Say No to New Year’s Resolutions

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How are those New Year’s Resolutions going?

It’s not quite yet the middle of January and my favorite question for people at this time of year is “How are those New Year’s Resolutions going?” Most people I talk to have given up on their New Year’s Resolutions already so if you are in that situation, you are definitely not alone.

I personally am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Any time I mention this, people stare at me in amazement and ask me why. The answer is simple – I spent over a decade of my adult life setting New Year’s Resolutions and giving up on them by January 15th. I think I made it one year to Jan 23rd and that was my dismal personal record. Like most humans, I enjoy continuing behaviors that I am good at and New Year’s resolutions do not fit into that category.

This attitude does not mean that I do not examine my life and work on positive changes. I do that on an ongoing basis and see it as an important step to maintaining lifestyle balance. However, I do it in a way that helps me to be successful, rather than hitting my head against that New Year’s resolution brick wall.

So here are a few of my strategies for making sustainable changes:

The New Year is not a magical time for starting new behaviors. It’s more important to take into account your personal circumstances when you are considering making behavior changes. If, for example, a family member is in the hospital, or you are about to move homes, you may want to consider delaying the process or starting with a really small change.

Studies show that people who are internally motivated are more likely to be successful making a behavior change than those operating on external motivations. This just means doing something for yourself, rather than doing it for others. Examples of internal motivation are health, personal values, principles that matter to you, and even curiosity. Examples of external motivators would be doctor’s orders or your spouse nagging you to do something differently. For many of us, including me, changing a behavior is motivated by a mixture of internal and external factors. There is nothing wrong with having your initial motivation for change be kicked-off by an external motivation, such as advice from your doctor. But it can help increase the chances of making a change permanent if you get in touch with the things that really matter to you.

I’ll share a personal example. I used to be a late night snacker – eating chips while checking email. My initial push to decrease evening snacks was seeing the scale go up a few pounds (external motivation) but I maintain my healthier behavior by focusing on my personal value of having energy in the morning. I like to jump out of bed and greet my family with a positive attitude. And that’s hard to do when I’m sluggish from too many chips.

Social support is really important too. I have a 5:30am workout buddy and our three times a week workouts would be far less consistent if I was not picking her up on the way to the gym. Receiving support from others and spending time with others who share the same goals as you can be very beneficial. Research indicates our behavior is affected by what those around us are doing. If you are going out for dinners with people who drink a lot of wine and order desserts, chances are you will too. It can be helpful to share your health goals with others and ask for the support you need.

I think my biggest problem when I was setting New Year’s Resolutions is that they were far too ambitious. Absolute goals like “I will never overeat again” or overly aggressive goals like “I will lose 30 pounds in January” are a recipe for failure. When we’re not successful we get discouraged and give up.

Think about your plans to change as baby steps that you can sustain in the long-term. Each small positive change you make will improve your health if you can keep going with the behavior.

So tear up those New Year’s resolutions that you may already have given up on, and start with a couple of changes that you feel excited about making. Before you know it, you will be building on your successes and will be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

Happy 2011!