Most of us start January with the intention of making big, sweeping improvements in our lives, but those dramatic resolutions rarely stick. Soon we fall back into old, easy habits and feel hopeless about “failure.”
However, there are secrets to successfully making lasting changes – in small but powerful ways that will silently transform your life and health. Here, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee – bestselling author of Happy Mind, Happy Life, host of the Feel Better Live More podcast and practicing GP for over 21 years – shares his wisdom and experience.
Be kinder to yourself
By the end of January, according to research, up to 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions failed, and one of the reasons for this, says Chatterjee, is that negative energy drives them. “With the excess of December, people are trying to rebalance themselves by depriving themselves of food, maybe reducing calories. Or they punish themselves at the gym. They go to grueling workouts – spinning, an hour, four times a week.” It’s not sustainable.
Instead of punishing yourself, try to nurture yourself, she says. “Reflecting every evening at night is one of the most important things you can do for your health.” Just answer two questions: “What went well today?” And “What one thing can I improve tomorrow?”
“It’s a really gentle, compassionate way to reflect on your life,” says Chatterjee. Instead of completely switching to a new, draconian diet, “by reflecting on your life every day, you will start making changes. You will get self-awareness and self-knowledge that you didn’t have.”
Adapt your ambitions to the weather
Dr. Chatterjee often encourages patients who want to go off antidepressants at this time of year – “when it’s dark, cold and unpleasant outside” – to wait until spring. “It’s brighter, the weather is starting to change. These things really make a difference.”
Similarly, it is much more difficult to persevere in the decision to run in the park every day when it is cold, wet and gray. But, he says, in mid-March, “the birds start to sing, the days are longer. We really want to get out.”
Plan a drop in motivation
Use two important principles of behavior change to your advantage, says Dr. Chatterjee: first, make it easy; and second, glue this new behavior to an existing habit. These principles are critical to success because, as he says, “We believe that motivation is enough to sustain these new changes, which is not the case. Scientific studies show us that motivation goes up and motivation goes down.”
So if your new habit is chatter (e.g. spin class four times a week), the moments when your motivation is low – hard day, terrible weather, lack of energy – you will be sitting on the couch more often than on the exercise bike.
But if a new habit seamlessly fits into your day, it’s hard to fail. Dr. Chatterjee’s trick is that he does a five-minute strength workout every morning in his pajamas while he brews coffee – i.e., a new habit is attached to an existing one. (You can choose yoga, dancing, or jumping rope, but since we lose muscle mass in our thirties, strength training is important.)
Brewing coffee is a natural “trigger”. No need to search for gym equipment (or go to the gym). He has a kettlebell and dumbbells lying in the kitchen. He says it’s easy then to pick up the dumbbells and do ten bicep curls. “It builds momentum.” He rejected his wife’s suggestion to put them away. “Honey, listen, if we put them in a cupboard, they’ll never get used to it!”
Know that a minute will make a difference
The World Health Organization calls stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century”. Dr. Chatterjee once suggested meditation to a worry-prone menopausal patient, explaining that meditation helps us “stop, switch off, and connect with ourselves.” This also causes what he calls the “Ripple Effect” – a change that leads to other positive changes for the rest of the day.
However, the woman insisted that she had no time to meditate, not even five minutes. Then he asked if he could spare just a minute. “Starting with one minute, it was so easy she did it every day,” she says. “And then she started increasing it of her own free will. Six weeks later, she was meditating for 15 minutes a day.”
So how to start? It says you can try one minute with an app like Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer. Or you can just breathe mindfully and consciously for a minute. “One of my favorite breaths is the 3-4-5 breath, which I wrote about in my first book, The 4 Pillar Plan,” he says.
“You inhale for three seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for five seconds. This can really help turn off the body’s stress response and activate the relaxation response.”
Or listen to a song you find relaxing with headphones on and eyes closed for a minute. “It doesn’t really matter what you do. Benefits come from actually doing something.”
Get a quarter of an hour more sleep
According to scientists from Oxford University, we sleep up to two hours less than 60 years ago. “Even 15 more minutes a day if you don’t have enough will make a difference,” says Dr. Chatterjee. Lack of good sleep has many negative effects.
“We lack energy. Our concentration is weak. We have less empathy the next day after sleep deprivation.” That means our relationships suffer, and he says, “it’s very hard to stay healthy if you have broken relationships.” You also eat more (usually sugar-containing carbohydrates for a quick energy boost). “If you reduce your sleep time, you eat an average of 22% more calories the next day.”
So in five days of no sleep, you can eat the equivalent of the calories from an extra day.
Some of his patients have lost weight simply by improving the quality of their sleep. But how to do it? One tip is not to drink coffee in the afternoon. If we drink lattes at lunchtime, he says, for many of us “at midnight, a quarter of that caffeine is still circulating in our brains.”
And use natural light as early as possible. “Helps set your circadian rhythm” and thus helps you sleep well at night. A brightly lit room is not as effective as going outside, even on cloudy days. But there is no need to organize a massive hike – put on a fleece, drink coffee in the garden.
Eat more “real” food
There is no one right diet for everyone. However, says Dr. Chatterjee, “we should strive to eat more whole or real food. The kind of food your grandparents ate. Meat if you eat meat, fish if you eat fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds.
Eating more whole foods has three main benefits. First, “you will naturally feel less hungry.” Second, “you’ll be less tempted to eat those highly processed foods that have been formulated by the food industry to be irresistible – it’s very hard to get over a roast. It’s very easy to overeat on pizza, fries, chips.”
Third, when you eat nutrient-rich, real food, he says, “your body automatically starts managing your weight for you.” This is the “target value”, which is the weight your body thinks you should reach. Eating a lot of highly processed foods moves the set point up.
This is because it mutes the signals of our satiety hormone, leptin, which – generally speaking – sees how much fat we carry and tells the body, “You don’t need to eat anymore.” (Highly processed foods also cause a lot of insulin to be released, which also interferes with the signal from leptin.) Change can take time, she says, but a slow, sustained approach works. Eating real food puts your body back in touch with leptin signals.
Eat within 12 hours
One rule of thumb that is almost universally beneficial, says Dr. Chatterjee, is to eat all your food within a 12-hour daylight window. “Fifty years ago, almost everyone would do it naturally.”
You can have breakfast at 8am and finish dinner at 8pm. The goal is to remove the “couch snacking on Netflix” element that has you scratching the bottom of a cookie tin at midnight – which means many of us eat for 15 hours a day.
He quotes Prof. Satchin Panda of The Salk Institute in California (who put intermittent fasting on the map), whose research shows: -system functions and digestive ailments.”
Some people could do with trying a 10-hour window – but 12 is great. “It makes a big difference. It helps set your circadian rhythm. It can help with weight loss. Many of my patients with IBS symptoms find compressing the eating window very effective.”
Fast, fast, slow – change your pace
We greatly underestimated walking, Dr. Chatterjee says. “We believe that only intense exercise in the gym works. Nonsense!” This unique human movement is excellent for our health – “as good as it gets.” A leisurely walk around the block every day is fantastic. meaning”.
It’s best to vary the intensity of our exercise – and thus our heart rate zone (the appropriate range of speed at which our heart beats) – so that a slow walk can bring you into “zero zone”. You push yourself into “zone one” a little faster.
“There are additional benefits when we start to change our heart rates,” she says. “Imagine your body has five gears, like a car. You want to move in all these gears. “
Those who have ever hit hard only in the gym miss the trick. “Many of the benefits to our health and cardiovascular systems come from exercising in zones one through two.” Walk as much as possible and experiment with running – “Slow walk, medium walk, brisk walk. Play.”
Rangan Chatterjee Podcast, Feel better, live more is available on all major podcasting platforms