to manage stress by maintaining your perspective on your life.

Take care of yourself. That includes, your physical, psychological and spiritual health. All are equally important and all are inter-related.

Take a breath, the New Year is coming in several days and you can succeeed in acxhieving your goals by developing a sound plan.

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