Robert Joyce discusses the downside of New Year’s resolutions and how he manages to achieve his goals, despite living with chronic conditions.
“You can do it!”
I can do this. Cheeks flushed, mouth open, chest heaving, and hands trembling. I can do this. Just one more kilometre and I can stop. My right leg raises up, and I look down and think, “How did that happen?” The tunnel vision you get when you need do something important focuses in on my limb as it rises, as the muscles contract and straightens, and pushes me further up the hill.
This isn't possible. That leg doesn’t move with such grace, such purpose. It usually drags behind me, resisting. Then the pitter-patter of winter rain becomes more noticeable, and then I feel the soft caress of my duvet over the back of my head. I then see that I cannot see, as my eyes are closed.
As the grey light in my room gently wakes me I realise it's a dream, perhaps an impossible one, and I fall back into the real world.
The world where I still have MS.
I can feel it in the spasticity of my thigh and then the constant pressure on the right side of my face interrupts my reflection.
Chronic illness never disappears, except perhaps in dreams.
Looking at my watch I realise it is New Year’s Day. A time when we look back at the previous year, but more importantly, look forwards to plan for the new one.
A new year, a new set of resolutions
I’ve written down my resolutions for the New Year many times, and one that always makes the list is trying to give up cigarettes.
This year that particular stalwart of goals burned away again, after just three days. I sheepishly returned to the shop to purchase a new pack of the evil weed and a new lighter.
Frantically, I tore away the clear cellophane from the top of the pack and opened the lid, ripped away the foil wrapping and took out a white stick. As the flame of the new lighter sputtered and started to work, I inhaled the toxic smoke – and realised I had failed again.
After 50 sets of New Year’s Resolutions that usually end up in failure, I have concluded that they are one of the greatest reasons we find January such a desolate month. What a depressing way to start the year!
So now, my resolution is not to make resolutions.
Refocusing on the fundamentals
This year I plan – like I have done for the last decade – to look at the coming year with hope and with confidence. I will take some time out to identify what my big goals are, and what things I wish to improve in myself. I will not do these under pressure, but with the realisation that I have to do a few things first: I want to eat healthily, exercise, and to look after my mental health.
These three tasks are the bedrock of my year, and I have created habits to ensure I achieve these basic fundamentals.
How did I create these habits? A little bit at a time. For example, I follow a diet which excludes all grain, potato, tomato, legumes, and dairy. When I first considered this it looked impossible. Too many things are disallowed, and they were all the foods I enjoyed. Who doesn’t like toast with melted butter and a nice chunk of cheddar cheese on top?
Creating habits that last
To achieve this change in eating habits, I slowly substituted one food type for another. For example, I now eat dairy-free alternatives like almond milk and soy milk yoghurt. Yes, this change may have taken several months, but I now have no desire for my old yoghurt.
Step by small step I changed how I live my life, and I made sure at each transition that I would have a win. I set myself up to succeed (not to fail) and now I have a routine, which I use as a foundation for everything else in my life.
By breaking down my large goal into small, easily achievable steps, I have created a winning method of changing my current habits into new and improved ways of living my life. Each one of these small changes are doable, and I do them.
Enjoying (even small) victories
Once I’ve completed a step, I enjoy the victory. In this way I am able to dot my year with golden moments that all lead to my supreme goal.
Certain things will never change and knowing that helps me not to dwell on them. Even though I will run up hills in my dreams, I know that MS will not go away.
But I can try to find a way of pushing this grim reality into the shadows of my life, and keeping a bright spotlight on the many victories I plan for myself over the year.
Now I must get out of bed and have a New Year’s Day breakfast, consisting of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee from beans I ground myself, and a plate of organic smoked salmon with organic eggs.
A morning meal for a champion.
NPS-IE-NP-00678 January 2023