Ah, the power of New Year’s to swell hopes and ignite ambitions! Perhaps it’s the champagne. Or maybe it’s that sway of public sentimentality at midnight. Whatever the case, New Year’s is synonymous with resolution-making, and surveys show that health related pledges consistently top the list. Of course, we all bring our best intentions to the new year, but why do so many of us crash and burn once the rubber meets the road?
Some years ago, researchers at the University of Washington studied  the sticking power of resolutions and what seemed to make the difference for those who were still on track three months later. Their study, an oldie (1997) but a goodie, offered some commonsensical wisdom that we could all stand to hear again:
– It’s crucial to start out truly dedicated to change.
– It’s essential to have coping strategies in mind and support in place for the bumps along the road.
– It’s important to track your progress through your own monitoring efforts and external feedback.
The study, which specifically examined health related resolutions, also revealed key ways to blow your intentions from the beginning:
– Making your resolution a spur of the moment decision;
– Focusing it on the revelation du jour rather than an ongoing concern;
– Putting it in absolute terms (i.e. “I’ll never do that again!”). Gee, I can’t imagine a New Year’s celebration ever inspiring that kind of comment…
If you’ve so much as read more than a single post on this blog, let alone come back regularly to its fountain of effervescent insight, you’ve likely understood that all this ranting, raving and wrangling is about the big picture of daily lifestyle. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a carb-free, fitness-focused life (O.K.—you know we don’t say completely carb-free).
What you read here isn’t the most difficult, most strenuous and most outrageous health advice you’ll ever receive. (I mean, hey, if thousands of people will voluntarily eat nothing but grapefruit…) Nevertheless, what we support and spar about does take “deep” change, the kind of change that can’t be conveniently encapsulated in a single resolution package.
Resolutions, ultimately, are—or should be—about the ongoing progress of personal development. Notice the word personal. If a resolution doesn’t feel personal, if you don’t feel you truly own it, you’re likely wasting your breath spouting it. Rather than a grand undertaking, a resolution should feel like the next logical step in moving your life forward. Think about where you’re at now. Where would you like to be in a month? Wait!—a month? What happened to new year? I say a month because allowing yourself a whole year is like assigning a college student a paper at the beginning of the semester that’s due the last day of finals. We all know what comes of that. Yes, you can break down your New Year’s resolution into smaller checkpoints along the way, but too many people still get derailed by a half-conscious focus on that ultimate goal off in the distance—like a mirage in the desert.
As I’ve said in the past, the whole resolution tradition is misguided. Goals can be valuable, but the real catalyst for change is rarely found within the context of noisemakers, alcohol and sleep deprivation. Make your resolution when you’re ready. That said, remember that it’s less about what you’re giving up (e.g. as you pine after that customary morning danish) and more about what you’re choosing to take on (here you are trying lean meats, fresh vegetables and good fats—gee, not so bad!). Cultivate an open mindset and start paying attention to how the choices of your current lifestyle make you feel. (New Year’s Day isn’t necessarily a bad time to start.) Get some momentum going in the right direction before you worry too much about a hard and fast declaration.
My advice: commit to the change that you’re willing and ready to bring to your life right now. Worry about where you’ll be next December, well, next December. In the meantime, January 1st awaits! So, get up from your chair and go forth! Go for the gym! Go for the gold! Just go against the grain—pun fully intended.
CraftyGoat  Flickr Photo (CC)
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