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Rethink Your Resolutions

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runner on 2021 starting line

Historically, about half of us make New Year’s resolutions and only 5-10% actually achieve those goals. Even in a typical year, our New Year’s resolutions are often lofty, challenging and frankly unrealistic. Creating a clean slate for 2021 brings a unique set of challenges due to the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many of us may want to simply forego resolutions this year, it is important to remember the value of self-reflection—whether this is done annually on New Year’s or as each birthday approaches.

Taking time to reflect on our successes and failures, as well as our behavior and beliefs, provides us with opportunities to grow and learn in life. This applies to our professional lives, our personal lives and our health. While New Year’s resolutions are rooted in self-reflection, they are often aimed at rectifying perceived failures (poor nutrition, exercise or sleep habits). Framed in the negative, it is no wonder New Year’s resolutions are so unappealing and often unmet. It’s time to refresh and rejuvenate our approach to resolutions this year with an emphasis on positive thinking, gratitude and hope.

Affirm the positive
Affirmations are positive statements we make internally to help challenge and overcome negative thoughts. Repeating positive affirmations can reduce stress, amplify motivation and even boost overall health.

Many messages aimed at changing people’s unhealthy behaviors—such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle or poor nutrition—focus on the negative consequences of continuing to engage in that behavior. These negative messages can unintentionally invoke defensive responses such as ignoring the message altogether or discounting the health consequences. The self-affirmation theory suggests affirming positive messages improve the effectiveness of behavioral change.

Positive self-affirmation is effective in improving a range of health behaviors. Studies examining the effect of self-affirmations on unhealthy habits have shown positive affirmations to decrease smoking, reduce stress, increase physical activity and improve dietary intake. Individuals are more likely to stop smoking if the message is about health benefits of cessation rather than the doom of continued cigarette use.

Instead of dwelling on negative messages surrounding health improvement goals, emphasize the positive messages. Rather than framing your daily walk with the thought of, “I am a slug,” instead think, “I am energized by activity.” These types of positive affirmations will shed positive light on your goals in the new year.

Practice gratitude
2020 was a year of loss for many—loss of routine, social support systems, financial stability, good health and even loved ones. As difficult as it has been, many of us can still find something to be grateful for in this pandemic:

  • Spending more time with family
  • Traveling less for work
  • Meeting our neighbors
  • Learning a new skill 
  • Cleaning out the clutter

A number of studies show that focusing on gratitude instead of loss can lead to an improved sense of well-being both mentally and physically. For example, in one large study of more than 1,300 adults, participants were split into three groups and were tasked with writing a daily list:

  1. Group One wrote down three to five things or events that were annoying or irritating.
  2. Group Two wrote down three to five things or events that were neutral.
  3. Group Three wrote down three to five events or things for which they were grateful.

After just two weeks, the group which focused on gratitude showed an increase in positive mood, subjective happiness and life satisfaction as well as reduced depression symptoms.

In another study, college students who wrote about things they were grateful for just once per week for 10 weeks reported fewer negative physical symptoms (headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles and nausea) compared with students who wrote about negative daily events or hassles.

This quick and simple activity of creating a daily gratitude list can go a long way in enhancing your mental and physical well-being.

Find a glimmer of hope
Hope is the belief that circumstances will get better. Hope energizes and motivates us to take action. The fundamental requirement for hope is to have something to hope for, which is where goals come into play. Hope also requires two major elements— identifying realistic pathways to reach the goal and confidence you can meet the goal.

Hope requires planning. People who have a hopeful outlook tend to create many pathways to achieve their goal—they anticipate obstacles and plan ways to circumvent those obstacles rather than allowing them to block their path.

Several studies show a correlation between having high levels of hope and practicing healthy habits including being a non­smoker, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

Dr. Radford’s New Year’s resolution for fitness
My hope, or goal, for the New Year is improved fitness. I am confident I can achieve this goal now that I have recovered from a major back surgery that limited my ability to be physically active. I am focusing on the many positive benefits of fitness, which are highly motivating for me! I have also identified multiple pathways to achieve this personal goal—rain or shine, inside or outside, alone or with a buddy.

My positive self-affirmations revolve around the many benefits of fitness:

  • With each step, my body grows stronger.
  • With each mile, my brain grows sharper.
  • With each finish line crossed, my cells grow more resistant to cancer.  

My daily gratitude list will be easy to create: I work for a company that encourages healthy lifestyle choices, my friends and family support my efforts to be more active and my walking buddy keeps me accountable.

Now, it’s your turn to rethink and refresh your own New Year’s resolutions!

If you are ready to set new goals regarding your current health and well-being, schedule a preventive medicine examination at Cooper Clinic. We can provide you with an in-depth picture of your health and an action plan to improve it. For more information, visit or call 972.560.2667.

Article provided by Nina B. Radford, MD, Cooper Clinic Cardiologist and Director of Clinical Research.