Self-care strategies and challenges


New Year’s Resolutions focused on health and wellness are often outcome-focused, such as a desire to lose a certain amount of weight, or unsustainable, like deciding to go from not exercising at all to doing an intense workout every day. While these are good goals to have, we may be setting ourselves up for failure by setting our expectations too high, adopting an all-or-nothing attitude, and not being compassionate with ourselves if we fall short of our goals.


For guidance on resolutions that will help build long-term behaviors, HealthySteps to Wellness consulted our team of Coaches to crowdsource ideas on strategies and challenges you can try this year to lead to sustainable change. 


Start small to make your behavior sustainable over the long-term.

If you plan on making a New Year’s Resolution focused on your well-being, think of your goal as the start of a long-term behavior rather than to solely focus on the outcome you want to achieve. 

As with any new behavior, you may have hiccups along the way until you figure out a strategy that works for you. With this, it’s important to contemplate what works and what doesn’t work and to change your approach, if needed.

Above all, practice self-compassion when you experience setbacks. A self-compassionate attitude can help you get back on track and maintain your goals after steering off-course. Try not to have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to your goals. If you’re aiming for a long-term action, you can expect relapse eventually. That is part of the process. 

Ask yourself: what are my whys and my greater purpose?

When setting a resolution, it is important to understand your motivation. There are two types of motivation: 

  1. Intrinsic, when you are motivated because you find the action rewarding.
  2. Extrinsic, when you are motivated by something outside of yourself, like gaining a reward or avoiding punishment.

If you would like to exercise regularly or eat more nutritious food, ask yourself why you want to do these behaviors, and you may find powerful reasons that you can tap into to keep you going.

For example, a person who wants to exercise to manage their weight may find that they want to be healthier to set a good example for their children, and that intrinsic motivator may be all they need to keep them going.

Intrinsic motivation is stronger than extrinsic motivation, so if you find your motivator to be something outside of yourself, you may want to reconsider the action or contemplate on what you find rewarding or worthwhile.  

To get at your whys:

  • Ask yourself what’s important to you about the behavior you want to sustain, and why you want to adopt the behavior now.
  • Tap into your values. Examine your value system by deciding which values are most important to you. 
  • Create a wellness vision. What are things you need or want in your life to be at your best?
  • Creative pursuits like vision boarding or journaling can help you maintain your action by getting clearer on what you want and why.

What opportunities are present?

Consider what opportunities are present to help you sustain your wellness action. For example, if your resolution is to cook at home more, you may find that shelter in place provides a great opportunity to get started. 

You can also find ways to tweak your physical environment to promote your wellness, like creating a standing desk if you’re looking to sit less throughout the day. 

Setting new norms or boundaries can also help you sustain your target behavior. For example, limiting meetings to 50 minutes to provide more cushion time and help lessen feelings of stress and feeling rushed. Taking inventory of your current environment and circumstances can help you determine where your agency resides, and what you can leverage to support your goals.


Explore a new interest or revisit an old hobby.

Hobbies help boost your resilience, and they don’t have to be time-consuming or long-term. Consider what activities bring you joy, and try to start small. For example, cooking can be an achievable hobby, however you should remind yourself that you don’t need to be a gourmet chef and cook elaborate meals. Rather, aim to enjoy the process or learn something new. 

Reframe your thinking when it comes to hobbies. Aim for 10 minutes and take away the expectation that it’s only worthwhile if you can dedicate significant time to the hobby.

If you have children, consider how you can merge your hobbies into family time, as spending an equal amount of time with each child is important. Going for a short walk together or doing a family puzzle may be good places to start.

Finally, examine how the outdoors can be part of your hobby, especially if fitness was a hobby that the opening and closing of gyms has made difficult to pursue. The outdoors have noted wellness and therapeutic benefits, including reduced stress and improved cognitive performance.  

Be mindful of regularly getting up from your workstation.

You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking. According to Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal, even three minutes of movement provides benefits, however you can increase the increments over time if you would like.

You can choose forms of movement you can do at your workstation, or that require little time away from your workstation. Explore stretching or yoga for when you need a break. Check out Yoga X, available on the Stanford Recreation & Wellness virtual fitness page. Recreation also offers short-term virtual challenges, which are good for people who are motivated by competition.

Meditation and mindful breathing can help in facilitating workstation breaks. Resources are available through Healthy Living, Contemplation by Design, and Recreation & Wellness. 

Try one new wellness activity each week.

Aiming to do one new wellness action each week, or even each month, will help get you out of your comfort zone and break any ruts you may find yourself in. Doing something new, especially something that challenges you, enhances your resiliency and confidence. The newness may help in boosting your mood, the novelty can be invigorating and doing new things helps to keep your brain elastic. 

Aim to start small with an activity that seems easily achievable. If you’re looking to add more activity into your workday, try standing or walking during a meeting or try a virtual fitness class. 

Go plant-based for a week.

Plant-based doesn’t mean any meat whatsoever. Instead, aim to have most of your food come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans. There are many reasons to try a plant-based diet:

  • Whole foods provide extra fiber that helps you feel fuller for longer with less calories.
  • Reducing your meat consumption is good for the environment.
  • A plant-based diet is better for heart health.

Finally, switching to a plant-based diet may help you find more enjoyment in food by introducing more variety and novelty into your diet.

Drink more water.

Hydration is important for your body to function properly and for alertness and wakefulness. In fact, mild dehydration is enough to cause feelings of fatigue, headaches and lowered concentration. If you’re feeling low energy, you may just need water to perk you up rather than turning to another cup of coffee or taking a nap. 

Strategies to increase water intake include:

  • Have water readily available at your workstation.
  • Associate drinking water with a behavior, such as eating or brushing your teeth.
  • Use a hydration app to log your hydration and send you reminders to drink water throughout the day.

Explore your friendships or connect with someone new.

Social connections are important for well-being, and now more than ever, when we’re feeling isolated, it is vital to reach out to others.

Ideas for fostering connections include:

  • Champions, is a good resource to help you connect with co-workers.
  • Get in touch with someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Explore new relationships and connections – it can be reinvigorating to get to know someone. 
  • Join a group where people are doing something you like to do and that can be done while maintaining COVID-19 safety, such as knitting or art, either outside or virtually.

Vocation exploration challenge.

Many of us have seen our job duties and responsibilities shift since the pandemic began. This can be an opportunity to explore what you want your role to be and how you can grow your skills to meet your professional goals. Cardinal at Work offers many tools for your professional development

Give back to others and/or help the environment.

Giving back helps your community and your personal well-being. Try donating goods or services, volunteering, or raising money. One idea is to clean your house to find things you’d like to donate.

You can also aim to help the environment by opting to ride your bike if you have to go somewhere, participate in clean-up days, learn more about recycling properly, or start your own compost. You can participate in Sustainable Stanford to learn more about actions you can take to help the environment and earn incentives for your efforts.


By Katie Shumake
January 2021