Research-based New Year’s Resolutions that can change your life
Remember the New Year’s Resolutions you made last year? And the year before? And even the year before? Most likely you said you would eat healthier. Drink less. Exercise more.
We all make promises like that to ourselves. You want this next year to be better than the last. If you didn’t keep your resolutions, you are in good company. Forbes Magazine reports that only 8% of people will maintain their well-intentioned goals for a better year. The secret to changing your life with a resolution is to keep it simple and make it tangible.
Instead of focusing on healthy eating and exercise, what if you went beyond that? This year you could plan to age positively. Everybody ages. Positive aging focuses on your ability to find happiness and satisfaction despite the challenges that you might face.1
Let’s take a look at 4 tips for positive aging this year to help promote healthy longevity.
Change How You Think
Did you know that how you think will directly impact how satisfied you are with life? The beauty of this idea is that you have control over what you think! Nobody else. You can choose this New Year to start practicing a positive mindset towards aging.
You can choose to focus on the good things that are coming to you as you get older. The saying “every cloud has a silver lining” is true. But how much you will enjoy today depends on whether you see the cloud or the silver lining.
Yes, there will be extra challenges that come up as you age. It might not be your plan to slow down, you might not want to. But what advantage can you see in having to slow down?
You get to be selective! You can choose the few things that matter the most to you and focus on those few things.
Arthur Rubenstein was a world-renowned concert pianist who continued to perform at a high caliber into his 80s. Not because he discovered a fountain of youth, but because he selectively chose pieces he could play well and focused his time on those. Aging often gives you space and time to focus on what you excel at.
Positive aging is seen in people who go beyond regret, rigidity, worry and negativity. You can intentionally choose to cultivate habits of gratitude, forgiveness and altruism. Look for the positive in everyday and you will find it! These positive emotions are a tonic for your body, your mental health and can draw more people towards you.
When you realize that you are in control of your thoughts, you know that you control your actions. That’s powerful! You can harness that sense of control and live a life that you can be proud of. Find the purpose and meaning you need for your life.2
Action tip: Set a goal to think more positively. Then take control of your actions to achieve this goal. For example: “I will choose to be thankful by writing down 5 things everyday that I appreciate.” You will be amazed at how little action steps can have a huge impact on your life.3
Choose Your Words Carefully
Your words are just as impactful as your thoughts in changing your life. What you choose to focus on when you talk will impact your physical health, brain, relationships and your happiness. Can you believe that? Words are not just a way to communicate, words are much more than that.
Research from the Stanford University has shown the power that optimistic and positive words have on improving your mindset and your physical health. If you can imagine yourself recovering and what you need to do, you are more likely to recover when faced with a health crisis. This mindset affects your long-term physical strength and endurance.4
You have your own personality. Choosing positive language does not mean becoming Little Miss Sunshine when you have always considered yourself a staunch realist. You can face reality at the same time as you introduce questions like “What am I going to do about this?” and “How am I going to respond?” Positive words mean looking towards solutions instead of focusing on the problem.
The questions that you ask yourself and present to others, allow you to unleash the power of your imagination. The ability to imagine what you are going to do allows you to take control of the outcome.
Action tip: Use your words to choose your response to both big and small challenges. Plan in advance to say “I am going to…” and then figure out what YOU will do.
Spend Time With Multiple Generations
Loneliness and isolation are detrimental to positive aging. Spending time with others can protect your brain from early signs of dementia and slow the aging process. After spending a day with grandkids have you ever said “they keep me young”? There is truth in that! Adults who develop close intergenerational connections report feeling less depressed, having better physical health and greater life satisfaction. They also reveal more happiness with their current life and retain hope for the future.5
Doesn’t that sound like a prescription for positive aging? Historically, the young and the older were connected naturally. An aging community member who no longer could work the land, build houses or keep house would have hours to spend with the youngest members of the community. Rocking a baby, telling a story, showing a little one a new skill.
A little one who toddles and stops every few steps to inspect a flower would be able to keep pace with an elderly grandparent who also walks slowly. The slowness, rhythm and simplicity seen in the sheer pleasure of being can be a connecting force between both ends of the life spectrum.
Children need wise and involved adults in their lives who have the time to explore life. At the same time older adults need the younger generation. Erik Erickson, a renowned psychologist, describes the final stage of emotional development as occurring after the age of 60. This stage involves a deep connection with the younger generation that gives an older adult a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.6
Relationships across the generations allows for you to:
- Learn new skills
- Feel a sense of purpose
- Feel invigorated and energized
- Reduce the likelihood of depression
- Reduce the risk of isolation
- Pass on your history and life story
- Continue to develop stronger cognition
Relationships matter and you need them to feel good as you age!7
Action tip: Cherish the relationships you have with your family, friends and neighbors. If you find yourself lacking these relationships then reach out into your community and volunteer to meet with those families who need you. There are many opportunities from teaching a woodworking class, volunteering at a hospital to cuddle babies, reading stories with children at schools or libraries, or smiling at a child in a restaurant and telling the parents how sweet they are.
Cultivate an Attitude of Purpose
Do you find yourself lacking motivation and a sense of purpose since retiring? For many older people, a large amount of your identity was tied into your work or career. Whether that was employment or being a parent. Retirement often brings you to a place where you no longer must go to work and your children are no longer dependent on you.8
Geriatric psychiatrist, Charles Reynolds, states that “successful aging is active aging, meaning socially, intellectually and spiritually.” Research shows that people who have a purpose to their lives, whether through volunteer work or family relationships live longer, healthier lives.9
Leisure time, although treasured and needed to recharge our batteries, can quickly lose its value when it becomes your daily norm instead of a break. Leisure that stretches out for years becomes boredom and decreases your mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Positive aging looks to balance leisure activities with work. Work, defined as a thing you do to contribute your skills, experience and knowledge to society, is necessary for positive aging.
Work does not mean doing something you hate or heading back into the workforce. Work can be volunteering or helping someone by using your skills and knowledge.
A 5-year study found that the lifespan of older adults was increased by those who reported helping and being involved with family, friends and neighbors on a regular basis.10
The social role that we lose from exiting the workplace frees up opportunities to engage in positive activities that contribute in big or small ways to others. By giving to others you leave your legacy and receive higher life satisfaction and well-being.
Studies have even found that those who are physically unable to assist others can still maintain an attitude of altruism, a concern for the well-being of others. This attitude of compassion increased positive emotions and happiness late in life.
Research shows that as we age we have a limited time to achieve personal goals but the ability to help others and to show compassion provides satisfaction, a purpose and a meaning in life.11
Action tip: Look for a small way this week that you can show compassion and kindness. Then do it! And repeat. Make it your goal to give to others each day.
Positive aging allows you to find that deep level of happiness and satisfaction with a life well lived. You can choose this New Year to be the best one you have. Not because of a lack of challenges. But because of who you choose to be. To choose how you think. The words you speak. The relationships you nurture. To show compassion and care for others in whatever capacity you can. The beauty is that when you choose this approach you not only make the world around you better, you also benefit from improved health and longevity.