Forget about Setting New Year’s Intentions
By: Bren Boston, MD
Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Trying to make a decision about a behavioral change that you will stick with for 12 straight months is nonsense.
What research shows is that it takes 3 weeks to form a new habit. So, this year, I encourage you to make separate monthly intentions starting with January 2020.
Try it on, feel it out, see if it works for you or if it is even possible to mesh with the rest of your life. If you find it is not working, then, presto, you can make a new intention for February while either carrying forward January’s intention or scrapping it.
For example, last year I made an intention to make every recipe in my superfood snack cookbook. But the problem was that after 2+ hours of shopping, prepping, and cooking each recipe, I found that the person in my house who ate the most of it was me. If I am going to devote 2 hours to cooking something, I want my whole family to eat it.
Making every recipe was not going to work for me and was not my best use of time, so I quit with that plan and just continued making the recipes that my family likes. But, since I quit on my New Year’s intention, I have a niggling sense of failure that is ridiculous.
Set Yourself up for Success!
Setting monthly intentions sets you up for success. It is much easier to commit to 30 days of change than it is to commit to a year. Monthly intentions also allow you to try 12 different changes to see what works for you, and you can repeat the ones you like best.
Here are some examples of monthly intentions that you might want to try:
January: Anti-Inflammatory Cleanse. After the excess of food and drink over the holidays, it always feels good to tighten up the food rules in January. At the Akasha Center, we espouse an anti-inflammatory cleanse. A bare-bones version is to eliminate all sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, and processed food.
February: Decluttering. After the excess of material items that enter your home during the holidays, it feels good to declutter. Reach into the recesses of your closets and pull out things that you would not miss if they went missing. Donate them to a charity that could put them to use. It’s amazing how good you feel after decluttering, with improved mental clarity.
March: Cardiovascular fitness. There are still several months until beach season, so it’s a great time to get in the habit of doing cardiovascular exercise. Try for at least 3 days/week of at least 45 minutes, exercising to the point of sweating. I think the best way to commit to a month of exercise is to sign up for a 30-day class-pass to a fitness center. You’ll see the same faces over and over giving you accountability, helping to incentivize you to keep coming.
April: Stretching. Our tendons really want to be stretched. They don’t like getting wound up so tightly. They get creaky and cranky when they are ignored. So, for a whole month concentrate on stretching all your major muscle groups every day, even if only for 5 minutes. If you can get to yoga once a week this month, you get extra gold stars.
May: Meditation. Mindfulness practices lead to improved mental health and peace of mind. It is so hard to carve time out of our busy day to just feel present. Try setting aside a special time, even if it is just for the first 5 minutes you are lying down in bed, to listen to a guided meditation and see how it feels. Once you get the idea, you can meditate without guidance.
June: Meal planning. Americans lead the world in food waste. Meal planning for the whole week on the weekend is time consuming at first, but then saves you time by eliminating all the extra grocery runs during the week. Planning each meal ahead also allows you to waste less food, and to ensure the correct ratio of veggies, proteins, and grains. This month, your family gets what it gets, and no getting upset allowed. You’re not going back to the grocery until the next weekend. Ahhhh.
July: Triceps. We use our arms every day, but primary only for activities right in front of us. Our poor triceps don’t get the action they deserve. So, this month, commit to 30 push-ups a day (3 sets of 10 push-ups). You can work your way up if 30 sounds impossible. By the end of the month, 30 push-ups will only take 1 minute out of your day.
August: Hydration. Most Americans are chronically dehydrated. We do silly things like interpret thirst as hunger, eating more instead of hydrating our cells. If we wait until we feel thirsty, our bodies are already in water debt. This month, get a 20-oz glass or stainless steel reusable water bottle and drink 3 of them a day filled with filtered water.
September: Health care maintenance. Preventative health care can make all the difference in early detection and keeping you well. The years can easily slip by without getting your heart listened to, your lipids checked, your abdomen palpated, and your routine cancer screenings done. This month, carve out time to see your doctor, dentist, eye doctor, dermatologist, and other health specialists.
October: Core. Our core muscles include everything around our torso. Keeping your core strong can help prevent back pain, improve balance, correct posture, and improve endurance. Dedicate 5 minutes each day this month to core exercises like sit ups, crunches, plank, side plank, leg lifts, and standing on 1 leg, like tree pose in yoga.
November: Decluttering, part 2. You know that the stuff has piled back up. Let’s declutter before the influx from the holidays arrives. You’ll be able to breathe deeply and will have more donations for worthy causes at a time when they need them.
December: Me time. December is all about family time. We bend over backwards to bring the magic of the holidays to our family. So, dedicate this month to self-care. Give yourself the gift of guilt-free me-time once a week: a facial (at home or spa), massage, hike with a friend, get a sitter and go see a daytime movie, whatever it is that makes you feel recharged and ready to continue with the holiday rush with an inner sense of peace.
Dr. Boston sees patients at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica, California. Call 310-451-8880 to make an appointment.