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New Year, New You—Small Changes Can Have Large Impact

New Year, New You—Small Changes Can Have Large Impact

Is it time to Ditch the New Year’s Resolutions?

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2023? Whether it’s losing weight, quitting smoking, reducing our alcohol consumption or exercising more, New Year’s resolutions can actually be counterproductive to our mental health and might even sabotage our ability to make positive changes in our lives, according to a local psychiatrist.

“One of the big traps many of us set this time of year is the New Year’s resolution,” said Dr. Seema Sehgal, a psychiatrist with the Washington Township Medical Foundation. “The reality is most of us fall off by mid-February because New Year’s resolutions don’t address the cause of the true unhappiness that makes us do the thing we want to change, whether it’s drinking or eating too much, or whatever. Then combine that with taking away the thing that helps you cope – even though it may be a negative coping strategy – and you really set yourself up for failure. That’s when the negative self-talk often starts.”

Dr. Sehgal recommends a more positive approach to life. “One of the biggest detriments to our own mental health is the amount of scolding we give ourselves. This negative self-talk erodes our self-confidence,” she explained. “It’s important to identify our inner critic and understand that it really doesn’t serve us very well. Talking to ourselves kindly and compassionately, even using our own first names, can help change that narrative in our own heads. If we can change our inner self-talk to being more positive, it will improve the way we approach things. It’s important to be realistic about how hard it is to make changes in our lives and be more kind to ourselves.”

Focus on Changing

Dr. Sehgal said when we only focus on results, it can prevent us from making the small changes necessary to achieve our larger goals. But if we focus on the process of changing, we will see results. Real change is the product of the small choices we make, such as choosing an apple over a bag of chips or going for a walk instead of sitting in front of a screen. She recommends making small changes every day, one day at a time.

“We have these lofty masterpieces we want to paint and we forget that masterpieces are created one brush stroke at a time,” she added. “Focus on making micro changes to your life. If you need to lose weight, don’t say you’re going to the gym five days a week. Start with walking every day – and do it for your health, so you will feel better and have more energy to engage in activities you enjoy right now. The result will probably be that you lose weight, but think about how good it feels to get moving.”

Unhappiness is Inevitable

Sometimes people are waiting for a time in their lives when they will never be unhappy, but it’s important to remember that unhappiness is part of life, according to Dr. Sehgal.

“We have to accept that being human does involve some unhappiness,” she noted. “But how we let it consume us is up to us. It’s about redirecting and reframing. If we’re not in the right headspace, we’re not able to release the negative thoughts and make space for the good, uplifting, encouraging and compassionate talk that could make us feel so much better.”

She said that just telling yourself not to have negative thoughts doesn’t always work because it can be hard to turn them off. Instead, she encourages people to redirect their energy by focusing on small enjoyments that create positive feelings, like listening to music, reading a book or taking a walk in the park.

Feelings are Fleeting

“We also have to remind ourselves that feelings are fleeting,” Dr. Sehgal said. “The most beautiful moment is as transient as the worst moment. Sometimes we just have to sit with our depression or hurt and feel it, knowing it will pass. Positive self-talk can help by reminding us that we will get through it. Focus on your strengths in this moment. Think about how you can change your mindset. How can I look at something in a more positive way? How can I hang on until it passes?”

So instead of making all-encompassing New Year’s resolutions this year, Dr. Sehgal encourages people to consider what small changes they can make on a daily basis that will improve their lives, whether it’s getting more exercise or eating a healthier diet.

“The most important thing is to be kind to yourself,” she stressed. “That is the first step toward a more positive approach to life.”

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