As we start making New Year's resolutions it's easy to become stressed out by the many demands on our time and energy. But this can also be the perfect time to try practicing mindfulness to create the year that you really want. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, says Maryanna Klatt, professor of clinical family medicine at Ohio State's College of Medicine, and director of the Mindfulness In Motion program at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center.
Klatt works with high-stress groups to develop mindful health strategies to combat stress. She created the Mindfulness In Motion program to research the mind-body connection of people who are particularly susceptible to stress, including health-care professionals, college students, cancer survivors and primary caregivers. "Creating what you want requires effort, intention and reflection. For starters, think about what you need to create what you want. This will be different for each person, and likely will vary year to year," Klatt says. She offers these four steps to help you achieve your goal:
When you’re planning a holiday feast, you need to begin by making a list for what to buy at the grocery store. In the same way, you’ll need to envision the end result of your efforts. Ask yourself how you want to feel about 2019 after it’s done? Do you want to feel joyful and relaxed? Or stressed out and glad that it’s finally over? If you could envision yourself having the best year ever, what would that look like?
- Deliberately Plan
What do you need to plan in order to make your vision a reality? Just like the food you need to buy for your holiday feast, what are the activities that you need to plan and do to achieve your goal? Think about what activity normally keeps you grounded during busy times, when you feel overwhelmed or overcommitted. How, when and where can you practice this? "For myself, I realized that I need to feel 'caught up' with my work, yet I need to let go of things I cannot control,” Klatt says. “I also need to keep up my daily exercise, yoga and meditation practice in ordered to remain centered. For others, getting enough sleep or limiting social media or screen time may be what’s needed.”
What are the necessary things that you need to do to make your year a success? Prioritize what’s important to you. Think back to what you have envisioned and how you'll need to act to bring that experience to fruition? Be intentional with your self-care time, making sure to intentionally plan time to relax and rejuvenate.
In reflecting upon your past New Year's resolutions, what elements do you want to keep and what do you want to avoid? Reflect on what gives you joy and what gives those around you joy. "What gives you joy may not be the same thing that gives your partner or children joy,” Klatt says. “So be extra attentive to see what they really enjoy, as the enjoyment they experience may contain some magic that you don’t want to miss.”
More Tips For A Happier New Year
There is no secret to happiness, but there is a science to it, says Tim Bono, a psychology lecturer in Arts & Sciences who teaches courses on happiness at Washington University in St. Louis. In his recent book, When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness, Bono explores how the often overlooked details of day-to-day life can have a sizeable influence on our personal sense of well-being and happiness. Based on his own research and other scientific studies, Bono offers the following tips for getting and staying happier in the coming year:
Get outside and move around. Research confirms that a few minutes walking around in nature can boost both mood and energy levels. Exercise is key to our psychological health because it releases the brain’s “feel good” chemicals.
Get more happiness for your money. Studies show little connection between wealth and happiness, but there are two ways to get more bang for your happiness buck - buy experiences instead of things and spend your money on others. The enjoyment one gets from an experience like a vacation or concert will far outweigh and outlast the happiness from acquiring another material possession. Doing good things for other people strengthens our social connections, which is foundational to our well-being.
Carve out time to be happy, then give it away. People dream of finding an extra 30 minutes to do something nice for themselves, but using that time to help someone else is more rewarding and actually leaves us feeling empowered to tackle the next project, helping us feel more in control of our lives and even less pressed for time. This translates to higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.
Delay the positive, dispatch the negative. Anticipation itself is pleasurable, and looking forward to an enjoyable experience can make it all that much sweeter. Wait a couple of days before seeing a new movie that just came out, plan your big vacation for later in the summer and try to take time to savor each bite of dessert. On the flip side, get negative tasks out of the way as quickly as possible - anticipation will only make them seem worse.
Enjoy the ride. People who focus more on process than outcome tend to remain motivated in the face of setbacks. They’re better at sticking with major challenges and prefer them over the easy route. This “growth mindset” helps people stay energized because it celebrates rewards that come from the work itself. Focusing only on the end outcome can lead to premature burnout if things don’t go well.
Embrace failure. How we think about failure determines whether it makes us happy or sad. People who overcome adversity do better in life because they learn to cope with challenges. Failure is a great teacher, helping us realize what doesn’t work so we can make changes for the better. As IBM CEO Thomas Watson once said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”
Sweet dreams. Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis. Our brains are doing a lot of important work while we sleep, including strengthening neural circuits that enhance mental acuity and help us to regulate our moods when we are awake. Sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment similar to that of intoxication, and often is the prelude to an ill-tempered day.
Strengthen your willpower muscles. Just like exercising arm muscles strengthens our capacity to lift heavy things, exercising willpower muscles in small, everyday behaviors strengthens our ability to stay focused at work. Resisting the temptation to check our phone for new text messages or emails when we’re walking somewhere, or resisting the temptation to get the candy bar when we’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, allows our willpower muscles to become stronger and, in turn, resistant to temptations that could sidetrack us in other aspects of our lives.
Introduce variety into your day-to-day activities. Human beings are attracted to novelty, and we can get bored if we have to do the same thing over and over. Changing things up every once in a while by taking on new projects, or by doing the same task but with music in the background, or by interacting with different people, can be one way to introduce variety and remain motivated to complete a task.
Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s hard to avoid tuning into what everyone else is doing, who just got the latest raise or promotion, or who’s moving into a new house or going on a fancy vacation. But social comparison is one of the biggest barriers to our overall happiness and motivation. Redirecting attention to our own internal standards for success and making progress based on what’s realistic for us - instead of getting caught up in how we measure up to others - can go a long way for our psychological health and productivity.
Reach out and connect with someone. Nothing is more important for our psychological health than high-quality friendships. Find an activity that allows you to get together with friends on a regular, ongoing basis. A weekly happy hour, poker night or TV show ensures consistency and momentum in your social interactions. People with high-quality relationships are not only happier, they’re also healthier. They recover from illnesses more quickly, live longer and enjoy more enriched lives.
Limit time on social media. Facebook and Instagram often exaggerate how much better off others are compared with how we might feel about ourselves at the moment. Many studies have shown that too much time spent on social media usually is associated with lower levels of self-esteem, optimism and motivation while leaving people feeling - ironically enough - less socially connected to others.
Use your phone in the way phones were originally intended. The next time you are tempted to use your phone to scroll through social media, scroll through your list of contacts instead. Find someone to call or FaceTime. The happiness you derive from an authentic connection with another person will be far greater than any comments or likes you get on social media.
Practice gratitude. It’s easy to get bogged down with life’s inevitable hassles, so make an effort to direct attention to things that are still going well. On the way home from work, fill the time that could go toward ruminating over bad parts of your day with the things that went well. Study after study has shown gratitude to be one of the simplest yet most robust ways to increase psychological well-being.
Identify an important reason why you are resolving to change something in your life. Research shows that reminding yourself of how your daily behaviors fit into big-picture goals will keep you motivated to stay on track.
Think about the potential barriers that might get in the way of implementing your goals. Identify contingency plans for how you will respond in those moments: “When I start getting distracted in the middle of a big work project, I’ll give myself a quick break and then remind myself how rewarding it will feel to be finished with it.” Better yet, select environments that are free from distractions altogether. If you know you’re always tempted to surf the web while completing work, take your laptop to a place where there’s no wifi and leave your phone behind.
Set specific dates and times when you will incorporate the behavior. When you make a schedule for new behaviors you’d like to incorporate into your life, they require less psychological strength to implement. When you get in the habit of running every Tuesday and Thursday morning, the behavior becomes much easier to initiate because it simply becomes part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or taking the dog on a walk.
Make your goals measurable, break them up into smaller sub-goals, and the reward yourself each time you hit a particular milestone. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds in the new year, treat yourself to a movie or other fun outing for each five pounds you lose.
A Resolution For Good Health
We often avoid thinking about things that are scary or unpleasant, especially when we feel like we do not have any control over them or do not understand them. When it comes to cancer, the numbers can be frightening. More than 16,000 New Jerseyans die each year of cancer, with lung and colorectal cancers as two of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the state. But we know a lot more about these cancers than just how deadly they are – we know how to detect them early, how to treat them, and in some cases how to prevent them from ever occurring in the first place.
Colorectal and lung cancers usually do not cause any symptoms until they have grown for a long time and start to spread through the body, typically being diagnosed at a later stage of disease making them much harder to treat and cure. The good news is that colorectal and lung cancers usually form over a long period of time, and there are effective treatments for cancers detected at early stages of development. Undergoing screening is the best way to detect the cancer as early as possible and get treatment started when it can be most effective. The cost of colorectal cancer screening is often covered through Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans, as is lung cancer screening, for those at the highest risk of developing these cancers.
To aid in increasing the awareness of the importance of screening, ScreenNJ was recently developed under the leadership of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Health. The initiative is a collaboration of organizations across the state committed to reducing cancer incidence and mortality through outcomes‐oriented, evidence‐based cancer prevention and screening programs. ScreenNJ serves as a resource for the general public to find local colorectal and lung screening programs, and to educate them about the types of testing and benefits.
For colorectal cancer, age is a major risk factor, as is having at least one family member with colorectal cancer. Those aged 45 to 75 years old should speak to their doctor about the screening option that is best for them. One such option is a colonoscopy, a procedure that can not only check for existing cancers but can also find and remove precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. Another option is a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), a simple take-home test that doesn’t require any special preparation or time off from work. Other screening tests are also available.
For lung cancer, both age and smoking history influence one’s risk of developing cancer. Current smokers or those who quit smoking within the last 15 years, who are between the ages of 55 and 80 may be at higher risk of lung cancer. Those at risk should speak with their healthcare professional about getting screened every year with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan. Current smokers can reduce their risk of developing lung cancer by quitting smoking now. Other benefits of smoking cessation include reduced risk for heart disease and stroke. The Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program is a great resource for tobacco cessation, although other programs and tools are also available.