SGO Wellness: What are you doing for New Year’s? | Jennifer Mueller, MD
It is a new year— a metaphorical fresh start. Besides remembering to write 2023 instead of 2022 on forms, what has changed for you? Some folks relish this time of year to set new intentions. A 2022 global consumer survey  reports 39% of US adults in 2022 set at least one New Year’s resolution. I know there are plenty of folks who actively avoid New Year’s resolutions because they seem forced or futile. As for resolutions that rank highest for adult Americans, unsurprisingly, top resolutions include aspects that intersect with wellness including lifestyle and fitness, more time with family and friends, and less time on social media.
No matter which group you fall into, society spends a lot of time and money on social media and advertising around New Year’s resolutions. This notion of a fresh start is a tantalizing option for those of us yearning for new, different, or better in our lives. Behavioral economist and Freakonomics podcast host, Stephen Dubner, devotes an entire episode on this fresh start effect . He shares interesting data in this episode: new locations like leisure travel, a new job, or a move and important dates can trigger a different perspective or a break from routine and inspire a fresh start. The most impactful dates to start something new are birthdays, the beginning of spring, and Mondays. Research also shows flexible rather than fixed routines enhance lasting habits.
How many of us have set a resolution only to see our commitment wither within the year? Consumer based research tells us that after one month roughly two-thirds of people will remain committed to their resolution and just under half of people at six months . Why set a resolution if we are doomed to fail? James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits, devoted years to researching how people can build and maintain healthy habits. To summarize, he advises us to start small and break our habit up into manageable chunks. He also suggests getting back on track quickly if we slip and sticking to a sustainable pace [4,5].
My 2022 intention was to rediscover creative writing in my life. I would write for two minutes a day with no rules on what or when I wrote. What happened over the year? I sometimes forgot to write, some days I wrote pages and pages, and other days I just stared at the page for two minutes and then wrote “nothing to write.” I wrote poems, played with words, started short stories, and journaled. I used the information I had learned about fresh starts and atomic habits to my advantage, and I did not put any pressure on myself to do it perfectly. Of all the things I did in 2022, my writing practice was one of the most fulfilling.
If you could ignore all the social media and advertising telling you what you should care about, what would a fresh start or new intention look like in your life? Consider the following research-based approaches:
- travel or a change of scenery can inspire change.
- pick a fresh start date that is meaningful in your life.
- flexible routines are more lasting than fixed ones.
- start small and pick a pace you can maintain.
- if you slip, get back on track quickly.
1) Armstrong M. Statista. Top U.S. New Year’s resolutions for 2022; 2022 Jan 11 [cited 2022 Dec 7].
2) Dubner SJ. Freakonomics Radio. Are you ready for a fresh start?; 2021 [cited 2022 Dec 7].
3) Discover Happy Habits. New Year’s resolution statistics (2022 updated); 2022 [updated 2022 Aug 22; cited 2022 Dec 7].
4) Clear J. Atomic habits: tiny changes, remarkable results: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House; 2018.
5) Brown B. Dare to lead Podcast. Atomic habits, part 1 of 2; 2021 Nov 15 [cited 2022 Dec 7]
Jennifer Mueller, MD, FACOG, is an Assistant Attending Surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY.