Ask the Doc: Make the decision, then the habit

Jan. 08, 2014 @ 11:49 PM

Q: Doc, my New Year’s resolution is to lose 30 pounds this year. You have any advice on how to do that?

A: Yes. Start with losing one pound. Then lose another.

I hear this a lot this time of year. People use the New Year to take a look at their life in the mirror and honestly face the thing, or things, that they believe need to be changed in order to live a better life. The perennial desire to begin anew is a fascinating study on human psychology and will.

Sometimes not. It all depends on a person’s discipline and will.

According to University of Scranton research in the Journal of Clinical Psychology 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. That means another 10 percent weren’t willing to admit to making a resolution because they had already broken it.

Thirty-eight percent of those studied said they absolutely never made resolutions at all.

The top 10 reasons for resolutions are interesting. Losing weight is the most common, followed by getting organized, spending less (saving more), enjoying life, and getting fit round out the top five.

Learning something exciting, quitting smoking, helping others with their dreams, falling in love (you can decide that?), and spending more time with family conclude the top 10 list.

According to the data, one in four won’t make it the first week.

Only 46 percent make it successfully to six months.

A mere eight percent of those studied successfully met their goal at one year.

The question then becomes, is it worth it? I believe the answer is yes.

Even for the most health-challenged patients I see, the ones with the most enjoyment of life are the ones who are looking for a better way to live, better way to serve others, or simply a better way to think about life.

Some are so physically challenged by their body’s age or condition that they only want to spend more time with family. The relationships, the love, the desire to encourage others becomes their life focus.

Others see their role as to pray for those they love as they physically cannot accomplish as much as they used to.

It is the attitude of not giving into the natural decline in physical health and the aging process that is inspiring. That is why New Year’s resolutions, or birthday resolutions, or lying-in-your-hospital-bed-staring-at-the-ceiling resolutions, are important.

It is the desire to use the most powerful thing we have to improve our lives: our will to live and the way we think.

Many patients ask for the prescription products to help stop smoking, and a few are successful. But the successful patients are the ones who simply make up their minds to stop smoking. They look at the expense in money and health that the cigarettes cost and determine intellectually, then in their will, that it is time to stop. The only ones who succeed are the ones who turn their thinking into a burning desire and fight through the routine of habit, the routine of reaching for that adult comfort blanket whether it is food or cigarettes, and keep moving toward a better goal.

It is very possible for people to lose weight, stop smoking, and live a fuller life after making a conscious decision to do so. But it begins with small steps. It grows into a new habit.

Losing 30 pounds begins with losing one pound. Breaking up with Little Debbie. Ordering that meal without the fries. Accepting that tea can be consumed without sugar. It is a deliberate decision in small incremental ways.

One of my patients has successfully stopped smoking for seven years now. Total savings, simply from a financial standpoint, of nearly $1,500 per year. That would be over $10,000 saved in just seven years. His health is immeasurably improved and his personal satisfaction in accomplishing something challenging is admirable.

And that is the point. The desire to live a better way by taking a sober, honest look at ourselves, and then deciding to change it, is the most powerful medicine I have witnessed. I have seen years of weight loss maintained, marriages reconciled, and life enjoyed to the fullest by a person simply making the decision. Then they made the habit.

The desire to live and love, every day, begins one small step at a time with a firm decision - repeated every day.

Eric J. Littleton, M.D. is a Family Physician in Sevierville, TN. His new office is located at 958 Dolly Parton Parkway. Topics covered are general in nature and should not be used to change medical treatments and/or plans without first discussing with your physician. Send questions to