Make Lifestyle Changes, not New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year 2019!  

What are your plans for the new year? Let’s see, mine are watching Penn State win the Citrus Bowl and then having the traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner for luck throughout the year. 

Ok, so that is not exactly what I meant when I ask what your plans for the new year are; although you likely will be doing some traditions that are very special to you and I encourage you to continue celebrating them!  I am talking about the New Year’s resolutions which have been drilled into our heads since being young children. I will be frank here, I dislike the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I believe it sets us up for poor follow through with the changes and often making unrealistic resolutions “goals” that are not well thought out and lacking steps to accomplish and maintain the resolutions “goals”. Some of the most common resolutions I’ve heard are “I will eat better”, “I will exercise more”, or “I will save more money”. These are great; at least they are in theory. However, my questions are...how are we going to achieve these and how long will we maintain these “resolutions”? I personally prefer to call them life style changes. It makes them more realistic, attainable, and sustainable. I also prefer to and encourage others to make positive life changes throughout the year instead of waiting to make them on New Year’s. It is always a good time to make positive life style changes.

January 1, 1994 someone very dear to me did not make a New Year’s resolution but instead made a life style change which he continues to this day, 25 years later! He stopped consuming alcohol entirely. He was what many call “a functioning alcoholic”. He maintained employment and relationships. He paid his bills and supported his family. However, much of the time beer was his best friend and what he did to celebrate good things, to “numb negative emotions”, to socialize, and to relax. The reality is, everything was a reason or time to drink. He did not think about potential consequences related to drinking but rather the good feelings associated with drinking.  He shared that his drinking continued to increase and that he remembers drinking in excess during college.  He shared that his drinking decreased some when he had a family; although, he now understands and accepts that his drinking never decreased enough to be healthy until he stopped drinking entirely January 1, 1994.


He started his life style change when he was told by his family that they would not continue to watch him drink and that it was damaging their family more than anyone could know.  Despite his family’s desires, insistence, and ultimatum; he had to make the decision himself to stop drinking.  This was not easy for him, but he made the commitment to doing so.  He began by contacting Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and that day, an AA member came to the house and dumped all alcohol down the drain.  He then made conscious daily, and sometimes minute to minute decisions, to not consume alcohol.  He attended and participated in AA meetings.  However, what worked best for him was a commitment to change which meant changing his responses to thoughts and urges to drink and avoiding people, places, and things that were triggers for him to drink.  This was not always easy; especially after life stressors such as death of immediate family members and job loss.  However, he was more understanding and accepting that to return to drinking to numb his feelings and emotions would just make him feel better for a time but then his feelings, situations, and thoughts would be just as bad if not worse.  This life style change will be something that he will work on and towards for the rest of his life.  


Making positive life style changes is not just about addressing drinking too much or using illicit substances.  People can be addicted to anything, including working, exercise, sex, shopping, and social media, to just list a few. Caffeine is a major addiction for most people, for it is in coffee, tea, chocolate, and many other things that most of us consume at least once daily, often consuming it throughout the day. However, it seems that few people acknowledge or associate addictions with daily activities and socially accepted actions such as consuming too much caffeine.  Many say they could change these patterns and behaviors if they wanted to but don’t because either “I don’t want to” or “it isn’t a problem”.  Life style changes can and often include better self-care and maintaining boundaries as noted in previous blogs.  Making positive life changes is not easy, but anyone can make and maintain positive changes.  It takes much time and effort but the positive results are very rewarding and worth it.  Also, it is important to remember to not get discouraged about any set backs but instead learn from what has caused the set back and make different decisions and change actions in the future so that you can continue with your progress to a new and healthier you.  I know you can do it just as I knew and still know that the friend I mentioned can do it! Here are some steps to help you start your positive life changes.

Steps to make positive life style changes include:

1.    Identifying what you would like to change for example “I want to spend more time doing self-care activities.”

2.   Identify strategies to make the change for example; “I will read daily and I will maintain boundaries.”

3.   Identify what may not be working with regards to making the changes and learn from them- for example deciding to exercise for an hour a day 7 days a week may not be realistic or even the best practice initially so first try small steps such as exercising for 15 minutes a day at least 3 days a week.

4.   Review and celebrate your progress, acknowledging even the small progress such as “I said no to working overtime when in the past I would have agreed to do so.” 

5.   Seek and accept support, help, and encouragement from others.  Positive self-change is most successful when you have a positive support network in place which often includes family, friends, and other peers making similar positive life changes. 

6.   Most importantly, DON’T GIVE UP OR GET DISCOURAGED!!!!!!!!!  We are all “a work in progress” and we can and will do this! 

If you are struggling with addiction or have a desire to make positive life changes, I encourage you strongly to seek help doing so and we are here to help you!  What are some areas of your life that you would like to change?