Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. Heck, it’s the end of a decade! Think back over the last year, two or even five years. Of all the “resolutions” you made, how many have you really kept?
If the answer makes you a little depressed, that’s okay. Virtually every human on the planet who consistently makes New Year’s resolutions fails at them to some significant degree. In fact, research has shown that that 4 out of 5 resolutions will fail within the first few weeks and only about 1 in 5 will make it to the end of the first year. (1)
So why bother? Good question! Resolutions can be helpful or harmful. The key is in the nature of the resolution.
Before you make a resolution, ask yourself “what is it about this resolution that really matters to me?” What benefit will you derive from fulfilling that resolution? Most important, how will the fulfillment of that resolution and the results of that fulfillment make you feel?
You see, in the end, if there’s no deeper emotional attachment to the accomplishment of any goal (and “resolution” is just another manifestation of “goal,”) you’ll never achieve the goal. Having an emotional component to goal-setting creates intrinsic motivation, or a sort of internal drive to succeed.
Resolutions created out of some need to be like someone else or “just because” or because you think it’s what you should do are highly likely to fail. The worst part of that failure is not that a goal unworthy of your emotional investment has failed. No, the worst part is that you are very likely to carry an emotional scar from that failure. One that will hurt you in future goal-setting and achievement.
Ironic, isn’t it? Something you tell yourself you want to do without really having any emotion attached to it ends up leaving you scarred and inhibited during future endeavors. Now that doesn’t seem fair, but I don’t make the psychological rules.
There are other reasons resolutions fail. For example, typical resolutions bring about massive changes very suddenly. Too often, folks simply make too many resolutions or try to change too many things at once. The brain struggles with this and you don’t get the kind of mental, emotional, psychological and even spiritual backup the supercomputer in your head is normally capable of. You unwittingly set yourself up for failure this way.
Fear is another factor. Settting huge goals or piling on a large number of them makes the situation look daunting and unwinnable. Suddenly, the excitement of making resolutions is gone and you’re stuck with the doing part – and fear prevents you from really digging in and figuring it out. Fear of failure – or success – as well as fear of change can stop you in your tracks and derail your resolutions.
I’ve got an idea. How about some forgiveness for past “failures” and the creation of some resolutions you can actually keep AND that will literally make you feel better, both for having fulfilled them and because of what they will do FOR you?
Are you in? Great! Let’s do this!
Let’s start with the resolutions we can keep.
1. Move more, sit less – This one is easy. Working at a desk? Get up and move around for 1 to 5 minutes each hour. Just stand up and walk in place while working for a few minutes a day. Park the car further from the door to the office or workplace. Same goes for the supermarket, mall or anywhere else. The only caveat for the parking rule? Only if it’s safe.
2. Take the stairs (or walk up the escalator) – Any time you can, use the stairs. I’ve written about studies that described the stair walking effect on health. (Read it here.) Not ready for 5, 10 or more flights? Take the stairs to the 2nd or 3rd floor, then hop the elevator.
3. Find exercise or physical activity that you enjoy – You don’t need an internet-connected bike that costs 3 mortgage payments to enjoy working out. Did you love riding your bike as a kid? I bet you’ll love it now, too! Like to swim? Do it!
Maybe you love Zumba. Maybe it’s Crossfit. Try some things. Be willing to be honest about how each makes you feel and be willing to walk away from something you don’t enjoy without feeling like you failed. You didn’t. You simply eliminated something that’s not right for you right now.
Walk, jog, lift, dance, swim, ride, whatever. Maybe do them all. When you find what you like, put it on the schedule and do it!
4. STOP DIETING! – Dieting SUCKS! Nobody likes to diet. Nobody! And before you say it, yes, those “nutritional cleanse” programs are D-I-E-T-S! They require you to reduce your calories to levels that make the residents of Auschwitz feel like gluttons.
You DO need to be in a state of caloric deficit in order to lose weight, if that’s something you want. But restrictive dieting is problematic in a number of ways. Chronic dieting is damaging to both physical and mental health. It can make future weight loss much harder as well, since it can alter hormonal responses in the body and brain.
So what’s the real resolution that you can keep around diet and weight loss? Resolve to make positive changes to activity levels and to eat healthier foods. (More on that next.)
5. Eat real foods, eat whole foods – Dump the processed foods and go more natural. You don’t have to go organic, unless that’s important to you. However, you can certainly eat natural foods in their most natural form wherever and whenever possible.
For more than 20 years, I’ve offered my youth athletes two simple rules to guide them to eating more whole and real foods:
- If it doesn’t come in the package God put it in, try to avoid it. In other words, if it was processed, it’s less likely to be natural.
- If there’s a cartoon character on the label, put it back on the shelf. This one should be self-explanatory. Only garbage food needs a leperchaun or talking tiger to sell it.
They sound silly, I know. Think about them, though. They make sense and they work. My athletes and clients can remember them and apply them. And that’s what matters.
Whole foods are nutrient-dense, not just calorie-dense. This means you get more “bang for the buck” when it comes to vitamins, minerals, fiber and micronutrients. Your body needs these to function optimally. Fish, fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains are the keys to getting more whole and real foods in your diet.
For this resolution, choosing “eating more real and whole foods” beats “only” eating them. With a resolution to eat only whole and real foods, the first time you are in a situation you can’t wholly control or know the content of the food you’re eating you may worry that you’ve failed.
This may lead to what’s known as the Avoidance Violation Effect (AVE). Because you “failed” to uphold your rigid resolution standard (in a setting you couldn’t control,) you failed overall. This may lead to a casting aside of the resolution all together.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a resolution that lets you make progress? Wouldn’t that progress be a continual “win,” reinforcing the value of the resolution and your adherence to it? Yes! Yes, it would!
PS…if you need some science-y reasons to eat more whole and real foods, research has shown that a diet based on whole foods may significantly lower heart disease risk, blood sugar levels and body weight. Risk of diabetes falls, too. (6, 7, 8)
For those of you wondering; when I say whole foods, I don’t mean the store. A diet based on that would probably leave you broke…
6. Get more – and better – sleep! – Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality may well be the single biggest health issue we have as Americans. It’s almost like we pride ourselves on the way our lives intrude on our sleep. Yet every night of poor or inadequate sleep may be shortening your life. While that may sound like an exaggeration, it really isn’t.
For overall health, improvements in performance and in how you look (i.e., weight loss and physique improvements,) getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night is key. Try to get to bed and arise at consistent times each day. That will help with hormonal cycles related to sleep. Cut back on screen time before bed and try to sleep in a cool, dark room.
You’ll feel better and younger, be healthier and find it easier to keep your other resolutions!
7. Build better “food life” habits – What does this mean? Three key things, really. First, make more meals at home. (Eat out less often.) Second, reduce your dependence on convenience foods. (Become food independent.) Third, do your own grocery shopping. (Learn about the food you eat.)
Doing these things will let you get #5 done more effectively.
Believe it or not, science has shown that people who cook more of their meals at home eat better and have lower body fat than those who rely on meals cooked outside the home. (12) So it’s not just an old wives tale or generally good advice. It’s science! One study of over 11,000 people showed that those who ate 5 or more meals cooked at home each week were a full 28% less likely to be overweight when compared with those who ate less than 3 home-cooked meals a week! (13)
This, of course, ties into reducing reliance on convenience foods. That includes fast foods and processed foods bought in grocery stores and other places. It also includes the morning bagel or breakfast sandwich from the corner bagel store or deli that you grab on the way to work. Fast foods have been linked to diabetes and heart disease, among other negative health conditions. (14)
When you cook more meals, you’ll have to make grocery lists and then go to the grocery store. Make it a point as part of this resolution to do your own grocery shopping. I have an idea for you. When you go to the store, spend some time and learn about the food you buy. Read labels. Try some new fruits, vegetables and other foods. Maybe bring home a “weird” fish to try. You will probably be surprised at how tasty and interesting some of those foods really are!
8. Take care of “me” – What I mean by this is take some time for self-care. For you, that is, not me. You get that, right?
It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive. A simple walk in nature, even for 10 minutes, can reset your mind and restore a sense of peace. Take a yoga class or try meditating.
Try taking 30 minutes a week where you are completely disconnected, unplugged and removed from “civilization.” You might only be able to shut off the phones, tablets and other devices and sit in your backyard or on your patio or balcony, but do it. Live in a city? Maybe you can get on the roof. Go to a museum. Somewhere where you can disconnect for a while and let your mind rest – completely.
If you can do it, massage is a fantastic self-care tool (if it’s your thing.) I’m a fan of massage, as well as a good pedicure. I’m on my feet a lot during the day, so a good spa pedicure really is self-care.
While you’re improving self-care, take a look at your hygiene regimen. Are you taking good care of your teeth and gums. If you do, your heart will thank you (so will people around you!) Look after your skin. It’s the largest organ you have and a huge line of defense against disease and other nasty stuff.
Self-care has many facets. It would pay to consider including improvement resolutions in this area, too.
9. Stop trashing yourself – Make a resolution to stop talking negatively about your body. Speaking negatively about your body, even to yourself or in your mind, can increase feelings of body shame. Here, too, science has weighed in. Research shows that hearing and/or engaging in negative body talk is linked to decreased self-esteem and higher levels of body dissatisfaction in both women and men. (15, 16, 17)
Why not include a resolution to speak well of yourself this year? Give yourself some positive self-talk and cut back on the negative body talk. Remember, your body may not be as awesome as you’d like it to be right now, but it has gotten you this far in life. It’s been through every struggle and every battle you have been in and it hasn’t quit on you yet. Give it a chance to come through. Show it some encouragement.
Positive self-talk and a reduction in negative body talk will help improve your relationship with your body. It will also encourage others to do the same!
That’s the list…for now.
You may have noticed something. None of these resolutions is about absolutes. No “lose XX pounds by XX date” or “fit in size XX jeans by XX date.” Those kinds of resolutions may be okay for a small percentage of the population. Most of those resolutions end up unfulfilled.
My goal here was to show you a way to make resolutions that might actually help change your life for the better without adding stress, anxiety, pain and self-loathing to the list of things ailing you or afflicting your life. Every one of these resolutions will remain intact as long as you are conscious of them and present to how they are working in your life.
Making a mistake relative to one of these doesn’t disqualify you from fulfilling it. How’s that for a great way to become a “resolutionary?”
Keep the faith and keep after it!