Resolutions, opportunities for behavior change

Even though January first is just another day, many of us will invest some energy in reviewing our successes in the year flown by, and strategize for further personal gains in the precious time that remains ahead. This is an excellent exercise in self care, because really taking care of oneself requires strategy and commitment. There is no more valuable way to spend time, since taking care of yourself forms the basis of your authentic capacity to care for others, and all living beings including the air, water and soil.

New Year’s resolutions are notoriously abandoned by early spring because folks forget about the strategy. But resolutions can be durable. The keys are to choose a wellness goal which you both deeply desire and also consider feasible.

Behaviors and addictions

Let’s take the classic “quit smoking.” If you are still smoking (or consuming too much alcohol, or pot or pastries) it is not simply because you lack willpower. You are addicted. Addiction is a disease which changes our brain chemistry and kicking bad habits requires more than willpower.

Different “substances” require similar, but somewhat differing strategies to eschew because there’s a “bright line” for, say, tobacco or cocaine, which is not to have any, ever. For alcohol it is a bit more nuanced because it is feasible (although maybe not for a bona fide alcoholic) to have a moderate amount of alcohol and be a perfectly functional and pleasant human.

There is an effective method widely used in Scandinavian countries called the “Sinclair” method in which a small amount of naltrexone (an opioid receptor blocker) is used in the early evening, whereby the drinker really doesn’t get any buzz, and the desire to keep drinking is significantly curtailed. This method requires working with a medical professional who has experience with the method.

With food, the “bright line” is less bright. How do we know when we are crossing the line into too much food consumption? It can be tricky and nobody should have to be vigilant 24/7 about food, unless they have an eating disorder that, for the time being, requires medical attention.

A general guideline is to stop eating when you feel 80% full, because in 20 minutes you will feel 100% full. That lag in satiety can be a stumbling block but being aware of it helps. Try your best to push away from eating when not quite full. You will not go hungry.

Set a date for success

If you become intoxicated with anything from heroin to sugar and want to get that monkey off your back, start with committing to a quit date. Know you absolutely, positively can quit white flour, white sugar, tobacco, alcohol, pot, etc.

To set yourself up for success, leading up to the quit date, strategically remove “paraphernalia” for your substance. This might mean baking pans. It might mean ashtrays or bongs or lighters. It might mean your martini shaker.

If possible, enlist the support of your immediate family and closest friends. If any of these folks cannot be supportive, you are going to have to decide whether you can prevail without their help. Sometimes you have to let go of friends who, wittingly or not, conspire to keep you in your addiction. Remember this must be a deep desire you have for yourself — no one else can do this for you.

Similarly, no one else can exercise for you, or have a positive attitude for you. You can (and often this helps) have a workout or walking buddy, and a close friend or family member willing to remind you to smile — gently, with no shaming or put-downs, which never helps anything.

Sometimes when I’m stewing, my husband will push up the corners of his mouth with two index fingers and slightly bare his teeth, which looks so funny it usually makes me laugh. So that can work.

Plan ahead and try, try again

If you are letting go of a bad habit or trying to start a good one, know that the first three weeks are critical. It truly gets easier after about 21 days. With most addictive substances (not all) there is no residue remaining after about 10 days and the receptors will stop screaming for their fix. Planning some really good self care up front – spa treatments, long baths, long walks, watching movies with friends or snuggled with your pet sipping on warming teas, exercising, especially outside – can help cement your self-care commitment. Plan ahead. Schedule these self-care events, then show up for yourself. Avoid potlucks or party gatherings where it could be easy to get into your previous drug. Because you don’t want to go there anymore, right? False starts can be painful. But don’t give up. Kindly analyze what happened even though the “trigger” was out of your control. You can learn something and be more successful next time. Start again right away.

Visualize yourself as a non-smoker, non binge-drinker, non binge-eater, non rager. That’s a great way to start every day. Really look yourself in the eyes each morning in the mirror and promise yourself you will always take care of yourself, starting with all day today. See yourself clean and free of bad habits, and freeing up time and money for good habits. Being good to yourself is a sweet balm and helps to make your community and the world a better place.

Emily Kane is a naturopathic doctor based in Juneau. Contact her online at

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