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Growth not Goals

This no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year is when those of us on holiday are hibernating or recuperating from the immense effort of making the world’s largest roast dinner, or engrossed in the more pleasant task of attempting to eat a month's worth of chocolate in just 2 days. Disclaimer: author participation does not equal professional endorsement.

Shall we discuss the spiky issue of New Year’s resolutions? Great, grab that new Christmas mug and sit ye down. This won’t take long and then you can get back to your umpteenth Mrs Brown’s Boys, and listening to the pelting rain sending all hopes of a snowy wonderland to join ‘football’s coming home’ deep in the bin of 2022’s Shattered Dreams.

Patients often remark that the cusp of the New Year is a time to rethink something to do with their health and lifestyle. For instance, getting that exercise bike out of the shed, joining a fitness class, signing up to a dating app, giving up alcohol, getting some counselling, or stopping smoking. Please know that I am completely in awe of anyone who publicly or privately commits to embarking on any of these big milestones, and I bet your own GP would love to hear about them if you’d like to share. We can often provide referrals to help with some of your ideas, e.g. refer you to Healthwise, signpost to local services like Changing Lives, or Kyra, or support you to access talking therapy, help with grief, and benefits advice.

These resolutions deserve great praise, and I also try to remind patients not to be too tough on themselves if they don’t strictly adhere to a weekly plan, without sounding like I’m, erm, relieving myself on their fireworks. Capisce? It's surprising how many people come in and apologise for having put weight back on, or not yet made a start on getting to Parkrun. It's OK :-) You never need a reason and you definitely never need to apologise! Motivation through guilt?! Sounds a bit 'not good' to me. So, how about avoiding goals altogether, and instead, thinking about growth? I’m talking about enrichment rather than restriction; adventure rather than abstention, and chocolate rather than…um…no chocolate (*voice tails off in horror at the idea of no chocolate*)?

Yeah yeah, what has this got to do with a greener lifestyle, I hear you ask? Well friends, many of them will involve the great outdoors, new skills, gift-giving, volunteering, or plenty of other things that indirectly improve our wellbeing. And that’s where you get a big old tick from your friendly GP. We absolutely love anything that gives you a sense of enjoyment, providing that endorphin kick we all need especially during the grim winter months, yet there’s no sense of failure - nobody is judging you. The idea is to make a sort of annual list of things that are fun, and maybe new, that don't necessarily have to be ongoing or measurable. Importantly, they don’t need to cost much - or anything! My original ideas have been vastly down-graded to make them more affordable; for instance ‘stay in a castle’ has been changed to ‘visit a free ruin I’ve never seen before’, and ‘learn photography’ has been amended to ‘take a photo of something different every day, working through the alphabet’. Instead of ‘grow enough veg to sustain my entire street’ I’ve sheepishly modified it to ‘grow windowsill herbs without killing them this year’ – which will be a first for me. Maybe this is why people keep rejecting my dinner invites…?

2 years ago, one of mine involved going down a playground fireman’s pole. As you can imagine, this was very difficult to achieve, not only because of the queue of baffled and sniggering children waiting while I gingerly minced around what seemed a precipice of certain death (did I mention I dislike heights?), with my own kith and kin creasing up mercilessly below. And yet, the sense of fulfilment (read smug relief) was like a warm hug for a long time afterwards. See how I still dine out on that story now? Ahem.

Remember every GP wants their patients to be happy and to have things to look forward to. We’re all about improving and maintaining emotional wellbeing. So if a strict and scary goal isn't your thing for 2023, and instead you fancy joining me in making a more light-hearted list of fun or interesting activities (you can see my completed efforts at @OSMPdoc #GrowthNotGoals over the next 12 months), then I resolutely (sorry) wish you the happiest 'Happy New Year'!

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