I can already see them – at least 12 glossy magazines all with some variation of “New Year, New You”. I don’t know about you, but it feels like 2019 just up and went like an unwelcome house guest – and I’m still working on what I set out to do in 2012!
And that’s a problem. You see, systemic changes in your lifestyle require more than a pithy Carrie Underwood miracle diet, or Chris Pratt’s “6 Week Shredded Abs”. While I know it’s typical to use the New Year as a way to set an intention and milestones, many of these New Year, New You trends are just often just that – trends. Just like high waisted pants, at some point, they too shall pass.
So here is my challenge to you: I want you to become a better version of yourself in 2020, but I want you to do so by focusing on what science tells us works – both physically and emotionally. Let’s take a look at what those things are:
If your body is within the normal specs (i.e. you don’t suffer from conditions where major organs are diseased or aren’t working properly), it is a nearly perfectly functioning machine. It extracts what it needs from the things you eat and drink, pushes the rest out as waste, and is finely tuned to make sure the major systems (like your brain) are well preserved in the face of scarcity. So what are the fads we should watch out for?
Detoxes: If there’s one thing science tells us, it is that there is no need to “detox” with magic pills and elixirs.
Insane diets: I get it, maybe you put on a few pounds over the holidays. At best, they’re a waste of money and time – and at worst they’re dangerous.
Cleanses: Again, if you want to cleanse, put things in your body that it needs and reject for a few days the things it doesn’t. Let your liver and kidneys do their jobs. There is literally no evidence that a ‘cleanse’ does anything beyond break your sanity when you’re on your seventh carrot juice of the week.
What to do instead: I know I am a broken record, but this isn’t that hard. What matters? All together now:
- More water. I don’t care if you have to pretend it’s vodka to get it down, drink half your body weight in pounds in ounces (if you’re 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces a day).
- More plants, more often. My nutritionist says I should be eating 20 different types and colors of vegetables a day – and most of the time I fail. But at least it’s a goal that I can keep in mind when looking in the pantry and deciding between Kettle Chips or kale chips. Dr. Jeanne Wahls, who used food as a way to rebuild her body after it was ravaged by MS, recommends three hearty plates of vegetables a day – and the results for her were nothing less than spectacular.
- Cut the crap. Ideally, you’re eating more whole foods, that are nutrient-dense. If things are processed, stop eating them. What are processed foods? A quick tip – if something comes in boxes or bags and has ingredients that are anything other than something you could buy at the produce market, butcher, or farmer stand, it’s processed. Sure there are exceptions – but it’s easier to avoid it all and make those exceptions when you’ve got a reason (like when I see an In-n-Out Burger).
- Watch inflammatory foods. Yes, I know “inflammation” is buzzy right now, but there is actually good science behind lots of the foods we eat (dairy, gluten, sugars) actually putting your body into a physiologically inflamed state. And with inflammation, disease states spread like wildfire. Again, if you’re sticking with eating lots of veggies, clean meat, good healthy fats and oils (like avocados and nuts), some fresh fruit, you’re going to be avoiding the inflammation specter by default.
- Move, damnit. I know it can suck, but movement helps with EVERYTHING (bone density, libido, stamina, avoiding injuries, focus, mental health – the list goes on). Forget living longer – you will be living a BETTER life if you do something besides type on your keyboard.
One of the biggest reasons these “New Year, New You” habits are so weak is because to form new habits, you need to start simple, make them achievable, and be consistent. So many of the New Year concepts require you to make sweeping changes to your lifestyle overnight. You then enter into a cycle of failing to execute the changes, becoming discouraged, often trying again, failing again, and finally giving up.
So you need to do a few things mentally when setting out to create a new you for the new year – and protip: you won’t be as new as you think!\
- Familiarize yourself with the benefit of your new habit – and really understand the costs. One way of thinking about this is to use what behavioral psychologists call these “promoting and inhibiting pressures” – whereby you want to increase the pressure on yourself to change your habits by amping up the good things that will come when you achieve your goal, and remove the inhibiting pressures that keep you from making the change. If you want to stop being on Instagram all day, increase the promoting pressure by recognizing the free time you’re getting and remove the thing that inhibits you from achieving the goal (i.e. having Instagram installed!)
- Commit to a block of time – usually 30 days. You will likely get frustrated because you fail to hit your goals a few times when you’re starting out, and even more frustrated when you don’t get some of the benefits immediately – that is why it’s so important to commit to 30 days so you give yourself a chance to both establish your routine and see results.
- Love yourself. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got when it comes to creating a habit: give yourself a break when you inevitably screw up and fail to nail it out of the gate. You probably give other people the benefit of the doubt when they are imperfect – time to do the same thing for yourself.
- James Clear has written a great book called Atomic Habits that really does a nice job outlining the steps one needs to take to create a new, positive habit. I will summarize it in four bullets, but encourage you to read the whole thing. His method is to have you ask yourself four questions:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it attractive?
- How can I make it easy?
- How can I make it satisfying?
- Most importantly, start simple. It’s easy to get over-motivated and believe you will be able to change yourself overnight. The truth is this just isn’t the way human psychology (or physiology) generally works.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some practical steps to help you get to January 23rd without bailing on something that could help you live healthier and happier. As a guy who has been successful in changing SO many things about myself, I can tell you the above were instrumental in how I went about going from sick to saved.