It’s 12:01am on New Year’s. As we ponder what the “Auld Lang Syne” song lyrics even mean, we start making our grandiose plans for New Year’s resolutions. Some of us have such a food hangover by the time the holidays end, we often resort to the standard weight loss resolution. Others of us are going to quit our bad habits, like smoking, or increase good habits like exercise. But how many of us have truly stuck with and accomplished a resolution? Here are reasons why many New Year’s resolutions are a set-up for failure and ways to Rehab them:
1. Great Expectations: There is something about the novelty of New Year’s which makes our expectations for starting to make a change sometimes too lofty or unrealistic. Just because it is the first day of a New Year does not mean that it has to be the day to make a change, or else.
Rehab: Be realistic about your start date. The best time to set and accomplish your goals is the time which makes the most sense for you. For example, a tax accountant may not begin to train for a marathon until after April 15th when she is not working 80 hours a week and has adequate time to run. There are 364 other days in the year which may be a better fit for starting. Be reasonable and creative; perhaps you would like to make your start date your upcoming birthday or the first day of spring. A new year means that you can plan to make changes within the year, not necessarily starting only January 1st.
2. Lack of Planning: As the ball drops, your friend turns to you and says “I’m gonna do The South Beach Diet, what’s your resolution?” And, in less than 30 seconds, we have decided on a resolution that we announce aloud and call our own. Usually, successful resolutions are not made as the ball drops, they are made with a lot of thought and planning.
Rehab: Plan and prepare in advance both emotionally and practically. Find a goal most relevant to you. If you are going to quit smoking, for example, make sure you have thought about what it would be like emotionally for you to be a non-smoker. Can you picture yourself as a non-smoker? Who are you without cigarettes? When you feel you can make an emotional commitment to your new goal, then take the practical steps: research, go shopping, and complete preparation well before your start date.
3. Lack of Specificity: “I’ll eat better in the new year.” Good goal, but what does it mean to eat better? How will you measure your goal? What are poor eating triggers and habits which have kept you stuck before?
Rehab: Be detailed and specific about goals. For example, track your “regular eating” over the course of a typical week, then make specific adjustments from there such as, “I will decrease my sugar intake by half over the next two weeks.” Research shows that writing down specific goals and tracking accomplishments will increase chances of success. Nowadays, there are great apps for setting goals and monitoring progress. Check into technology as part of your planning process.
4. Lack of Good Replacements: “When I’m stressed, I’m a chocoholic, and I have to stop.” These are the best laid plans until you find yourself feeling stressed about being back at work after the holiday break. To add to your dilemma, you may find that the kitchen at your office looks like a virtual cornucopia of chocolaty holiday goodies, brought in by your coworkers who have purged their homes unhealthy items to begin their own weight loss regime. If you eat chocolate, for example, as your main coping mechanism for stress relief, it is not realistic to eliminate it without a reasonable replacement.
Rehab: Experiment and implement substitute coping mechanisms to help you accomplish goals. Find something specific, or several things which together add up to be stress relieving before you eliminate or greatly reduce chocolate from your diet. This step should be part of your planning process but also reevaluated and adjusted as needed. Your replacement should be healthier than the original problem behavior. Think about other things you do to help yourself when chocolate is not available. For example, do you like venting to coworkers or taking a brief walk around your office building? Not giving yourself a replacement will set you up to feel more stressed and push you back into your previous bad habits.
5. All/Nothing Thinking: “I’m going to get up at 6am and run 5 miles every day before work.” This sounds like a great resolution, and we may stick with it, until for some reason, we fall off the wagon. Maybe we get sick and miss a week, then we have an early meeting or go on vacation, then…well, you get the picture. We set ourselves up by thinking unrealistically about frequency and we do not account for breaks or things which inevitably interfere with our plans. Then, by March, we don’t even remember our resolution because we have abandoned them after the first week we faltered.
Rehab: Start small and work up; don’t throw in the towel after some frustration. Try to set and accomplish a realistic frequency of meeting a goal with some outs for unanticipated obstacles. Think about trying to run 5 miles consistently for 2 days per week, then in February add one more day per week, and so on, until you have achieved a reasonable frequency and confidence that you can accomplish your goal most of the time. If you were only able to run once in a given week, think of it as an exception, then try to return to your baseline of twice the next week and work back up.
More Resolution Rehab Ideas and Suggestions:
Think about starting a New Year’s journal where you reflect on your top ten highs and lows of 2012. Do the same at the end of 2013, and so on. It is nice to have a record of our years in a summary or broad strokes fashion, especially if we aren’t in the habit of journaling regularly. This may also help you with resolution goal setting for the upcoming years.
Resolutions do not have to be limited to individuals only. Come up with a couples’ and/or family resolutions.
Don’t forget that good health in the New Year can include mental health. Is 2013 a good year to invest some time and money in seeking therapy for something you would like some support or help in working on?
Think of realistic ways to increase the quality of your life, such as adding one non-electronic related activity progressively per week or per month. (Think about non-costly activities too such as reading, going to a free museum, having a picnic, etc.)
Above all else, remember that resolutions are a process, not just a destination. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2013.
Disclaimer: Shrink Wrapped: Sessions To Go ™ is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or supplement assessment and/or treatment by a licensed mental health professional.
Dr. Nicole Joseph © 2012