Traditionally, the New Year brings along a renewed sense of hope and excitement, as we say out with the old and in with the new. While the immense challenges of 2020 may not have been wiped away at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, the start of this new year can still serve as a good moment to look ahead and be thoughtful about how we want to move forward.
Physical and emotional wellness are at the core of everything we do at Embr Labs. Knowing that many of us make New Year’s resolutions related to health, we’re sharing some of our best tips on how to manage your wellness goals as you head into 2021.
1. It’s Not All About Weight Loss
There’s perhaps no more classic New Year’s resolution than the desire to lose weight. Each year, people enter January with new gym memberships, new diets, and a new idea of what exact combination of exercise and carb-cutting will get them to their goals this time around. It’s also not news to most of us that despite all of our best efforts, losing weight—and keeping it off—can be a tremendously difficult task.
While there can be potential health benefits to losing weight, the research supports what many dieters already know: the pounds may go away temporarily, but they usually come back, and often with more than what you started with. Our own genetics play a huge factor in determining our body weight, as well as our socioeconomic backgrounds, age, and hormonal fluctuations. This isn’t meant to be discouraging. Many people attribute their failure to lose weight successfully to their own personal shortcomings or lack of willpower, but the myriad of factors that impact our body weight are often outside of our control.
Given the low success rates of dieting and even subsequent psychological issues that dieting can give us, reframing health goals away from “losing weight” and towards overall personal wellness may not just improve our physical health, but our mental well-being too.
Instead of thinking about exercise as a means to a smaller waistline, consider creating goals that are tangible and give you a sense of accomplishment, even if the weight doesn’t come off. You might want to run a 10k, try a local sports league, or master a few yoga poses. If you’re looking to change your diet, you can attempt to cook your way through a new cookbook, challenge yourself to limit your takeout ordering, or make a weekly event of trying new food. Whether or not the result of these changes includes weight loss, you can still achieve real goals that help you feel your best.
2. Make Mental Health Goals “SMART”
As a society we’re beginning to understand the major impact that mental health has on overall well-being. For many of us, 2020 was an extreme test of our mental and emotional health, as we all scrambled to figure out how to stay sane during stressful and complicated times.
There are lots of resources out there designed to help you manage your mental well-being. From apps that can help you meditate to CBD supplements that are supposed to relieve stress to the endless slew of products promoting “self-care,” just knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. On top of that, unlike physical health measures, which are marked with concrete numbers or benchmarks, it can be hard to really know what it means to “be less stressed.”
You may have heard of the SMART guidelines, a system of goal-setting focused on creating manageable and quantifiable milestones to help you achieve your objective. While the system was originally created for business management, it can be useful while navigating how to improve your mental health. Here is how it works:
Make your goals specific. Saying “I want to feel less stressed” is a worthy sentiment, but doesn’t give you something you can work towards. Instead, map out how you are going to achieve what you’re setting out to do. For example, if you want to decrease your stress via meditation, your goal could look like, “I want to dedicate 20 minutes a day for meditation,” and stick to it!
You need to make sure your goals are measurable. This way, you can actually assess your progress (and feel motivated by it!). Using the example above of daily meditation, you can clearly measure your progress on that goal based on how many days you actually commit to meditation and track how you’re feeling from there.
Making sure that your goals are attainable might be the most important step to achieving them. Everyone has different abilities, so what works for someone else may not work for you. If you’re someone who deals with a lot of anxiety, while it would be nice to just be able to stop feeling that, it’s unlikely you can just suddenly become a zen master. Try to create goals that are manageable. If you achieve them, you can always scale up.
Contextualize for yourself why you’re trying to set this goal. Why does improving your mental health matter to you? Are you hoping to strengthen relationships with your friends and family? Get better sleep? Accomplish more at work? By making sure you identify why your goals are relevant to your life, you are setting yourself up for a better shot at achieving them.
Setting a final deadline for your goal is a great way to hold yourself accountable to getting it done. While mental health improvement is not something you can just “achieve” and move past,, it can still be beneficial to create a milestone to assess your progress. Decide how long you want to give yourself—a month, a year, etc.—and then create smaller deadlines along the way. At the end, you can compare where you are in the present against where you were in the past, and feel the sense of accomplishment you deserve.
3. Habit Forming is the Key
With wellness goals, it can be difficult to know exactly how to get started. Most of us can make little improvements towards being healthier, but what those incremental changes are may not be totally obvious. So if you’re feeling lost about where to begin, or overwhelmed with the prospect of setting a finite resolution, consider framing your changes as habit building, not working towards a specific goal.
The easiest place to start is to think about the habits you already have. Do you check your phone first thing in the morning? Do you walk your dog? Are you finding yourself eating the same meals over and over? Take some time to write down ten habits you have ingrained in your day, and then think about which of those you’d like to leave in the past.
It could be as simple as switching up your night routine to avoid screens before bed or making an effort to go on one walk a day. You don’t need to change everything all at once. Focusing on one or two basic habits could go a long way to achieving a healthier version of yourself. From there, you can figure out what’s really working for you, what changes feel possible, and then you can take on bigger challenges.
These are just a few of our top ideas on how to launch yourself into a renewed, healthy year. Of course, the best place to go when looking for ways to improve your overall health are your doctors and mental healthcare providers. At Embr Labs, we hope all of you have a healthy, safe, and joyful 2021.