The holiday season is upon us, the time for parties, overindulging, bins full of wrapping paper, and – inevitably – the creation of resolutions for the coming year. Every year, millions of people set New Year’s resolutions, hopeful that this will be the year those goals stick, and aspirations transpire. According to one recent study, more than 38% of US adults set resolutions, with nearly half of those committing to exercising more. While it’s fantastic that so many people want to make positive changes in their lives, the sad reality is that 23% of those goal-setters quit in the first week – and a paltry 9% make their resolutions last.
Sad state of affairs, or a fixable misuse of a good idea? Perhaps a telling mix of the two.
One might think that, as a fitness and nutrition coach, I am a master of setting and keeping resolutions. And while it is true that my willpower and drive are perhaps higher than many people’s, I personally eschew the act of setting resolutions for the New Year. Do I set resolutions? No. The last time I set New Year’s resolutions was…20 years ago? And yet, come New Year’s Day, I’m in the definite minority pounding the pavement for some early morning miles. Somehow my resolve endures across the holidays, through those cold winter months, and without pomp and circumstance.
If you think I need to come down off my high horse, you might be right. But hear me out first. To me, the American reliance and focus on making grand, sweeping changes to one’s life at the start of each new year is symptomatic of a bigger issue – the desire for quick fixes and easy answers. Many Americans are in perpetual pursuit of the next diet fad and fitness trend that promises big results fast.
Yet the reality is – Debbie Downer here – that lasting change can only be achieved through hard work. Not only that, change takes a while. If getting fit and eating healthy were as easy as snapping our fingers, we would all look like Lara Croft, and the health and fitness club industry wouldn’t be sitting at $30+ billion.
Let’s reframe how we look at the chance for a new beginning at the dawn of each new year – and trust me, I GET the appeal of a seemingly blank slate. But that blank slate is a lie – what you do in 2022 to your body will follow you into 2023. You unfortunately can’t wipe away hours on the couch, extra helpings of Christmas pie, or too much champagne on New Year’s Eve. But what you CAN AND MUST DO is to COMMIT. Don’t resolve – commit. Commit now, even knowing that there will be days ahead when you slip, days when holiday parties make it nearly impossible to eat right. Commit to your health today so you can thank yourself tomorrow.
All that said, committing does take some planning, and I do realize that – for some people – that pomp and circumstance of setting New Year’s resolutions is exactly the motivation they need. Which is fine – after all, to each their own. But if you do opt to wait for the ball to drop at midnight on December 31st before committing to healthy changes, a few suggestions to help make that resolve stick:
· Start small. It can be tempting to try to rip the band aid off all of your bad habits, but committing to giving up sugar, giving up alcohol, giving up coffee, and going to the gym 5 days/week – all at the same time – will likely be an uphill battle too big to fight, especially if you have other things in your life (like a job, a family, friends, etc.). Start with one habit and use successes with that change as forward momentum for adopting other positive changes.
· Be specific. Overarching resolutions to “get back in shape” or “start eating healthier” or “save more money” are far too vague to be effective. You must specify the how and the what to be successful. For example, “set aside $100 from every paycheck this year” is a specific way to save money.
· Recruit friends and family. Making change is hard, there’s no way around that fact. Recruiting loved ones in a fitness, diet, health, etc. challenge gives you extra motivation and helps keep you accountable on days when you’d rather let things slide.
· Finally, allow yourself some grace. We’re all human, we make mistakes, we have better days and we have worse days. Even as a fitness and nutrition coach, there are plenty of times I could do better. So focus on consistency rather than beating yourself up if you miss one workout or cave to a donut craving. Get back on track as soon as you can and leave the guilt where it belongs – with your mother 😉.
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but nor was it destroyed in a day. Lasting, sustainable change takes time, but it is well worth the effort ALL year long.