Is This Normal? New Year’s Resolutions

Holidays, Weight Loss

Is this the third year in a row your New Year’s resolution has been to get back to your wedding day weight?

Is this the fifth year you’ve resolved to “Get-in-shape-no-matter-what?”

Resolving to “Organize Everything?”

This year, are you resolving to not make any resolutions?

New year. New you.  Right?

Not really.

You will still be you at the end of 2012, and that’s a great thing. But working to improve yourself is a brave and noble undertaking. You can be healthier, more organized, kinder, less stressed, and more productive in 2012.  Then why do so many New Year’s resolutions result only in guilt?

There are a few reasons. One is because the resolution is unrealistic and too far-reaching.  Instead of resolving to return to wedding day weight, maybe resolving to eat healthier is more accessible.  If you reach this resolution earlier than December 2012, it’s time to celebrate and hurrah for you.  You can always make another resolution.  There are no limits on progress.

Another reason is that the resolution might not be specific enough.  What does “get in shape” mean?  Where will “organize everything” begin and end?  Again, start small.  Start with exercising three times a week or start organizing with your bedroom closet.  Success begets success, so don’t diminish small victories.  Every step in the direction of your resolution is a check in the plus column and counts as progress.

People are generally very hard on themselves, and if they have a setback with eating healthy or exercising regularly, they are inclined to call the whole resolution off -withdrawing from the brave and noble task of self improvement!  From the onset of your resolution, accept that there will be setbacks.  You can eat too many Oreos at the recovery table after donating blood or at the Cub Scout meeting.  You might be struck with the February bronchial infection and can’t exercise.  Don’t let the setbacks define your resolution.  You can recover from setbacks.  It will take time to create new routines in your life.

I encourage becoming an even better person than you are.  Self improvement can enrich your life quality. In my experience, there are a few areas in people’s lives that, if addressed, seem to have a universally positive impact.  These aren’t resolutions necessarily but seem to lead to self improvement.  Please take what makes sense to you.

  • Meditate, pray, or think about gratitude. Before going to sleep or while driving in your car, it’s helpful to list three to five things for which you are thankful.  Pay attention to biological changes that occur during these thoughts.  You will feel more calm and more centered.
  • Ask for help when you’re overwhelmed or stuck.  Help might be asking the kids to start dinner before you get home from work or therapy.  Toughing it out when you’re overwhelmed or stuck usually leads to destructive behavior patterns.
  • Regular exercise.  My apologies, I tend to turn to physical exercise as a cure-all, but more and more research indicates the mental benefits of exercise.  It changes brain chemistry for the better.  You don’t have to be a spandex-clad gym dweller.  Walking is a great way to straighten out your head and make your body stronger.
  • Engage in tasks you enjoy.  It sounds almost trite, but most people are too busy to engage in unabashed enjoyment, especially as there’s no tangible reward.  However, engaging in activities you enjoy strengthens yourself and affirms who you are.  Neglecting enjoyment diminishes your sense of self.

Making or not making New Year’s resolutions is normal.  Working on improving yourself is good health.

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Is This Normal? Family Conflict and the Holidays

blog, Holidays

Is this normal?

  • Do you avoid holiday family gatherings because you’re way behind on your knitting or because you think you may have an unidentifiable rash?
  • Feeling trapped in an awkward silence after Grandma has six martinis for Thanksgiving dinner and begins to discuss all the fellas she could have married besides your Grandpa?
  • Do you catch yourself warning your spouse, “If Dad  (…Cousin Eddie, Your Mother, Father Leo…)  says one thing about national health care  (…vegetarians, intelligent design, Islam…),  I will Let – Him – Have – It?”
  • Notice the overflowing candy dishes in your mother-in-law’s house that no one is supposed to touch?

No other time of the year expects as much from us as the holidays.  We are expected to be joyful, thankful, generous, polite, and culinarily perfect while Cousin Eddie, in a tryptophan/Jim Beam haze, is sharing an inappropriate joke at the kids’ table.  The holidays can bring families together, and they can expose individual differences in stark relief.

What are effective ways to manage family conflicts during the holidays?  This is a great question but first, a tutorial on how families work.

Families function as a system.  The system thrives on sameness. Family members acting in predictable roles ensure the system’s sameness and its perceived survival.  Change isn’t always welcome because change may require members to redefine their roles, and then the system itself would change.   This uncertainty is scary for many.

In addition, the sameness or status quo of a system is often misinterpreted as closeness or being connected with family.  Being close with family doesn’t mean donning the same roles (and traditions, for that matter) with rigid consistency.  Many dysfunctional family systems require mountains of tense silences and oceans of things unsaid in order to preserve the status quo of their systems.

Most likely, we’ve already cast ourselves in new roles than the ones we had in our families of origin.  Are you not telling your parents that you’ve converted to Islam for your fiancé?   Not comfortable announcing that you’ve decided to become a vegan?  That you think intelligent design should be taught in schools?

New roles can be perceived as threatening, especially when holiday gatherings assume all will be joyful and connected.  The tensions between moving back into old roles, asserting new roles, and being all the things the season expects, can be overwhelming.

I have some suggestions

Take what you think will work for your system, but please keep in mind that you have a right to enjoy the holidays.  You have a right not to let the holidays exhaust you.  You have a right to celebrate the holidays in ways you find significant and meaningful.

  • Check your own expectations about family gatherings.
    • Are you anticipating an argument with Father Leo to the point where you launch into the evidence for evolution after he says hello?
    • Do you feel that you’re owed some validation for your sweet potato soufflé or for your recent foray into blogging?  Be mindful that your own expectations don’t sabotage your experience.
  • Accept that you’re not going to change anyone’s beliefs about anything.
    • Politely decline the invitation, however passive-aggressively it may be offered, to bite on a passing jab at your political, religious, or social beliefs.
    • A simple statement of, “No, thanks. I’m not going there tonight.  I’m going to see what’s happening at the kids’ table with Cousin Eddie,” can work wonders.
    • You’ve asserted your position not to engage, and that’s powerful.  Get up and leave the table because often, there will be multiple attempts to draw you into an argument.  Remember, you’re expected to play your role.
  • Don’t let the negative define your total experience.
    • Many people let one negative encounter define an event despite the thousands of positives that happen.  Keep your perspective truthful.
    • Yes, your mother-in-law uses overflowing candy dishes as vehicle for control, but you saw your niece walk for the first time, your sweet potato soufflé was amazing, and you didn’t get into it with Father Leo.
  • Assert your personal boundaries.
    • Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate cruelty, attacks on what’s important to you, or someone else’s dysfunction.  Be direct. Be calm. Use “I” statements. Keep it simple. Then, change the subject.
    • “I don’t agree with you, and I don’t want to discuss how I raise my children.  Where did you get that recipe for the cranberries?”
    • “I think we have different opinions on abortion, and I’m going to leave it there.  Are you going to Florida this winter?”
    • You can interrupt Grandma, mid-fella story, and say, “I’m going to help with the dishes (…check the coffee, take a walk…).  Excuse me, please.”

Tension and conflict are normal during the holidays.  Managing both so you enjoy the holidays is good health.

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Is This Normal? Overeating During the Holidays

blog, Holidays

Tight jeans?

Feeling obliged to accept a serving of Aunt Hattie’s tri-colored marshmallow salad, so you don’t hurt her feelings?

Grazing during meal preparation to the extent you’re not hungry for the meal itself but…you eat the meal any way?

The holidays are upon us.  How do you celebrate the holidays without packing on 10, 20 pounds of comfort and joy?  It’s not easy.

Food represents culture, heritage, family traditions, religious celebrations, and yes, comfort and joy.  What foods do you turn to when you are sick?  When you smell a turkey roasting in the oven, what emotions come to mind?  Do you still have an affection for your favorite candy as a kid?  What kind of cake do you have on your birthday?  Food carries powerful associations that stay with us for years.  Food can remind us of people we love and closeness with friends and family.  You can separate all the wonderful things food means to you from its caloric and nutritional values, but I’m not sure I’d want to.

However, there’s no denying that with more celebrating comes more eating.  And usually the “more eating” doesn’t include multiple servings of raw vegetables.  You want to celebrate the deliciousness of the holidays, yet you don’t want to have to buy new jeans in January.  Is there anything to help avoid the January Jeans?

I don’t advocate dieting to lose weight unless you have a medical condition.  Diets rarely work and don’t address the underlying issues for overeating.  I advocate for creating your own boundaries with food.  No one person has your history, your tastes, and your associations with food.  You know what foods you love and what foods you hate.  So, I can recommend some boundaries, but my experiences tell me that everyone must define her/his own.  Try these out and see which ones work for you.  If none work, keep trying.

  • Commit to define your own eating experiences.
  • Eliminate empty calories from your diet.  Empty calories are foods that you won’t miss when you take them away.  Can you eat your salads without croutons?  If so, great.  If not, keep the croutons and keep looking for empty calories.
  • Keep foods you can’t resist out of your home and your workspace.  Don’t buy them “just for the kids.”  The kids can live a fine life without the presence of your trigger foods.
  • Eat only what you like.  Don’t feel obliged to take food because it’s offered to you, because your Aunt Hattie is a nice gal, or because it’s there.
  • Stop eating when you’re full (whether you’re at the counter top or at the table). You don’t have to eat a meal because everyone else is.  Sit down and enjoy the conversation.
  • If you overindulge, move on.
  • Exercise.  Nothing new here, but if you make exercise as routine as brushing your teeth, it helps to feel better about almost anything.

Celebrating the holidays with special foods is normal.  Redefining your relationship with these special foods, so you feel powerful and in charge is good health.

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