New Year’s resolutions that are too ambitious invite failure
By Richard Fleming, MD
Wow, where did 2013 go? It vanished so fast. With a new year upon us, it is once again time for people across the land to start our annual game of making New Year’s Resolutions. Almost half of us make these promises to ourselves every year. You know what I’m talking about. Kind of like a selfie, but in words instead of a photo. The number one resolution people make is to lose weight. In fact, many of the top 10 resolutions involve getting healthier. We promise to eat better, exercise more, and take better care of ourselves.
I do not mean to be a Grinch, but I want to introduce a little reality here. Scientific studies have been done on New Year’s Resolutions. I hope I am not surprising you when I say they are rarely kept. Yes, the intentions are there. We fully plan to self-improve. We deeply intend to live healthier lives. We honestly want to learn new things, spend more time with our families, and do more to help others.
But most of the time it just does not happen. Most New Year’s Resolutions fall by the wayside within a few months. Or even sooner. Why is this? My theory, though it has not been scientifically tested, is that the problem comes from too much enthusiasm. Let me explain. During the holiday season, we often get warm and fuzzy feelings. Good cheer is all around. We know the calendar is about to change, so we figure this is a good time for us to change also. We feel up-beat and motivated. We can succeed in any challenge. This burst of energy convinces us we can take on new projects and change ourselves in ways we could not imagine just one month earlier. Remember Thanksgiving? We did not come up with any plans for self-improvement after finishing the turkey and pumpkin pie. But January is different. When the calendar changes, the possibility of personal improvement seems so real. So possible.
And we follow our New Year’s Resolutions for a while. Days go by, even weeks, and we stay on track. We eat better. We are out there walking three times a week. We remember to call our parents or our children more often. But as time goes by, we start missing some of our goals. Other priorities come up. Time is short. The walking drops to twice a week. Or once. Eating well seems to take more time than grabbing some fast food. Like that social media site where photos disappear, our New Year’s Resolutions usually vanish. Our ideas were great and our spirit was strong. But our enthusiasm drops and our flesh is weak.
So, I have an idea, but I won’t call it a New Year’s Resolution. I propose we all stop making these self-promises at the end of the year. They are too ambitious. They cannot be followed. Instead, choose one small thing to change. Something fairly easy to do. Something that can be maintained because it is a small step. And don’t plan to start it in January. Aim for February or March. Let it start gradually, and don’t look at it as a resolution. Just decide on one small thing you can change for the better. Something that will require a little effort, but at which you can succeed. Let those New Year’s Resolutions fade away like the embarrassing selfie you snapped, Instead, make a modest but sustainable change in the way you live your life. That is what I resolve – or promise – to do for myself this February or March.
Dr. Richard Fleming is Regional Medical Director of Partnership HealthPlan of California (PHC) based in Fairfield.
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