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New Year’s Resolutions

I’m a fan of bumper stickers and car window decals. My favorite is not the Coexist, nor is it the Jesus Fish, nor is it the Darwinian Jesus Fish with feet, although I love all of these. It is not the Stick-Figure family; nor is it the My T-Rex Ate Your Stick Figure Family; nor is it the Zombie Stick Figure Family, complete with Zombie cat. (I really don’t understand why zombies are a “thing.”) My favorite is a simple saying: “Wag More, Bark Less.” And so, here are a list of New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Wag more, bark less.

There really is no better distillation of wisdom that I can find. The natural state of being of a dog is happiness. Dogs hang around us hoping that it will rub off and that we’ll be so grateful that we’ll give them table food, extra cuddles and an extra trip to the dog park. Win-win.

  1. Believe in the underlying goodness of most people.

A grizzled old retired police officer told me the other day that despite a career of dealing with criminals, he has actually met very few truly evil people. Most people who end up in jail, in his experience, just made one bad mistake. This mistake impacted the criminal, their families and the people around them, causing multiple tragedies. But if even a police officer who has seen the worst of humanity over the years is still convinced of the fundamental decency of most people he has encountered, perhaps the rest of us can feel better about having more faith.

  1. Invest in index funds.

Time value of money is an amazing thing. Twenty years ago, if you had invested $30,000 in a mutual fund that had an average annual yield of even 7 percent, you would have more than $116,000 today without lifting a finger. Dr. Gary Weinstein, who frequently contributed his financial expertise to this magazine, is a great proponent of the safety of index funds. Why not let your money work for you, no matter what the amount?

  1. Move.

We tell our patients to stay active, but do we? Aerobic exercise will energize you. Strength training has recently been shown to decrease anxiety and depression. Yoga and Pilates will relax you and keep you flexible. You deserve as much case as those in your charge. It’s OK to take care of you, too.

  1. Hydrate.

Think about how much – or more to the point, how little – water you drink in a day. (No cheating – coffee and tea are diuretics and count against you.) I’d be willing to bet it isn’t that much. Between office visits, rounding, ORs and commuting, physicians are always on the move. On a recent clinic day (no food or drink allowed in clinic areas per JCAHO, of course), I worked through lunch and realized that I had not had a single sip of water between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Yes, that’s my own fault, but I don’t think I’m alone in this unintentional masochism. I went shopping at Costco later that day and realized that the feeling of being chained to the oars in clinic was reflected perfectly in the eyes of the checkout cashier who rang up order after order. (At least they get mandatory breaks.)

I’d love to do a study on the incidence of kidney stones in physicians; it’s likely much higher than you’d think, and I think the reason is that we’re constantly dehydrated. Take breaks. Access to water is a basic human right; we deserve that, too, and we’re the only ones who can enforce it for ourselves.

  1. Spend time with the ones you love.

No one on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at work. In the end, we are our relationships. Giving and receiving joy is what it’s all about; taking care of each other and making each other happy is the most important thing in the end.

  1. Watch less TV news.

News in the old days was simple; as events unfolded, they were announced. We didn’t have 24-hour cable news with angry talking heads arguing with each other and screaming at each other and the audience filling the long dead spaces in between reports of actual news. It’s all commentary now; does anyone even remember the word “editorializing” and that it’s inappropriate in real journalism? Watching TV news just provokes your sympathetic nervous system, raises your heart rate and blood pressure, and makes you yell back at the TV. This, in turn, might make you difficult to be around, although your family will just avoid you rather than telling you so directly.

Put down the remote. Read the news online more often.

  1. Plan for being old, but don’t be old.

The late President George H.W. Bush subscribed to the maxim that one should try to “die young, as late as possible.” This sounds like the way to go, literally. Plan for your retirement, by all means, but don’t assume that being retired means being put out to pasture. Realize that while your career as a physician brings great meaning to your life, it should not define your sense of self-worth. There are so many other facets to your personality and your life, and you should develop and enjoy all of them so that once retired, your life will be full and exciting as you pursue them full time.

  1. Travel.

Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Besides, it’s good fun, and will get you out of any rut.

  1. Wag more, bark less.

It’s worth repeating.

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.

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