By Dr. James Mittelberger, MD, MPH
If you are like most people, by February you have already left your New Year’s resolutions behind. But if you still want to make 2022 a momentous year, consider a different approach. Traditional resolutions tend to focus on what you should (or should not) be doing. Maybe you tried daily exercising in January, but unless you really care deeply about exercise, the odds are you were not able to sustain it.
A new kind of resolution could be to focus on what is most rewarding to you and do more of that. Once you discover something that really gives you joy, you will want to do it and keep doing it.
Making a positive, impactful change requires 1) understanding what will truly motivate and fulfill you, and 2) a willingness to set up your life to achieve it. It takes asking yourself what matters most to you, being honest with your answers, and digging deep to learn why.
Ask Yourself Key Questions
When you ask yourself, “what matters most to me?” and “what would make the biggest difference in my life this year?” rather than giving a generic answer like “good health,” get specific. What it is about good health that is most important to you? This could be sleeping throughout the night or climbing stairs with ease and confidence. Getting specific with what matters most will help you understand what truly motivates and fulfills you.
Next ask yourself, “how will having what matters most impact my life?” Determine why this is important to you. For example, why is sleeping through the night important? Is it to have energy throughout the day to enjoy with your friends or family? Is it to improve your mood? Will a solid night’s sleep help you run errands or do household chores? Is walking up a flight of stairs important so you can go through an airport to travel? Or are there stairs leading up to your daughter’s home? Is climbing those stairs important so you can visit your grandchildren? What are the rewards that you care about deeply?
Understanding the why is critical to setting up your life powerfully to make it happen. Creating a meaningful life takes effort, focus and intention. It just does not appear like magic.
Strategies to Have What Matters Most to You
One approach is to discover what matters most to you and then make it the theme for your day-to-day life. If building a strong social circle is what is most important to you, implementing that theme will help you organize your life to create a strong social circle. This strategy will inspire you to do what is necessary, like making phone calls, responding to text messages, attending that book club, inviting a friend to coffee, or going to the neighborhood BBQ.
Another strategy is to get clear on how you will build doing what matters to you into your life by addressing the five Ws below. This will likely involve scheduling activities and restructuring your time to be consistently successful.
What am I going to focus on?
Why is it important to me?
Who can do it with me or support me?
Where can I do it?
When will I do it?
You may also be motivated by writing out your results as if you have already achieved them. Examples: I easily walk and climb stairs with confidence. I have plenty of energy throughout the day because I sleep so well at night. My friends and I laugh and appreciate each other as we share stories over brunch. Vision boards are also great if you are inspired by photos and other visual cues.
There are many strategies and approaches to fulfilling goals. However, the best strategy is to combine what matters most with what is most rewarding to you. As humans, we naturally want to do what makes us feel good. In these examples, combining exercise to become stronger with time spent with friends might be the most effective strategy for success.
Impacting Health and Well-Being
As a doctor, one of the most important things I offer my patients is to help them determine what matters most. Then we work together to make it happen. If visiting their grandchildren would give them the most joy but they can’t climb the stairs to their house, we set up specific exercises to build that strength. Once they experience that joyful connection, their lives improve. They are happier. They have more energy.
Starting with what matters most is essential to improving anyone’s satisfaction, happiness and quality of life. It impacts our health and well-being in every way. I am confident with this approach you will thank yourself next year for it.
James Mittelberger, MD, MPH, is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF, and is board certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, and Hospice & Palliative Medicine. He is the Chief Medical Officer at Center for Elders’ Independence, which offers all-inclusive PACE senior healthcare at its newest location in Concord.