‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. Have you made yours? If so, how is it going so far? Are you sticking to your resolutions or have they already gone out the window? If your answer is the latter, you are not alone. It’s estimated that 92% of people are unsuccessful in achieving their resolutions. Given that the success rate is so low, it raises the question, “why?” Are people just really bad at keeping their resolutions or is the entire concept flawed? Here are our thoughts on why resolutions aren’t the be-all-end-all, and suggestions for what you can try instead.
Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work:
They tend to be all-or-nothing
If you look at the resolutions you have made in the past, how long have they typically lasted for? A week? A month? Not even? Why do you think your previous resolutions have not been sustainable? It’s likely the case that you went into them with an all-or-nothing mentality. Resolutions are almost always black or white, on or off. You do them, and the minute you fall off of the wagon, that’s it, it’s over. There’s no chance to recover when you start off with this mindset.
Unrealistic expectations lead to unsustainable goals
Most resolutions don’t leave any room for middle ground or moderation. You’re spending all of your time at the gym, eating a prototypically “healthy” diet, restricting your caloric intake, or some combination of such extreme behaviours. It’s not long before you find that your body is over-worked and under-nourished. What happens when you start to feel deprived? Do you quit going to the gym? Binge on junk food? Ditch the resolutions altogether? It’s not just you, most extreme resolutions reach a similar breaking point.
They often don’t have the right motivation
New Year’s resolutions are hard to get away from because they are so prevalently encouraged in our society. Come January 1st, you can’t avoid advertisements for the latest diet craze, gyms are offering discounted memberships, your friends and family are talking about what resolutions they want to make, and the like. All of these external influences can mean that your motivation to change is more extrinsic than it is intrinsic; in other words, it does not come from within. Extrinsic motivation can be effective to an extent, but intrinsic motivation is what is needed for driving long-lasting change.
What you can do instead:
Focus on moderation
Oftentimes resolutions fail because they are such a drastic change from the behaviour you’re used to engaging in. For example, if you never exercise and make it your goal to get to the gym every day, it’s probably not a realistic expectation to think that you will be able to consistently meet this target. That’s totally ok. Setting realistic goals that you can actually attain is a much better way of boosting your self confidence than setting lofty goals that are way out of your reach. The same goes with eating. Making gradual changes to your diet is a more effective strategy in the long run then completely overhauling the way you eat (not to mention food is meant to be enjoyed, so there’s always room for a treat or two here and there).
Accept “slips” as a normal aspect of behaviour change
Whether you want to lose weight, eat better, or exercise more, it’s important to accept that the path towards a healthier lifestyle is inevitably going to have some ups and downs. However, it’s not the slip-ups that are the problem, it’s the way that you respond to them that really differentiates those who succeed from those who don’t. If you eat a cookie or miss an exercise session and think that it is the end of the world, you are setting yourself up for failure. Life happens. There will always be times when we don’t eat the way we want to or exercise as much as we would like. Being able to let these things go is an integral part of continuing on in pursuit of your goals.
Look at your values to determine what you want to change
Before you start diving into all of the resolutions you think you have for 2017, take a moment to sit down and really reflect on why you want to make the changes you do. What do you value, both in your personal life and work life? At the end of the day, what is most important to you? Identifying these values can help you to establish goals that are in line with them. This way you can live a life that is directed by your own personal values, and not by what other people think you should do.
Resolutions don’t have to be reserved to once a year. If there’s change you want to see happen in your life, you can take steps towards it at any point you choose. Whether you start on January 1st or June 1st, there’s no bad time to work on yourself.