Prioritizing Health and Happiness in New Year's Resolutions
According to some estimates, only 8% of people that make New Year's resolutions actually achieve them. Why such a small fraction? It is common to make resolutions that are both broad and rigid. They may seem too big a task to undertake, and they do not take into account the uncertainty of life. This reigns especially true for people with an invisible illness; in some cases, chronic conditions can be unpredictable on a day-to-day basis. We simply have to redefine New Year's resolutions in personal manner that fits our individual lifestyles. In doing so, we can work towards a much-needed goal of prioritizing health and happiness in 2021.
Why set goals?
Goal setting is important because it implements our values and gives us direction. It reminds us where to center our effort and affirms our desires for the future in a manageable way. Settings goals is not only linked to success, but it is also correlated with self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy.
Moreover, achieving goals is rewarding, and this is also true on a molecular level. When we experience success, dopamine is released in the mesolimbic pathway, which is responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure, learning, and motivation. As a result, we not only experience greater levels of concentration for that goal, but we are also further motivated to pursue it.
Designing SMART goals
The journal Management Review coined the SMART goals acronym in 1981 for projects in the workplace, but the strategy is highly applicable to personal resolutions. Here is what it stands for:
Specific: goals should be clear and specific so that you can focus your efforts
Measurable: this allows you to track progress and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving your goal
Achievable: goals need to be realistic and attainable to be successful
Relevant: this ensures that the goal matters to you and aligns with your values
Time-bound: deadlines can help us remember to move forward and holds us accountable for longer-term goals
In the context of invisible illness, SMART goals may seem unrealistic. We cannot will away our conditions, but we can certainly take steps that prioritize our health and happiness. I think that in approaching 2021 with a more positive mindset, we can be successful by creating many smaller SMART goals that are more flexible than the traditional New Year's resolution.
For example, diet is an integral part of our health. The food we consume provides the energy we need to keep active throughout the day. Additionally, our diets comprise the nutrients used for growth and repair, helping us stay strong and healthy while preventing diet-related illness (including some cancers and type 2 diabetes). One of my goals for this year is to maintain a healthy diet.
It is important to note that a "healthy diet" looks different for everyone. This requires some research to ascertain different meal plans that may complement your condition. The FODMAP diet is suggested for people with irritable bowel syndrome or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. A low histamine diet is designed for people with histamine intolerance and related conditions. A ketogenic diet is being researched in conjunction with therapeutics for different types of cancer treatment. Nonetheless, every case is unique, so it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional prior to changing your diet. Once you understand which food plan would be most beneficial for your health, you can convert your intention into SMART goals.
A specific goal of mine is to design a few different meal options that I can cook once I move into my college dorm. It is somewhat time-bound because I want to accomplish this before my classes resume, yet I imagine that it will be cyclical as my body's response to the food may change. This is the flexibility that we must consider in our New Year's resolutions.
Fluctuation is quite common in invisible illnesses. Our health is not static, and we must adapt to the circumstances. I do not like to employ the word "normal" often, but I want to reaffirm that it is normal, if not expected, to experience setbacks with a flare or change in symptoms. If need be, we can take that opportunity to change our goals so they are more achievable and relevant given the situation. Perhaps it means that we extend the time boundaries, but it certainly does not mean that we need to abandon the sentiment altogether.
As we enter 2021, we can make resolutions that prioritize our health and happiness. They may not, and should not, look like so-called traditional resolutions such as "lose weight", "exercise more", or "get a better night's sleep". Our resolutions are about reflecting upon the current state of our health and happiness and deciding how we would like to improve further. We can simply do our best and take small, SMART steps every day that are meaningful for our well-being.
The National Health Council estimated that generally incurable and ongoing, chronic diseases are projected to affect approximately 157 million people in the United States (almost 50% of the nation!), with 81 million having multiple conditions. As the prevalence of invisible illness continues to increase, we should truly reshape the basis of New Year's resolutions so that they are aimed at the general welfare of society.
Here are a few more ideas for tangible New Year's resolutions for invisible illness warriors! I hope you can take some of these ideas and mold them into your own:
expressing more gratitude: write down 3 things you are grateful for every day
cooking healthy meals more often: cook a healthy dinner 5x a week (or whenever you feel up to it to be more flexible!)
be more active: try 1 different way to get active every week (and stick with the one that you enjoy the most)
stay on top of medications: make a master list and plan once a week to stay organized
listen to your body more: say yes to opportunities only when you feel up to it; keep a journal of symptoms; and learn to recognize when you need rest
practice more self-care: take a few hours every weekend to practice your favorite form of self care (or try new things to discover what you enjoy most)
On behalf of The Invizibles, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year! I hope that 2021 brings health, safety, and happiness to you and your families. May peace, love, and prosperity follow you always.
How can you get involved with The Invizibles? You can share your story! I am starting a special series as part of the weekly blogs in which I interview others that have struggled with an invisible illness. If you are interested in sharing your experience, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to our email list at the bottom of this page so you never miss out on a blog post or exciting announcement. Follow our social media pages for updates! You can find us on Instagram @theinviziblesorg and on our Facebook page, The Invizibles Org. Members can contact us on our website or via email with any questions, comments, or concerns. We hope to hear from you.
Comment down below your New Year's resolution, and let us know what else you want to see for The Invizibles!
Invisible illnesses present hidden challenges; let's uncover and solve them together.