With New Year’s resolutions upon us, it’s the perfect time to discuss how to move good intentions into sustained actions. A common misconception is that success in making changes is just a matter of willpower or motivation. If you can’t sustain a change, it’s because you either don’t want it enough, or are not strong enough to break a bad habit. But there is an important missing element I have found is critical to lasting success with lifestyle changes. It’s also a cornerstone of naturopathic medicine. I’d like to discuss what this missing element is, and how you can use it to make your resolutions stick.
First, two questions. When you take something out of your life, what do you replace it with? And what in your life helps you build health and vitality? While we often focus on the negative, it is equally important to find a replacement using 3 Ss—sound, same, and sustainable—to guide the choice. I’ll explain more about that in a bit.
Think of your health as a bank account. You can raise your level by taking out less, or adding more in. When we hear success stories, we emphasize the taking out part, or what they didn’t do—no smoking, drinking, sugar, junk food, whatever. We don’t pay as much attention to the additions. Yet with most success stories, they not only filled a void with something, but those additions are often health-builders themselves: eating more vegetables, getting more sleep, exercising, meditating. These equally important replacement habits are deposits into the bank account. When we add more, they provide protection for the inevitable withdrawal from less than perfect choices. Shifting your perspective then to building health rather than just eliminating bad habits gives you a more stable bank account, therefore, better health in the long run.
Unlike a regular bank account though, your health bank account is different, in that the effect of transactions vary. Losing a night’s sleep for instance varies in how it affects people, depending on a host of factors—some people are fine, others can’t think, get grumpy, binge-eat too many sweets. This is where the 3 Ss come in. To find a good replacement, you have to find what is sound, same, and sustainable FOR YOU.
To illustrate, let’s take a couple average resolution makers. Edina and Patsy both set New Year’s resolutions to reduce their alcohol intake and quit smoking. They start with sound/reasonable goals for them--no more than 2 drinks a week for a month, and to reduce smoking by 1 cigarette a day. Next, they choose similar replacements, individualized for each person. For Edina, who has a tendency to gain weight, her replacement for smoking might be exercise. For Patsy, who has a tendency to anxiety, her replacement for smoking might be deep breathing exercises. By setting the goal together, they both will replace the social impact of reducing alcohol with an alternative social outlet. Finally, after a month on target, they will reward themselves with a massage, and agree to reevaluate the goals for sustainability. Here, they have focused on replacing poor habits with not only better habits, but have added health-building habits in (exercise, deep breathing, massage, social support). It’s much more likely they will be successful then if they just focused on what they were not doing (smoking and drinking).
This year, as you make New Year’s resolutions, make sure to include sound, same, and sustainable replacements in your plan. Think in terms of building your health bank account with everyday habits first. For an extra boost, add treatments for vitality (hydrotherapy, bodywork, acupuncture, homeopathy, and others). These interventions will not only address specific symptoms, but stimulate growth in a person’s overall vitality. Build your health bank account while fulfilling your resolutions, and you’ll feel the benefits all year long. If you hit barriers or stumbling blocks, reach out for help with your local ND or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.