Resolved for 2014: be happier!

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume 114, No. 1January, 2014

Siena Shundi, LCSW-R

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, housing, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or (212) 397-4802

Happy 2014! What are your New Year’s resolutions? Borrowed from the Romans and their calendar, New Year’s resolutions are the American way to make ourselves do something good or stop doing something bad. Starting a new year also reminds us all of the passage of time. And just like birthdays, the new year helps us assess our lives and hopefully look forward.

But I’m sure you’ve heard that most of the time – within a few months, actually – New Year’s resolutions fail. Why is that? Well, change is really hard! Our brains are literally wired to conduct our lives as we always have, so it takes a long time and ongoing work to make systematic lifestyle changes.

Systematic lifestyle changes? I know you’re thinking either “Oh boy – how do I do that?” or “That’s a tradition I’ll pass on!” No, no – keep reading. Change is possible! Real change, however, takes reflection and honesty with yourself about what you value. It means taking the time to visualize how your life can be better. The new year can be a great opportunity to reassess and improve your life by asking yourself some meaningful questions.

In order to make real changes in life, it’s really most helpful to ask yourself a few questions.

What kind of person do I want to be? If you want to make changes in your relationships, for example, returning to this basic question is a really effective way at getting at what your core values are. If you are unhappy in a relationship, you must first think about what you are already bringing to the relationship – and what you’d like to bring. You can’t change others. But you can take the time to focus and understand yourself.

What would it mean to live a better quality of life? What would I be doing differently? Many people think about making lifestyle changes – losing weight, saving more money, eating better, exercising more, stopping smoking. While these are all very positive ideas, it’s often unrealistic to think that you can just use sheer will power to stop or start healthy habits. But if you take the time to think expansively about what kind of lifestyle you really want, then you’re more likely to come up with changes that are connected to your values. Once you’ve identified changes you are really motivated to make, you can start making small steps toward your goals while avoiding potential obstacles.

Let’s talk about the most common New Year’s resolution: losing weight. Start with the larger, quality-of-life question. How would your life be better if you were losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle? Once you can visualize that, the actual act of losing weight comes easier.

For instance, maybe you’ve noticed that it’s become harder to carry your instrument over long distances. Or perhaps you are snoring more or your sleep is becoming disrupted because of sleep apnea, because you’re heavier. Imagine being able to carry your instrument again just as you used to, or imagine breathing clear and easy again. More than that: imagine being happier and feeling better about yourself.

Let’s say you can’t imagine joining a gym but ideally you’d like to find a way to walk more. Try taking stairs whenever possible. Or get off the subway at an earlier stop and add some walking to your commute. After you’ve seen some small progress with easy, sustainable steps like these, perhaps an appointment with a doctor, nutritionist or physical therapist can seem less daunting.

By the way, probably the worst way to lose weight is dieting (unless you’re working with a doctor). The bodies of people who diet off-and-on actually become immune to diets. The diets simply stop working. When you diet, you’re psychologically tricking yourself into eating differently, but you still have the basic relationship to food that you’ve built up over your whole life. It’s a tough road unless you make bigger changes to your lifestyle and tackle the larger issues.

Here’s another common New Year’s resolution: quitting smoking. Again, start with the larger, quality-of-life question. What would you be doing differently if you made the choice to give up cigarettes? Quitting smoking is incredibly difficult. If you’ve been smoking for more than a few years, it’s probably not a good idea to do without the help of your doctor, as the withdrawal from cigarettes can cause depression and sleep disruption. Most people who have been smoking for a long time have a very habitual relationship with smoking – they smoke when they’re stressed, they smoke after they eat or they smoke when they’re driving. But if you’re considering this kind of change, try to imagine what you might be doing with your time (and money) if you weren’t smoking. Maybe you could use the money you’d normally spend on cigarettes to enjoy yourself more. Perhaps the biggest motivator for quitting smoking is living a longer life. If you have a partner, kids or grandkids, this can motivate you even more.

A third common New Year’s resolution is wanting to save more money. Once more, start with the larger, quality-of-life question. How would my life be better if I could save more money? Money brings up a lot of feelings for people. We all have a relationship to money that started with childhood and developed along the way. Our parents or caregivers may have given us the message that there will never be enough money. Or perhaps we learned to spend money freely, without a care in the world. As musicians, we may have a hard time equating writing and playing music with building capital and investing for the future. Musicians often have a very complicated relationship with making money. So it’s not helpful to simply tell yourself to start saving more money, especially if you have credit card bills and are worried about how you’re going to pay the rent next month. But you can still think about what’s important to your life and start making some moves to understand why and how you could be making healthier decisions around money. Maybe you’d like to be able to save for an apartment or be able to apply for a business loan so you can incorporate your band.

When you really come down to it, time is the most valuable resource we have. The new year is a reminder of that. Why not take this opportunity to think of the big picture? Use the momentum to reassess and give yourself the gift of a more fulfilling and healthier life!


  • To help you tackle any of the issues in this article, feel free to make an appointment with my office for one-on-one or group counseling. Services are free for Local 802 members. Call (212) 397-4802. We can help you find resources to eat better, exercise more, quit smoking, save money, and more.
  • Local 802 is sponsoring four free Pilates classes this winter. E-mail for more information.
  • The Actors’ Fund has a series of free seminars on financial wellness for musicians and other artists, including sessions like “Money Matters” and “Money and the Performing Artist.” (Despite its name, the Actors’ Fund isn’t just for actors: as a Local 802 member, you are invited to take part in all of its services, and most seminars relate to all artists, including musicians, actors, dancers, writers, and others.) You can also sign up with the Actors’ Work Program and see a career counselor. Start at or call my office at (212) 397-4802 for more info.