By Dr. Graham A. Colditz, Siteman Cancer Center
It’s that time of year when social media feeds and news sites are filled with stories about New Year’s resolutions. And that’s fantastic. It’s great to look ahead and set personal health goals for the coming year – whether it’s getting more sleep, snacking less or taking the dog for more walks.
At the same time, let’s not move past last year just yet. There can be real value in heading into 2020 by taking a look back on the positive things we accomplished for our health in 2019.
The journey to better health is made up of many steps – often, small steps – that we string together over time. Taking stock of what we’re proud of from the past can lay a positive foundation for the future.
So, get out your smartphone, or good old pen and paper, and jot down the healthy behaviors you worked on in 2019. They can be big or small or in between. Think about things like diet and physical activity, and also sleep and mental health or anything else you did to improve your well-being. And don’t forget things you may have done for the whole family.
Write down as many items as you can think of – even if you just did them a couple of times. Don’t focus on goals you may have missed – for example, “Tried but didn’t lose 20 pounds.” Instead, focus on the things you did – maybe, “Kept weight steady.”
Here are some questions that may help spark your memory:
Did you try some new healthy vegetarian meals?
Did you get out regularly for walks?
Did you cut back on alcohol?
Did you get enough sleep most nights?
Did you pack healthy snacks in your kids’ lunches?
Did you take your kids to the playground more often?
After just a few minutes of thinking and writing, you’re likely to have a fairly long list. When you can’t think of anything else to add, review it line by line, mentally checking off each as you go.
More than likely, this list should make you feel pretty good about what you’ve worked on and accomplished over the past year. Sure, you may not have been successful with as many of the behaviors as you would have liked. That’s natural. We’re only human.
But, it’s important for both our physical and mental well-being to take a step back, be kind to ourselves and reflect positively on those things we’ve accomplished. It took time and effort to tackle them. And those successes – even if modest – can support and stoke future positive behaviors. Small steps, over time, turn into big accomplishments.
So, early in 2020, take some time to celebrate what you did for your health in 2019 – and keep up the good work. There’s a great year ahead.
It’s your heath. Take control.
Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.