New New Years Resolutions (And Why the Old Ones Don't Work)

It’s a new year and many are hitting the ground running with “newness”- new jobs, new budgets, new goals, new hopes and dreams, new cities, new relationships….

And then....

Many of us fall face down in the mud on the new things we set out to do. Losing those extra pounds, going to bed earlier, working out more often, or whatever it was suddenly got lost somewhere between the new season of Downton Abbey and the end of Parenthood. We are left feeling about as hopeless as the half-dead, cold, wet Christmas tree sitting on the curb. But why does the pattern of high hopes crashing down to utter defeat end up happening year after year, almost with as much certainty as our dear friend Puxatawny Phil will see his shadow, and often by the time his fateful day arrives in early February?

Well, here are my best reasons at why our resolutions often lack resolve.

1. Our timing is off.

Yes, when we set out on our path to redemption in the New Year, one obstacle is that our timing does not set us up to win. What I mean is that time becomes the motivating factor of “the New Year”. For some reason, January 1st on a calendar is supposed to ignite us with a sudden unquenchable desire to endure extreme physical pain, more hours of sleep, or drastic dietary changes. The reality is that time is not that last motivational nugget we need to push us over the edge. Though we may all say “well, timing is not what I put stock in for my success”, if that was true, and time didn’t affect us so much, then we’d probably have just as many Tuesday resolutions as New Year resolutions. So figure out the time when you’d be ready to begin on the path of change you would like to implement.

2. Too high of expectations

That mention of the word extreme in the previous example is no joke. Many times we want to start exercising 3 times a week, but 1 time before January 1st was all too impossible. How can we go from 0 to 3? Or if we hated eating tasteless, dull food before and foregoing all small “treats”, how can we suddenly change that and expect to like all new food, much less maintain liking it? Bottom line, we expect a whole lot of ourselves, either through the degree of the one resolution or the number of resolutions made. Give yourself the grace to have realistic expectations to getting realistic resolutions. If you want to lose weight, be specific (how many lbs.?- as challenging as looking at the scale can be- you can do it!) and realistic. Losing a pound a week is about what’s healthy, for the most part. So do you expect more? And your weight may change throughout the day, so that pound in one or two weeks may be hard to measure, but after 8 weeks, you would notice 8 pounds.

3. Emphasis on behavior over lifestyle

Many times our resolutions revolve around a behavior- lose 10 pounds, eat less sweets, exercise daily, etc., but there is a fundamental piece missing. We are shooting for behavior changes, not lifestyle changes. For example, if we want to lose weight, that’s a great resolution! But just trying to eat a little bit less of this, denying yourself that extra helping there, and doing a little bit of running every now and then won’t probably do the magic you want. You have to be ready (see point 1) to change your lifestyle. That means resolving to allocate your time differently, shop for different food, change your entire diet (not get on a diet- everyone is technically on a diet of some kind), and become an “exerciser”, not one who exercises. Now, that may sound overwhelming, but it’s often far less overwhelming than trying to live in both camps- the old you and the new you. Usually we just grab that pint of ice cream and self-shame by the spoonful once we fail to execute behavior X within Y timeframe. A lifestyle change allows for flexibility and grace to be patient with yourself as you make a lifestyle change- one that you want to stick around, rather than a behavior change. A lifestyle change will take time (at least 90 days or more) because there’s no desire to return to the former way of being. A behavior change almost guarantees that you will keep resolving to lose that 10 pounds year by year.

4. No consideration of self.

Fourth and finally, our resolutions often fail because we don’t consider ourselves. What do you mean, Tyler? I mean that we often make our resolutions based on our perceived expectations from others. We need to lose this weight or do more of this because someone else would be happy if we did, or less disappointed in us if we were to change. Someone else would like us more or regret that we ended the relationship with them. But we forget to consider the most important one in it- ourselves. Do we want to change for our sake? Do we think are worthy of weighing less, eating healthy, exercising more, or whatever it is? Do we value ourselves enough to make those changes? If we don’t, we’ll often be ruthlessly impatient with our lifestyle change and find ourselves jumping off the high dive of despair into a pool of self-hatred, or chocolate chip cookie dough.

So in this New Year, I encourage you to think holistically. What realistic lifestyle change would you like for yourself? How are you going there? And when would you like to start?