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Revisiting Your Resolutions: Minimums for Mental Health

How many of you have already broken your New Year’s resolutions this year? Hands up. Don’t be shy. You’re among friends. That’s what I thought. No worries. Honestly, that’s part of why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions. They’re too much like what Mary Poppins would call “pie crust promises”—easily made, easily broken. In the interest of mental health, I’d like to propose a new type of goal setting as we enter the new year: minimums.

What Are Minimums

The concept of minimums was introduced to me by a doctor and certified nutritionist I saw for several years while living in the Kansas City metro area. He talked a lot about making lifestyle changes for health benefits, but he cautioned against overcommitting to those changes. His solution: setting daily minimums. These daily minimums are bite-sized goals you know you can make even on a bad day. They will by nature be lower than the goals you could meet on a great day, and they don’t have to be the only kind of goals you set. You might think of them as “starter goals,” “minimal objectives,” or in more modern terminology, “dailies.”

The point of setting minimums is to help yourself stay on track and feel good about days when you might not accomplish as much as you had hoped. For my doctor friend, these minimums were health-related. His minimums included:

  • Eat at least three servings of fruits and/or veggies daily.

  • Drink at least three eight-ounce glasses of water daily.

  • Get a minimum of ten minutes of exercise at least three times a week.

Of course, he usually exceeded these goals, but he knew that on a bad day he could always hit those minimums. He could drink a glass of water in the morning, one at noon, and one before bed. He could eat a piece of fruit for breakfast and likely get a couple servings of veggies in even if he gave in to fast-food cravings. These minimums weren’t meant to be his only source of nutrition and healthy living. They were meant to provide structure and a positive outlook on days when a lot of things went wrong—because everyone has days when things go wrong, but we don’t have to fail entirely on those days. By setting minimums, we can fail less and succeed more.

How to Set Minimums

You can set minimum goals for almost anything. I like the minimums for healthy living that my doctor friend used. I find that I can always hit the water minimum, even on a bad day, and I’ve personally adapted it to fit my daily life. I also like to incorporate daily or weekly minimums for mental exercises, creative or business endeavors, and basic self-care.

When setting minimums, it is critical to keep in mind that these should be goals you know you can accomplish even if everything else goes wrong in a day. You will absolutely overshoot your minimums on good days, and you will probably overshoot them on average days also. The point is that you can hit these goals on any day—even the worst of days. In other words, your daily or weekly minimums should be low enough that, barring a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions (in which case survival alone will be your personal miracle), you know you can hit it.

For the overachievers among us, myself included, it may take some practice to set true minimums. Keep in mind that your minimums are not meant to take the place of larger goals and objectives. Goals toward eliminating debt, losing weight, building a business, or creating your personal magnum opus can be managed elsewhere, even alongside minimums. Minimums simply help you stay on track when your energy is low and life pitches you curve balls. When you have a short list of simple minimum goals set, you can consistently hit them, whether or not you are in a space to hit a homerun or even get another RBI (run batted in, for those of you who don’t happen to be baseball fans).

Examples of Minimums

I’ve already mentioned some healthy-living minimums, but let’s consider other minimums that might help you succeed more in the coming year. First, what types of long-term goals do you have? Do you want to live a more peaceful, content life? Are you working toward better financial health? Do you want experience better mental health? Are you interested in ways to improve your mental health through creative endeavors? Take a moment right now (or after you finish reading this post) to jot down some thoughts about your current life goals. Then consider incorporating some of these daily or weekly minimums into your routine:

Mental Health Minimums

  • Spend at least one minute a day engaging in controlled breathing or mediation. (Depending on your experience with mediation, you might want to increase this minimum to as much as five minutes or decrease it to 30 seconds. Whatever you choose, make sure it is an amount you can do even at the end of a terrible day as your head hits the pillow and you are ready to nod off to sleep.)

  • Create for at least five minutes a day, three days a week. (If you wish, you can be more specific concerning the type of creating. Perhaps you want to write for a few minutes each day. If you enjoy knitting or crocheting, you might set a minimum number of rows or stitches. Or you might choose to set a weekly minimum for painting, drawing, or design.)

  • Read for pleasure at least three days a week. (This minimum doesn’t need to have a set time or a set amount of content. If you enjoy poetry, as I do, pleasure reading might take the form of reading a single short poem. Or you might take a little time each week to enjoy a few micro-fiction stories from your favorite bloggers. If the printed page speaks to you, you can set a minimum amount of time for picking up and reading a physical book—for pleasure.)

Physical Fitness Minimums

  • Log a minimum of 5,000 steps a day. (Please note: 5,000 is half the recommended daily steps for active, healthy people. Be sure you set your minimum at something you know you can hit on a bad day. For me personally, a good daily minimum is significantly lower than 5,000 steps while my more aggressive daily goal as logged in my fitness tracker is 5,000 steps.)

  • Do at least ten minutes of stretching and strengthening exercise at least five days a week. (Again, remember to keep this to something you know you can achieve. If ten minutes is more than you can accomplish, lower the time to five.)

  • Dance daily. (This has been a daily minimum of my own for several months now, and it comes with no strings attached. Sometimes I dance only for a few seconds. Other times I dance for half an hour or more. The point is not to prepare for performance but to access the mental and physical benefits of dance—even if only for a brief period of time--every single day.

Rewriting Those Resolutions

Even though this blog post will go live after the first of the year, I hope you will consider rewriting your New Year’s resolutions to incorporate some minimums, especially those of you who have already broken your original resolutions. Whatever you choose to do for your personal improvement and mental health this year, may you have a successful year. Best wishes to you and yours from MGisms!

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