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Making Health Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep

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Farewell, au revoir, adios, auf wiedersehen, sayonara.

Call it what you want and say it in whatever language you know, but one thing won’t change: I won’t be sad to say goodbye to 2021.

Sorry if that sounds pessimistic. I’m just trying to be honest. I am well and truly ready to raise a glass to a new year, new beginnings, and new opportunities at the pharmacy and in life.

And with a new year comes something that I often make and sometimes even keep: New Year’s Resolutions.

New Year’s Resolutions: An Australian Obsession

Over 80% of Australians made a New Year’s resolution last year. That sentence might not seem very impressive, but read it again if it hasn’t sunk in. Over 80%. There is hardly anything that 80% of Australians do, apart from breathing, eating, sleeping, and following the medal tally when the Olympics roll around.

Here’s my point: in this beautiful, diverse, vibrant society something connects us all like a fine golden thread: a desire to make – and keep – resolutions.

Last year, more than half wanted to do something about their weight. 

More than a third wanted to eat better.

Over ten per cent wanted to sleep more.

And a healthy minority wanted to give smoking the boot for good.

What do these have in common? You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to figure this one out: health. 

There’s a good reason for that. Over the last two years, the pandemic has changed the way we think of ourselves, manage our health, and go about our daily business. The shifts caused by COVID have been significant and, in some cases, absolutely cataclysmic. No wonder we are increasingly keen to get our health in order. After, all, good health has never been so valuable. And, on the flip side, it has never been easier to slip into bad habits. 

Listen to the experts

Imagine that I wanted to get a little better at tennis. One of the ways to do this is to book a court, gather a few friends, find the right equipment, and give up a few hours on a Sunday. In essence, give it a go. Get involved. 

I’d probably pick up a few tricks, get a little more healthy, and enjoy some time in the sun (after taking all the right sun-safe precautions, of course.)

Let’s imagine that I had the opportunity to take lessons with Roger Federer. Yes: the Roger Federer.

The game on a Saturday with some friends is good … a lesson with Fed is better.

It’s sort of like the Australian health system. I’m always amazed at how few people visit their doctor or pharmacy to discuss their health goals. We’d rather muddle it out on our own or on an internet forum (hint: an anonymous forum probably isn’t giving you the best health advice) than speak to a profession. It seems like a very Australian phenomenon. Please, please, please, be part of a changing culture on this. Speak to a GP, visit your pharmacy, and learn about the changes – the resolutions – that are best for you.

Transformation > information

Here’s an undeniable reality: information does not equal transformation. In other words, you could know everything about how to get in shape in 2023 – you could visit your doctor, stock up with all you need at the pharmacy, put all the right reminders in your phone to track your progress – and still see no change. Zilch. Nothing. Nada.

For transformation to happen, I suggest that you have a clear sense of vision, means and habits, and accountability.

Here’s what I mean.

  • Vision

It’s easy to set resolutions that focus on what we do. I will do between 2.5 and 5 hours of physical activity each week. Fantastic! That’s exactly what the Australian government recommends! But it’s not exactly a compelling vision. A compelling vision has a why attached to it – a clear sense of purpose or joy that acts like rocket fuel propelling you into the future. 

Maybe your vision is to be active enough to coach your kids’ AFL team in the future. 

Maybe it’s to do a half marathon. 

Perhaps it’s to be fit enough to play in your local futsal team in the near future.

These are the things that can push you to action. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has some wise advice:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the [people] to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

In other words, if you want to get something done, paint the vision before getting into the nitty-gritty details.

  • Means and Habits

Okay, but now what?

What do you do once you’ve established the vision?

It’s time to get practical. 

That’s what I mean by means. Anything that helps you achieve your vision fits into this category.

So, plot out the actual steps that you will take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to fulfill your resolution. You might have to complete what I call Key Events. Imagine that you want to start running regularly but you don’t own a pair of joggers; heading to your local shoe store would be a Key Event. Buying some sunblock from the pharmacy so you don’t get burnt to a crisp in the midmorning sun might also be a Key Event!

More important than Key Events though are everyday, recurring events. 

In other words, you need habits

I love what Octavia Butler says: ‘Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.’ This advice is gold. Think of all the good but uninspiring things you do just because it’s a habit. You brush your teeth, shower, stack the dishwasher – all while barely thinking about it. Why? The power of habit.

Do the same with your health goal. Break it down into the smallest components. Put reminders of each in your phone. Habitualise it. Make a routine. Stick with it. Get to know it as well as you do an old friend.

  • Accountability

I love this simple observation from Richard Betts:

Plenty of people set goals, but few create a way to be accountable for them. Studies have shown that people who write a goal and identify a way to be accountable for it are twice as likely to achieve that goal than someone who thinks about it or writes it down.

It’s true, isn’t it? Accountability gets stuff done. It’s why a lot of us are more productive at work than at home (and maybe that should change!). 

Accountability can be a scary word. It conjures pictures of a servant-master relationship, or of a strange hierarchy, or unusual punishment. But it shouldn’t look like this at all. The best person to keep you accountable is a friend or partner – someone who knows you, knows your goals, and wants the best for you.

If I’ve learned anything from Disney movies (and also The Lord of the Rings trilogy), it’s that journeys are best taken in good company. Ask someone to come on the health journey with you, to walk alongside you, to encourage you when you stumble, and to prompt you when you need a few reminders to keep shuffling towards your goal.

I use the word ‘shuffling’ deliberately. It takes time to get healthy. You can’t just show up to a pharmacy, by a magic product, then wake up the next day as fit as a fiddle. It takes vision, means and habits, and accountability. 

Start by speaking to a health professional: your doctor, someone at your local pharmacy, or someone similar. And once you’ve figured out your resolution, we’ll help you to get all the products you need for the journey.