The ball has dropped, the confetti has been swept up and the proverbial slate has been wiped clean—leaving most of us to start off 2018 with a few extra calories in the bank (thanks, eggnog and fruitcake) and a renewed determination to stay the course toward a healthy, happy spring.
Love them or hate them, resolutions go hand-in-hand with the new year. Nearly half of all Americans make them, and in a Nielsen survey, 32 percent of people listed shedding pounds as their top goal. It's great to strive for a healthy weight—but who says your resolutions always have to involve the scale? In addition to variations of the same old pledges to burn more calories than you consume, consider choosing some goals that focus on happiness instead.
Some of you might be thinking, "I can't be happy unless I lose this extra 10 (or 50 or 100) pounds." Allow us to politely disagree. In fact, when you find ways to be happier that don't involve your weight, you could become more mentally and emotionally equipped to stick to a healthy nutrition and exercise plan. Instead of letting the number on the scale dictate your state of mind, try the opposite—and you just might find that happy leads to healthy.
Weight-loss therapist Dr. Candice Seti helps people focus on the concept of goal-setting rather than resolutions. "Goal-setting tends to have more structure to it and can be more easily broken down into achievable sub-goals to help people maintain their motivation," she says. "Because resolutions tend to be open-ended—such as 'I’m going to eat healthier this year'—there are no real achievable milestones to keep you going, which is why so many people give up on their resolutions so soon after the start of the new year."
This year, consider including some of these goals that are geared toward making you happier, not necessarily skinnier.
Make a "live list," and invest in your lived experiences.
You've probably heard of bucket lists, but life coach Kendra Davies prefers to call it a "live list." As she explains it, a live list is similar to a bucket list, but the items aren’t desired because you are going to die someday, but rather because you are alive today.
"We spend countless dollars and energy trying to get skinny, so in our minds, we can then go ahead and live our best lives," says Davies, the owner of Stellar Life Coaching. "Bump that. Take your fat with you on a journey. Take the trip, go on a yoga retreat, enroll in a class at the community college, skydive, take a pole dancing class, audition for a local play or finally sit down and write that darn book. It's hard to save money, or stay healthy, for a life you are not currently living."
As Davies points out, research has found that setting only extrinsic goals—such as having the "perfect body," making more money, driving luxury cars or achieving fame—lowers our life satisfaction. Even more shockingly, if we achieve them, we typically end up experiencing still more negative emotions, such as insecurity and anger.
To make this your most meaningful year yet, Davies recommends writing down a list of things you want to do because you are alive today, and then resolve to invest in your lived experience.
Limit your exposure to negativity.
Have you ever noticed that after spending time around negative people, you end up feeling down in the dumps? There's a reason the old adage "misery loves company" exists—gloom and doom are contagious. Whether it's a constantly complaining co-worker or a well-meaning family member who doles out not-so-constructive criticism, make it a point to cut down on the negative influences in your life.
"It becomes easier to take care of yourself and hit your wellness goals when you're happy and when you have less negativity in your life, you make room for the truly good and positive," points out Ysmay Walsh, a yoga instructor at 42 Yogis. "Life is brighter, the air smells sweeter and relationships seem richer because you're able to focus on the good without worrying about the bad. You're making way for happiness."
Check in with your "inner voice."
In a world where everyone has a platform to share their thoughts and opinions, it's easy to fall into the trap of letting others influence our feelings and decisions. Liza Baker, health coach with Simply: Health Coaching, recommends resolving to check in with your inner voice instead of looking to others for answers or validation. This can be applied to every area of life, from career and relationships to physical exercise and nutrition.
"We normally look outside ourselves for answers or fixes, and I've noticed that as a result, most of our unhappiness stems from measuring ourselves by external scales," says Baker. "In the extreme version, we look at our bodies and compare them to the skinny, photoshopped, blemish-free 'perfection' we see in the media—of course, we don't measure up, and that makes us feel unhappy. In a subtler situation, we ask everyone we trust about whether or not we should take a job offer—and so we take it (or don't), in part to please those who give us advice. We ask our friends what workout helped them look so great—and when we don't see the same result, we're unhappy."
This year, try to pause and ask yourself whether something feels good or right. This, Baker believes, is the way to move toward living in alignment with your own beliefs and values. "Living with that sort of integrity is ultimately what brings true happiness, the kind where you walk down the street and people turn to stare and say, 'I'll have what she's having!'"
Work toward a specific performance goal.
Rui Li, a trainer with New York Personal Training, believes that the best way to motivate yourself to get in shape and stick to a consistent wellness program is to be fueled by the desire to triumph over concrete achievements.
"I've found that many people have success with sticking to the gym when they are working toward a specific performance goal, such as completing their first pull up, a 150-pound back squat or 100 push-ups," says Li. "The feeling you get when you achieve a big accomplishment is addictive, so not only will you feel ecstatic about what you've done, but you'll be motivated to keep striving for more."
This year, instead of resolving to lose a certain number of pounds, try focusing on whatever performance goals would make you feel proud and strong. Maybe that's running or walking a 5K, trying a boot camp class, mastering a new machine at the gym or anything else you'd like to accomplish. The pride you'll feel at succeeding will push you to set—and crush—the next goal.
Stay well-hydrated, every single day.
A glass of water probably isn't your remedy of choice when you're feeling down, but according to studies conducted at University of Connecticut's Human Performance Laboratory, even mild dehydration can alter your mood.
"The problem is, most of us wait until we're thirsty to drink water, but our thirst sensations don't really appear until we are one or two percent dehydrated," says Jessica Pantermuehl, founder of LiveWell Collective. "Mild dehydration can be defined as a 1.5 percent loss in normal water volume in the body, which means our mood can take a hit due to the effects of dehydration before we even begin to feel thirsty."
The solution? Keep a refillable water bottle on hand, and focus on reaching a target of drinking approximately two liters of water per day. Not only will this help keep the blues at bay, the extra hydration will give your metabolism a boost.
Don't sweat the small stuff, and take joy in the details.
How many times have you allowed your day to get derailed by a traffic delay, a snug pair of jeans or uncooperative hair? These types of things may be irritating or inconvenient, but there's no reason to give them the power to wreck your mood.
"The little things can either get you down or lift you up," says personal trainer Kasey Shuler. "We can choose to get angry over that stubborn five pounds, or choose to enjoy our unique features, like the special placement of a freckle or the way dimples show in a smile. The more we love our life, the better we want to take care of it."
Every time you're faced with a small source of aggravation or displeasure, redirect your thoughts to focus on something positive. (And there is always something positive.)
Focus on movement.
Trainer Alex Haschen with Verto Fitness thinks that focusing on movement—not necessarily exercise—will be a big trend this year. The effect will be similar, but the mental state going into the activity is different.
"Movement is something that many Americans are neglecting," Haschen says. "It's important to realize that when you move your body, even a little, you improve your health. A simple five-minute walk around the office can benefit your heart, lungs, muscles and bones. If you do that simple walk five times throughout the day, you'll start to feel a change."
Instead of struggling to psych yourself up to "hit the gym," focus only on the act of movement. Start with some simple walking, feel the results and then let that lead to another movement, then another, until it becomes a healthy habit.
Be of service.
Think about the last time you reached out to help someone. Chances are the person on the receiving end of your goodwill wasn't the only one who benefited. Whether it's donating to a needy family, aiding a stranded motorist or just buying coffee for a co-worker on your way to the office, acts of kindness don't just benefit the recipient: They also make the giver feel good.
Recent studies have shown that people who volunteer report greater happiness and health than those who don't. "One of the best ways to be happy is to help others, to serve, to give back," says Walsh. "When you do this, you're shifting your world as well as someone else's, and those ripples can change the world for years to come. Even something as simple as opening the door for an elderly lady or sharing a kind word with someone, can be enough to make you happier while also cheering them up."
Focus on having better health.
We tend to obsess about improving the health and appearance of our outsides, but it's what we can't see that has the biggest impact on how we look and feel. Li points out that some of the most common ailments and complaints—such as allergies, fatigue, weight gain and colds—are related to overall health.
"Research indicates that gut health is a huge factor in metabolism, immunity and even mental health," explains Li. "When you set a health resolution, such as getting sick less often or improving energy levels, you will take pride in the fact that you are doing something good for your body, and the immediate benefits of your actions will give you a sense of satisfaction."
Dr. Seti encourages her clients to focus on self-care as a means to achieving greater happiness. "We are often last on our priority list, and putting ourselves first can have a massively beneficial impact on our well-being," she says. Self-care can include everything from planning time for fun and relaxation, sleeping more regular hours, eating more whole foods or drinking more water. The key is to frame it in such a way that allows you to hit goals or milestones.
By choosing resolutions that aren't focused solely on shedding pounds, you'll be in a better position to achieve both physical and mental health, which is directly linked to happiness. "By choosing this type of resolution, we are essentially giving ourselves a holistic makeover," Li notes. "Healthier people are happier people because mental health and physical health are not separate things that exist in vacuums."
What’s your non-weight loss resolution? Share it in the comments.