New Year, New You

The beginning of a new year signifies a number of things:  the holidays have passed, winter weather is underway, and the last year is now complete.  I always like to reflect on the year gone by and plan for the year ahead.  The new year brings feelings of possibility, new beginnings, and greater things to come.  And, this new year in 2022, holds real promise of saying goodbye to the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s well understood that New Year’s resolutions only last for weeks according to the latest research.  Habit or lifestyle changes are hard.  And, even harder to make them stick.  I think it’s much easier to plan in smaller stages.  For example, begin by the day, week, month.  And, start small!  Starting small is less overwhelming and allows a single change to stick.  One step at a time!

I once had a business coach who asked me a question I have never forgotten:  What do you need to do your best work?  The question could also aptly be applied to our lives:  What do we need to live our best life?  This year is the perfect time to reflect on the past and plan the future for a new you.

I was sorry to tell the coach I had never really stopped to think about it nor had anyone I ever worked for or with — had asked.  Since that time, I have used the question over and over again at various times in both my professional and personal life.  Stopping to think about it is worth the time it takes.  

Reflecting on one’s life, current path and planned future can be invaluable.  And knowing the answers to these best work and life-related questions can be powerful motivators.  Are you living your life with purpose?  Do you spend your time doing what you want to be doing?  Are you listening to your intuition?  Are you living with intention?  Are you taking care of yourself?  Is your mind and body functioning at peak human performance?  Do you listen to what your body is telling you?

Three of the most important things I know help me and my body do my best work and live my best life are nourishment, movement and sleep.  Nourishment includes food and drink, as well as, self-care.  I have significantly scaled back work-related travel which has yielded a host of positive benefits!  Who knew spending time at home, sleeping in my own bed, and being able to actually cook meals would be so satisfying?  Having a balance of activities – both for work and fun has become essential. 

Eating whole foods has made a world of difference for my overall health, weight management and how I actually think and feel.  No diet – just mindful choices.  I’ve filled my body with fresh, healthy produce and a variety of new types of protein.  I’m not sure I have ever felt this good! 

I’ve also learned that self-care is nearly as important as food for nourishment of your mind and body.  Taking time to relax and recharge is key for optimal health and well-being.  Too much of any one thing can be a burden – no matter what it is.  This goes for work, play and all forms of coping  with our busy, stress-filled lives.  Lifestyle and environment are now estimated to contribute 80% to our health, with only 20% being genetics.  So, living with intention related to health and well-being are critical.

Cross-training (walking, yoga and cycling) and strength training for movement have all made me stronger, leaner and more stress tolerant.  Getting out in nature is very good for the mind, body and soul.  It also provides a nice break from all of our tethered electronic devices and the bevy of information overload they frequently potentiate.  There’s no news, no new information coming at us and no one communicating their needs! 

Focusing on restful sleep and getting enough of it has made me feel energized, much more productive and happier.  I always knew I was one who needed my sleep.  And, who knew how good a person could feel if they actually went to bed and woke up at nearly the same times every day!  Ironically, having a long-varied career in the healthcare industry did not really allow for an optimally balanced life.  That seems ironic!

Early in my career, sleep was front and center, as I rotated shifts as a critical care nurse in a hospital setting.  When I “made it” to a day shift job – I thought my sleep troubles were over!  Unfortunately, along with these types of jobs in the day, I also learned they never end (like a shift) unless you make it so.  Pace and boundaries were two invaluable lessons learned for stamina and setting limits in order to get a decent night’s sleep.  You have to learn to turn it off.

Pacing oneself for the type of life you choose is essential.  There is only so much time in a day and what matters to you has to be prioritized.  Time and energy ideally must be managed.  To really find out how you spend your time, try this fun exercise.  It’s called work sampling in industrial engineering terms.  It is a statistical technique to track and trend time spent on all activities using a typical calendar or grid such as an excel document.  Once completed, it easily identifies patterns.  Use smaller increments of time for the analysis (like 5-15”) and see where you spend your time.  Looking at a 24-hour period in 15-minute increments really shows you how you spent your day – or if you’re really ambitious – do it for a week!

I first learned about tracking work processes during departmental or divisional redesign projects in the 1990’s.  Next, I used it for a Hospital Board report when I became a new nursing supervisor.  I displayed the data I collected in a visual format and it showed all of the various duties a nursing supervisor had, as well as, the unpredictable nature of the job.  Many of the activities were routine and usually time-based, but the data also included a host of unusual occurrences found only in a hospital setting.  Much of the information about this key nursing leadership role was unknown to the other hospital leaders and non-healthcare board members. 

Use your collected data to set yourself on a new path — as only you can improve you.  By setting healthy boundaries, you can begin living life on your own terms.  You are the only one who can decide what is best for you — and, what you do or do not want to do.  

Listening to your body and following your intuition are excellent guides.  They help you develop intention (from which a plan can be designed) for what you want to do.  And, sometimes in my experience, figuring out what you want is best sorted out by deciding what you don’t want.  It’s like a process of elimination to see what fits best.  

Health and well-being cannot be left out when thinking about our best work or best life.  Creating an intentional plan for health and well-being is essential for peak human performance.  Look around you when out in public.  Listen to the news.  Are most people in the general population functioning at peak human performance with the current rates of chronic illness; sleep deprivation; feelings of stress, fatigue and burnout; mental health crises, digital overwhelm, digital intrusion; addiction; political and social unrest, etc.? 

Self-care and mental health preservation are absolutely necessary for healthy living in a chaos-filled world.  One of the single best strategies for health – is don’t get sick.  Pay attention to your lifestyle habits which potentiate disease. Make smart choices with what you put in or place on your body.  Think about what you need to do your best work or live your best life.   

The pandemic sure taught us all that mental health is just as important as physical health.  The mind needs to be cared for just like the body.  The importance and power of rest, relaxation and social activity was undervalued and is now much more understood in relation to the impact on good health and well-being.

For a New Year, New You – it’s time to take stock of your life.  What needs to stay and what needs to go?  Small steps reinforce bigger changes.  Think of a ripple in a pond and start with one step at a time.  

Once you figure out what your current lifestyle patterns are – be brave and make a change.  It could be as simple as drink the recommended amount of water – generally, half your body weight in ounces.  Or, get the recommended amount of sleep per night at 7 to 9 hours for adults.  Take a break during your daily routine and go out for a walk to fit in some movement.  Try changing one thing you are eating that you know you shouldn’t be or isn’t good for you.

Life is all about experimentation.  And, the same goes for health and well-being.  What works for one person may not work for you.  You actually have the healing power within to figure out what is best for you.  Now, go out and make 2022 your best year ever!