Traditionally we make resolutions in the New Year, however these can be difficult to stick to when the days are dark and cold, and our motivation may be low. In contrast, autumn can be a great time to make changes. Life may be getting back into a routine after summer holidays and the days are still warm enough and long enough to encourage activity. Positive lifestyle changes made now have the potential to bring a noticeable improvement by the time the party season comes along and are likely to be embedded by the time the temptations and pressures of Christmas risk putting us off track. By January your #1change to improve your health could be a regular habit or embedded change in your lifestyle, and thus easier to maintain through the dark days of winter and into a healthier spring.
In his article this month Dr Owen shares that keeping healthy requires attention to our environment (including diet and lifestyle) and as a working GP I’ve seen the transformative effect lifestyle change can have on patients’ health and wellbeing. Many of these healthy journeys start with just one change. In fact, making small changes which you embed into your daily routine is the most effective way to make lasting improvement.
His article discusses the importance of creativity and I share this view. It can serve both as a sign of, and a catalyst to, improvement in your health. A view which is becoming more mainstream as evidenced by the National Centre for Creative Health https://ncch.org.uk/. I was fortunate to be involved in a recent creativity for health project - the BSLM #1change social impact collective film 2022 which shows some of the lifestyle approaches I and my colleagues (who had studied together for the Lifestyle Medicine Diploma) employ to keep ourselves healthy https://vimeo.com/752234959. Thus your #1 change towards a healthier you may be around expressing your creativity e.g. with journaling, artistic or musical pursuits. These are just as valuable to your health and well-being as the traditional nutritional or physical activity type resolutions.
Whatever you choose to focus your efforts on below are some simple tips about how to make effective Autumn resolutions which are easy to incorporate into your lifestyle and really help to improve your health.
Be clear about your goal
- state your goal in the positive and be specific e.g. I will eat 2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day (rather than I will stop eating junk food).
- make it realistic – start small and then build up.
- set a time limit – changes are easier to sign up to if it’s for a limited time to start with then you can review if it is working for you and if you need to make any adjustments.
Visualise the benefits in the present tense
- take some time to visualise the benefits you’ll experience from putting the change into place
- say to yourself “Now I’m doing ….(name new habit) I am experiencing the benefits of……” and really see, feel and experience those benefits as if they are happening in the moment.
Attach the desired new habit to an existing habit e.g. a 5-minute workout or meditation practice while brushing your teeth or boiling the kettle in the morning.
Make yourself accountable
- tell your friends or family about the change you are planning, get them to help keep you motivated and hold you to account if you do not keep up the habit.
Celebrate when you do stick to the goal
- studies show that even a tick or a smiley face on a chart, or keeping to a streak on an app, can help to reward your brain and make you more likely to stick to the change.
Be self-compassionate about any times you fall off the wagon
- no one is perfect, if you don’t stick to your goal for one day (or one week!) treat it as a learning experience, what would help you stick to it more easily next time? Do you need to adjust your goal?
Stick to it (for most of the days at least) and studies show that in just six weeks you will have started to embed this new habit as your way of life. You can then enjoy your improved health and vitality, and perhaps look towards the next goal for improving your wellbeing.
You may already have an idea of the one or two changes you would like to make to improve your health, or you may wish to explore what would be most beneficial for you through a personalsied Lifestyle Medicine consultation.
Sometimes we know what changes would be beneficial but struggle to make a start or sustain a new healthy habit, particularly if our motivation or vitality is low. That’s why I’m really excited about the potential of Health Coaching to support patients. I have recently competed my training as a Level 1 Health Coach accredited by the Personalied Care Institute. This training has helped me to learn techniques to support patients to find the health goals and changes that are most meaningful for them, and how to make these stick. If you think this would be helpful for you then please book an Integrated (Lifestyle) Medicine appointment with me and we can work together to start your positive health journey.