You returned to work bright and early on January 2nd, and I bet the first person you encountered in the break room turned to you, perky and upbeat, and asked: "So, what are your New Year's resolutions for 2018?" Did you have an answer ready?
What inclines us toward making New Year's resolutions, anyway? In attorney-speak, we're dealing with what is called a "bright-line point" (derived from the "bright-line rule"), which means a definite cutoff point — an exact moment in time, if you will — that distinguishes the past from the future. January 1st is probably the most widely celebrated bright-line point in human existence. We can practically feel the cosmic shift as the calendar transitions from old year to new, inspiring us toward self-reflection and personal improvement.
But no matter how sincere and committed you may be about your resolutions, the statistical fact is you'll abandon them by mid-February.
What goes wrong? Why do so many of our resolutions fail? Most likely, there are several factors at work. It's important to think of resolutions in the same way we think of goals. In order to succeed in achieving any goal, the goal itself must have several vital characteristics. It must be behaviorally describable, reasonable, quantifiable, measurable, and set within a definite time frame. Oftentimes, our New Year's resolutions are the exact opposite: amorphous, unaccomplishable, and structureless.
If you want your resolutions to take root and flourish this year, start by wording them in a way that connotes both action and consequence. For instance, instead of saying, "I'm going to lose weight," say, "I'm going to practice healthful eating habits that include choosing lower-calorie options, and in so doing, I will reach my target weight by mid-April." Instead of saying, "I'm going to organize my office," say, "On January 8th, I will begin the practice of always placing my most important files in a special folder on my laptop where they will be instantly available when needed."
Next, make sure you truly buy into your resolution. If you don't really care about your resolution, it will be very difficult to find the energy to achieve it. Sticking to New Year's resolutions can be tough work! If you halfheartedly say, "I need to clean out my filing cabinet," but your filing cabinet doesn't actually bug you to the point of taking action, it probably isn't going to happen.
There's nothing wrong with doing some soul-searching and realizing that you really don't mind your messy desk, or that you've actually become friends with that pile of old trade journals in the corner of your office. They're your resolutions and no one else's, and if you are honest with yourself, you won't waste valuable time and energy pretending to care about things that don't really matter to you.
Finally, be sure to have a little fun along the way! Think of a few resolutions that will make you healthier, happier, and more satisfied with your life. We all toss a few of the old standbys into the mix, like "promptly returning all phone calls" or "cleaning out my inbox each Friday," but my personal favorites — and the ones that make me feel most triumphant when I accomplish them — are the ones that make me a better person, both mentally and physically. Trust me: When you're feeling great about yourself, the most amazing things seem to "just happen" in your life. Your work performance improves, your energy increases, you're more pleasant to be around, you're more likely to be noticed for promotion, and your self-esteem soars.
I assume that you're going to come up with some of those typical resolutions on your own, so to add to your list of usual suspects, here are six out-of-the-box New Year's resolution that are quantifiable, readily doable, and downright awesome! Perhaps you should give them a try?
1. Get Some Quality Sleep
Yes, you, the busy person who doesn't have time for such nonsense. Let me tell you the honest truth about sleep: You, just like every other mammal, need a certain amount of sleep in each 24-hour period.
Kitty cats — and possibly my college-age sons — need 15-18 hours a day. Horses need about 2.5-3 hours. For humans, it's 8-9 hours. It's a biological programming thing, and you can't cheat Mother Nature. You need all of your sleep, every night, for a continuous 8-9 hours.
Sleep allows all sorts of good things to happen. Your body repairs itself, big time, when you're sleeping. You grow new white blood cells to fight off infections. Your heart rate decreases, giving your hardworking heart muscles a tiny break. Your eyeballs relax and rehydrate. You dream, which is essential to your mental health. Your brain decides what to send to long-term memory and what to discard from the day's activities. The research is extensive on this topic, and it's indisputable: You must have your sleep.
To gain the optimum benefit from your sleep, do your best to go to bed at the same time and sleep the same amount of time each night.
2. Make Sure You're Properly Fueled
There's so much information out there these days about what we should and shouldn't eat. It's no wonder so many of us throw in the towel (or the kale) and head for the Cheetos. However, if you think logically and listen to reason — and to your body — then you'll know almost intuitively how to navigate through the grocery store or buffet line. It's not so difficult: Each and every day, you need to eat some protein, carbohydrates, and, yes, fats. They're all essential to your health.
Here are three super simple rules of thumb:
Stick to lean proteins and low-glycemic carbs as much as possible, and avoid all trans fats.
Weight gain, loss, or maintenance is a simple formula that you already know. To gain weight, you must eat more calories than you burn. To lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than you burn. To maintain your weight, you must eat the exact number of calories that you burn. We like to pretend it's not that simple, but believe me, that's how it works.
In your heart of hearts, you know that if you can't pronounce the stuff that goes into your frozen TV dinner or your QuickTrip microwave burrito, it's probably not really a food, and you probably shouldn't be eating it.
Calm down about all the wacky diets and just eat sensibly. You already know how.
3. Get Some Exercise
Again, it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the conflicting information about exercise, but just like diet, exercise doesn't have to be that complicated.
If you can't do anything else, just move! Take a walk. Do some stretching. Lift some weights — and carrying small children and groceries does count. Before you tell me that you don't like to get sweaty, or you don't have the time, or work is more important than exercise, let me simplify things. Yes, there are recommendations for how much and what type of exercise you should get, but let's start with two uncomplicated guidelines:
Get some aerobic exercise and some weight-bearing exercise each and every week. Five days a week is a nice goal.
Any amount of physical activity is better than none!
Just get out there and do something. You'll feel better, you'll have more energy, you'll sleep better, you'll reduce your chances of developing a myriad of nasty diseases, and you'll be more productive, to name just a few proven benefits of exercise.
4. Calm Your Inner Chatterbox
You don't have to be the Dalai Lama to meditate. You don't even have to learn "formal" meditation methods to benefit from quieting your mind. Much like exercise, doing some amount of mind-calming practice in some form is better than doing nothing at all.
Some people will tell you it must be done in the morning. Others will tell you that 15 minutes per day is optimal. I worry that these rules are simply easy excuses for not trying — e.g., "I'm way too busy in the morning" or "I simply don't have 15 minutes to devote to meditating."
Instead, here's what I suggest:
Find a quiet place, if possible, although you can also do this in Grand Central Station if you have no other choice. Sit down — on the floor, in a chair; don't worry about where. Close your eyes, if you wish.
Commit to 2-3 minutes of mind-calming per session. Don't even call it "meditation" unless you want to. You don't want to get all hung up on the name and then decide you don't have the skills to pull it off.
As you relax, rather than thinking thoughts, put your mind "in neutral." To do this, you can repeat a word (either silently or aloud) like "love" or "peace." You can also say a calming phrase like "I am bathed in a beautiful light," or you can slowly count from one to ten over and over. Counting, or using a word or phrase, is sometimes called your "mantra."
Know ahead of time that your mind will wander around and cook up all sorts of interesting things to think about — and that's perfectly okay! It'll happen, but that doesn't mean you're not reaping the benefits. It simply means that you have a human brain, programmed to stay active until you allow it to take a breather. When you notice that you've started thinking thoughts again, simply return to neutral by going back to your mantra.
Try to practice mind-calming every day. If you miss a day, or a week, or even a year, you know what to do: Love yourself and start again. The benefits of this practice are amazing! Among them are lower blood pressure, better focus, and mood improvement.
Talk about conflicting research. That old "eight glasses per day" standard is pretty much out the window. Don't even bother to look up what's replaced it; you'll only walk away confused. So let me shed some light on the subject and untangle a few things.
Your body is made up of 60 percent water. Literally every system in your body needs water to function. If you become dehydrated, all sorts of bad things can happen, from headaches and constipation to impaired thinking and kidney stones. Water helps regulate your body temperature, it improves your cognitive functioning, and it lubricates your joints. You need to increase your water intake when you exercise, if you're in a hot climate, or if you're at an altitude of higher than approximately 8,000 feet.
But how much water should you be drinking? Current guidelines recommend women drink approximately 72 ounces/9 cups per day; for men, it's approximately 104 ounces/13 cups per day.
The keyword is "approximate." We're all different shapes, sizes, and ages, and the guidelines vary for children, older adults, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, so check with your health care practitioner if you fall into one of those categories.
Now, are you ready for some good news? You may have heard the alarming warning from a well-meaning newscaster that "if you're thirsty, you're already seriously dehydrated." Well, that's not quite true. Our bodies are smart. They know when we need water — and they tell us by becoming thirsty! So the next time you realize that you really need a drink of water, don't panic. Just find some water and have a nice long drink. You'll be just fine, I promise.
When someone — a receptionist, your coworker, your grandmother, whoever — offers you water, accept it. By simply making a commitment to drink all the water you're offered during the course of a day, you'll increase your intake substantially.
I've saved the best for last. Not only is this my favorite resolution on the list, it is possibly also the most important for both you and everyone around you. What's more, it's easy, fun, and completely within your grasp. In essence, it's the perfect resolution.
Smiling, like laughing, is simply one of those things our bodies love to do. When you smile, a cascade of wonderful chemical fireworks goes off in your brain and your body. It doesn't even have to be a real smile to get the effects. Your brain doesn't distinguish between whether you're playing with a puppy or faking a smile at your annoying coworker. When your brain senses your facial muscles moving into smile position, it releases endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in your body.
The more you smile, the more endorphins are released, and the happier you feel. Endorphins are also stress reducers and natural painkillers. Some studies show that endorphins work better than ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
If all this good news isn't enough to make you smile, studies show that smiling people appear more attractive, approachable, and intelligent! Studies also show that it's nearly physically impossible for people to look at a smiling person and not smile themselves, so smiling is quite literally contagious.
If you can manage to nail just one or two of these resolutions, you will improve your quality of life, your energy levels, and your ability to tackle challenges — I guarantee it. Once you're feeling like the superhero you are, you can always add resolutions like "leaping tall buildings in a single bound" or "seeing through walls with X-ray vision" to your list.
But maybe wait until next year for that.