How to Avoid Triggers that Could Ruin Self-Improvement Resolutions

By Dr. Nicholas Kardaras 

At the start of each year, most of us make resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, go to the gym more often or manage our money more responsibly in the months ahead. But according to, only 14 percent of adults are able to keep their resolutions and by this time of year, more than half of us have already failed at sticking to our plans.

Why do our annual self-improvement plans usually fail? Stress, exhaustion and frustration with how daunting the goal is all contribute to us “falling off the wagon” before we ever get on it. So, how do we manage the stress and exhaustion, as well as anxiety and depression, all of which are triggers that impede success in making our improvement goals? At the Dunes, whenever we work with clients we embrace the notion that the problem lies not in the substance but within the person. That is to say if a person is feeling out of sorts or not in a good place, they are much more inclined to not only indulge, but also overindulge. This over indulgence can take on various expressions, not just alcohol or drugs—a person can over indulge in shopping, work, sex, or gambling. It can be almost anything.

Here are five tips to set and keep you on your road to self improvement.

1. Learn how to identify and manage your stress.
When you begin to feel yourself getting overwhelmed or stressed, learn how to push the “pause” button, then take 10 diaphragmatic breaths (breathe in as you expand your diaphragm/belly area, then breathe out while saying the word “relax” to yourself). You’ll be amazed by how this single method reduces the stress by lowering the cortisol levels in your system. At the Dunes, we practice breathing meditation both in the morning and evening.

2. Don’t overschedule your time.
We all try to juggle and multitask, but usually that only makes us less efficient in doing any one thing. It also raises the stress level. Write a realistic schedule each morning for your day. List what you can really accomplish that day. If you can’t complete everything on your list, carry it over to the following day.

3. Schedule quality downtime or “me-time” every single day.
This can include taking a mindfulness walk or just sitting quietly with your thoughts in a peaceful area. Quality time can include reading a book, exercising, meditating or listening to music—without computer viewing or sensory overload. At the Dunes, we aim to take at least one nature walk a day.

4. Don’t let yourself be so hurried and harried that you forget to eat regularly.
Remember to eat small healthy meals five times a day. The worst thing you can do for your metabolism is be stressed or fatigued and then forget to eat for long stretches. Your body will slow down its metabolism in order to store calories because it thinks you’re entering a fasting period.

5. Get at least eight hours of sleep a night and use good “sleep hygiene”.
If you don’t get enough sleep, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Before bedtime, avoid stimulants and eating too much. Exercise earlier in the day and no electronics in the bedroom.

Following these five tips will greatly reduce the triggers that impede our ability to be at our best and achieve our goals.

Dr. Kardaras is executive director at The Dunes East Hampton (, a unique and comprehensive luxury alcohol and drug rehab center located in East Hampton, New York.