by B. Imei Hsu, BSN-RN, MAC-LMHC, Artist
Are you thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions for 2013? I noticed friends and colleagues posting their resolutions on a variety of Social Media platforms. Rather than construct a lengthy post about New Year’s resolutions and change and blah blah blah, I’d like to share with you my new, pithy motto about these commitments we make every year, and just a few words about how it works.
New Year’s Resolutions Do Not Work
Surprise! New Year’s Resolutions take four attempts on average for people to complete. The very nature of a resolution has change at the heart of it, and change is not the easiest concept for people to embrace unless you have a plan that allows you to encounter and engage the ensuing discomfort that comes with change.
I see this every year with people’s fitness and health goals. Starting January 2, the gym is filled with people you never see any other time of year. They are wearing new togs fresh from Christmas and end-of-year gifts. Their sneakers are squeaky and fresh; their socks are so white, having never seen a drop of bleach. They are enthusiastically bouncing up and down on treadmills (which I don’t recommend — bouncing, that is). And they are obediently following a trainer around the gym, lifting this and pushing that.
But it doesn’t last longer than about 30 days.
Somewhere after the first pound or two is shed, those New Year’s resolutions to lose 40 pounds are lost before Valentine’s Day chocolates arrive. The cold weather becomes an excuse to wait until Spring to exercise outdoors, and when Spring arrives, the rain becomes the next reason why Summer would be a better time to start getting in shape. Before long, Fall has arrived, and those same people aren’t even sharing their excuses; they are blathering about their regrets. I don’t blame them. Those earlier commitments did not “stick.”
You can apply this to pretty much any difficult change you might be considering:
* quit smoking
* learn a hobby
* change your diet
* learn a foreign language
* shed twenty pounds (or if you’re underweight, gain 10 pounds)
* learn to play a musical instrument
If the act of making resolutions do not work, what does?
My Pithy Motto
Stop making New Year’s Resolutions with no “feet” to them. Feet are the tiny little actions that stimulate real change and the activity that creates real change. Instead, wrap your noodle around my pithy statement:
Don’t make a New Year’s Resolution. Create a lifestyle evolution.
First, consider a lifestyle around the goal or thing you want. Want to shed twenty pounds? Consider a lifestyle that promotes weight loss and maintenance, such as learning to cook healthy foods, a gaggle of friends who are already exercising regularly, replacing fashion magazines with health-oriented reading material, and reviewing information about the mechanics of weight loss.
Next, select activities that are 5-10% incremental improvements in the direction you want to go. Do not attempt all of the things on your list at once. You will simply get tired, discouraged, and frustrated. Instead, after implementing 5-10% changes with success, add 5-10% changes every week that you experience success, and don’t be afraid to repeat a week of the same progress until your body, mind, and activity level adjusts to the changes. By doing so, you reduce the usual symptoms of mind-body rejection of new routines and activities. It’s like turning up the heat slowly instead of tossing yourself into a freakishly hot bath.
Next, consider the concept of evolution. For those of you who have followed my posts for over a year, you might recognize this pithy statement as a version of my self-declared status as, “The Queen of the 1% Improvement Club.” I admit that I have always loved the story of the Turtle and the Hare. Sure, there are some fast rabbits out there who get the job done quickly, but there are also those of us who simply can’t keep up the pace of consistently cranking out new habits. A turtle can cross the finish line by simply taking one step after another. If your goal is to learn a new language, adding seven new words a week and practicing two everyday sentences with those words is an example of an evolving process. You don’t need to wake up the next day completely fluent by listening to language CD’s during your sleep. You have the means to evolve and accommodate your new lifestyle activities, such as making a new friend who speaks the language you are learning, selecting an activity a month that involves language immersion for two or more hours of a single day (such as watching a foreign movie with and without subtitles), and engaging in practice exams through an online program.
Every time I have asked someone to try small, incremental improvements instead of all-out dramatic changes, the response is, “Hey, I can do that.” After weeks of “Hey, I can do that”, each one of them reports back how much better they feel. This is the nature of slow and steady progress. In other areas of life, such as work, technology, and money, you might not be given the opportunity to take more time to achieve goals. With your own personal goals, you can craft a process that evolves over time and makes more mind-body sense.
There are no New Year’s Resolutions for 2013. [Sorry, folks.] Instead, turn your resolutions into lifestyle evolutions. A year from now, you’re less likely to have broken commitments, and more likely to have reached enough of your goal to keep your new lifestyle evolutions not only for a year, but for life!