Here is your resolution solution . . . don’t set one!

3 01 2013

Sam Zizzi

Everywhere you turn in early January, it seems each and every news outlet on TV and print media capitalizes on our puzzling interest in setting New Year’s Resolutions. Why do we do this? Perhaps its the optimism that comes from the turning over of the calendar or appreciating the holiday season, or perhaps a few days off of work makes us feel a bit more capable of anything. What I don’t hear on any of the media outlets is the approach I would recommend to my own clients – don’t set a New Year’s Resolution. Gasp!

I mean, aren’t we supposed to set absurdly high goals that we can post on Facebook so at least 15% of our friends like it or comment about it? Don’t these big goals make us seem really motivated and achievement-oriented? I admit, these things sound good, but do they actually work? No. The tricky thing about goals is that they lead to feelings of anxiety and failure, which lead to frustration, guilt, and even shame. These nasty emotions lead to falling off the health wagon and eating whatever makes us feel good and giving up on our exercise plans. As you can see, this is not a nice cycle. Many people smarter than me have done the research to prove this cycle (click here for the research). Other researchers have shown how this pattern in dieting is highly ineffective as well. So, the one major thing you can do to stop this cycle from spinning is to stop setting absurd goals that sound good, but are actually not particularly motivating and end up being a waste of our time and frankly, counterproductive to our hopes and dreams.

Instead, start small and and you may find yourself experiencing success.

So, if you feel compelled to be “resolved” about anything in this beautiful new year, resolve to have daily mindfulness of your health. Make the small decisions every day that will make 2013 a great year for you and your family. It is likely you already know most of what you need to do for your exercise and diet habits, and in this program, someone else who you could meet with can help you with the rest. Write these small accomplishments down (“walked 30 minutes today”, “did a 60 minute Zumba class”, “ate 3 servings of veggies today!”) to build momentum. Focus on, and appreciate, the small accomplishments, positive feelings, and increased strength and energy that result from these decisions. These “outcomes” make every day of your life better, and the last time I checked we only get today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, or as one of my favorite songs says “tomorrow can’t be depended on.”

So, get going! Make good decisions most of the time, give yourself permission to make some mistakes along the way, and commit to sticking with it no matter what! The funny thing about resolutions is that they are meant to motivate us, but they often end up being the very cause of guilt and other negative emotions that block our way forward. Let go of this nonsense and move forward guilt-free in 2013.

Feel free to send your questions to me via email at szizzi@mail.wvu.edu or contact your health behavior counselor to discuss this approach. Happy New Year!

Sam Zizzi

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