Two years ago today, I decided to give resolutions the boot and take on a different type of health odyssey.
The failure rate for the annual promises we make ourselves is high (92 percent!), with the biggest drop-off date hitting just around the one month mark. The reason why is simple: we make too many resolutions, we make them too vague or ambitious, and we try to do all of the above all at once.
For me, these lofty goals made me feel like a failure year-round—not just on February 1st when things started to slip, but every time I went to the doctor. Like my own personal resolution school marm, she would look at my bloodwork and rattle off another laundry list of lifestyle labor that made me feel like I was destined to spend my days dry brushing, trampoline hopping, and bone broth simmering with very little time leftover for actual living.
I’d nod my head, make my promises, all the while deep in my gut some feisty little force would be saying: “Bitch, you crazy.”
Enter: The Wellness Project.
You can read more about my plan and perspective shift here, but the skinny is: instead of trying to do all of the above all at once, I decided to slowly make over my life one small change, one month at a time.
Every month had a different theme and goal. At the end of it, I could reflect on when and why that feisty little naysayer whispered in my ear to stop. And I could decide what health benefits were worth telling my inner hedonist to take a chill pill.
By the end of the year, habits had carried over without my having to resolve to do them. I could viscerally understand their impacts, and I didn’t have to fully give up my life as I knew it in order to achieve them.
The book about my experience will be out in May (!!!), but in the meantime, there’s a lot to be learned from this simple model.
Especially if you’ve been struggling with your health for a while, or just feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of healthy practices being shoved down your throat this time of year,
I encourage you to take on your own wellness project.
First, write down your pain points: the symptoms you’ve been struggling with, or the lifestyle areas you most want to get under control. Do some research and make a second list of best practices. From here, you can narrow it down to 12 monthly short-term health challenges.
Try to cover as many wellness areas as possible, knowing that everything in our mind, body and spirit is irrevocably connected. If your big goal is to clear up your skin, chances are you’ll need to do more than just switch your products to naturals, clean your makeup brushes, and take your mascara off at night. These are of course important baby steps, and you could create a year’s worth of them in the beauty department. But chances are the root cause has to do with your diet and your sleep, or the way that you hydrate and manage stress.
The goal is to get to know yourself better: what changes make a profound difference and which might not be worth the time, money, or energy you spend on them.
At the end of your project, my hope is that you’ll have figured out a better way forward. Because we cannot commit to good health habits until we figure out what habits are good for us in the first place.
Here are five golden rules to keep in mind as you embark on your new health journey:
1. Build your wellness brain trust. This doesn’t necessarily have to be made up of practitioners whom you pay by the hour. Your team could include a few expert voices from afar, and even some friendly non-expert faces who might serve as accountability buddies and sounding boards—Charlie is one of mine, and Acu Heidi is another. Seek out expert advice, but filter their knowledge through your own experience.
2. Make your biggest intention to pay attention. The proof is in the pudding, and often times your poop. Keep track of your body, whether through a journal, chart, app, or calendar. And don’t just record numbers and symptoms: also check in with your spirit.
3. Find power in the present. Research has shown that immediate rewards are often more compelling than long-term gains. Recognize the positive outcomes that are tangible in the present. They will help you commit to habits in the future.
4. Give yourself permission to fail. Change is hard work, and sometimes it takes periods of extremity to get to a place of balance. But just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Ask exactly what is making you uncomfortable, and give yourself the leeway to pull the plug.
5. Remember perfection is a myth. Awareness is the first and most important step toward healthy hedonism. Forgiveness is the second. We’re all just doing the best we can.
Here is a long list of sample challenges to get you started, and some suggestions for baby steps. Click the links to see how I tackled certain challenges during my own project:
• Go on a vice detox: no alcohol, added sugar or caffeine. Mini: no drinking during the week, no packaged food, no caffeine after noon.
• Switch your beauty products to naturals. Mini: one product every month for the whole year.
• Do an elimination diet. Mini: start keeping a food journal to see patterns in what foods don’t agree with you.
• Go vegan before six (or eat majority of your meals plant-based). Mini: go meat-free on Monday.
• Set aside one weekend afternoon a week to batch cook. Mini: Cook 2 make-ahead dishes a week that you can brown bag to work.
• Drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. Mini: keep a reusable water bottle on your desk and try to refill it at least once a day.
• Ban the beverage aisle: don’t spend money on drinks besides water. Mini: quit drinking soda and other sugary bevs.
• Move for 30 minutes every day. Mini: go to one exercise class a week and/or try one new workout a month.
• Get outside for 20 minutes every day. Mini: leave the office and take a lap around the block at lunchtime, or choose the less lazy commute (walk or bike to work).
• Don’t sit for more than 45 minutes at a time (great to do in tandem with a hydration habit!). Mini: start and end your workday with 5 minutes of stretching.
• Go to bed for 8 hours every night. Mini: develop a bedtime ritual and stop looking at screens 30 minutes before shutting out the lights.
• Start charting your menstrual cycle. Mini: make the first few days of your moontime about relaxation and self-care.
• Eat one fermented food with every meal. Mini: start making your own kombucha or kraut.
• Keep a poop log. Mini: buy a squatty potty or two small stools and see how it effects your stool!
• Write daily morning pages. Mini: write down 3 things you’re grateful for every morning or night.
• Meditate for 20 minutes a day. Mini: close your eyes and take 5 minutes of silence a day.
There are so many more ideas I could throw your way, but this should give you a powerful cross-section of all the areas of your wellness you can tackle from month to month.
Having an autoimmune disease means my health is always a moving target, and being a human being (and one with an equal eye on hedonism), my good habits are constantly in flux. Now that my project is over, I’m back to the resolution game. But when I make them now, I do so with Charlie.
We choose two manageable ones each (i.e. only eat red meat once per week, versus give up all red meat), and write two joint ones that we can make good on in our shared time (i.e. participate in one charitable action a month). Last year, I stopped watching TV while I ate lunch and started eating more meals in than out, and this year I plan on adding an exercise piece (just 10 minutes) to my morning routine and doing a small gratitude practice at night—two habits that fell off the priority list post-project.
I’d love to be a sounding board for whatever new leaf you’re planning on turning over this year. And if you’re hopping on the wellness project band wagon, let me know what’s on deck! The comments section here can be your accountability buddy for each new goal. I can’t wait to hear what’s in store!!
From one healthy hedonist, to another,
Lead and bottom photo taken by the talented Ashley Jahncke.