Are Your Resolutions Realistic?
By Sheryl Kraft
Happy New Year!
That's what happens at the stroke of midnight. A chance for a redo, a new beginning, a fresh start. Many of us continue to make resolutions, year after year after year.
Staying fit and healthy is the top resolution, followed by losing weight, according to a new Nielsen survey, which also says that "just a handful" of people choose to make no resolutions at all.
We vow to do better, promise ourselves that we will, and really mean it—this time. But commonly, we break our resolutions before we have a chance to succeed.
Why? Chances are, they're not realistic. It's better to set small, sustainable goals than to make sweeping, grand gestures. One helpful way start is to change the word "resolution" to "lifestyle change." To me, it signals your brain to go from strict absolutes to more workable actions over time.
Whether you want to call it resolutions or lifestyle changes, there are ways to get to your goals.
Your goal: Get More Exercise.
Resolution fail: Going to the gym almost every day.
Resolution reality: Aim to go to the gym three to four days a week, rather than six or seven. This way, you'll be less likely to injure yourself—one of the major reasons people quit. You'll also be less likely to become bored and suffer from burnout before you have a chance to burn enough calories to make a difference. (Caution: It takes more exercise than you probably think to burn off those calories—like almost an hour of brisk walking to burn off a 350-calorie doughnut. Is it worth it? Judge for yourself.)
Your goal: Get a Better Body.
Resolution fail: Expecting results too soon.
Resolution reality: Don't think that it will happen overnight. It's probably taken months or even years for your body to get to the way it is now. And it will take months of sustained effort to improve it. But, with perseverance and dedication, you will see changes! (Just make sure you keep those expectations in checks. Alas, we'll never be 30 again and neither will our bodies.)
Your goal: Eat Better.
Resolution fail: Giving up all "forbidden" foods.
Resolution reality: Sure, foods like chocolate and chips, Brie or baked Alaska can veer into the "fattening" or "unhealthy" category, but if you love these and can't have them—ever—you're guaranteed to want and crave them even more (and when you do eat them, you'll go way overboard, thinking it's your last and only chance). But really, they're only "bad" if you overdo it. Instead, allow yourself an occasional treat of your "forbidden" food. The trick is to do it once in a while and keep the portion reasonable. Allow yourself a small portion—one square of chocolate instead of a bagful or a couple of bites of pie rather than a full slice. You'll eventually learn to be satisfied rather than feeling totally denied.
Interesting fact: A new study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that foods portrayed as "healthy" might lead to overeating and even contribute to weight gain. Why? People equate the word "healthy" with "less filling" and tend to consume healthy foods in greater quantity.
Your goal: Go on a diet.
Resolution fail: Google "Why diets fail" and you'll get over 2 million results, which is to say, they fail. Some (very varied) top reasons: We have a genetically set weight range. Restricting calories makes you psychologically stressed, which can easily lead to overeating. We overestimate how much weight we'll actually lose. Diets are temporary. Diets can lower your metabolism. Diets equal deprivation.
Resolution reality: Rather than putting yourself on a diet, aim to modify your eating habits. Allow yourself the occasional treat. Think strategically: Place obstacles between yourself and foods you want to eat less of; put them in hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way places (like in the back of the refrigerator or pantry). Keep the fruits, veggies and other smart choices upfront and visible, so you're reminded to eat them (and have easier access to them). Drink a large glass of water before digging into your meal. Don't snack in front of the TV or out of a bag; instead pour a small portion into a small bowl. Aim to eat protein at every meal, because it is more satisfying and filling than carbs or fats and helps keep you fuller for longer.
I'm not saying you shouldn't make resolutions. Kudos to those who want to improve themselves and make positive changes. But the fact is that resolutions can be hard to stick to, especially if you don't go beyond the "I want to be a better person" or "I want to be healthier" statements.
Whatever your resolution, the American Psychological Association lends a hand with these tips for making them stick.
Make resolutions that you think you can keep. If, for example, you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of seeing your diet as a form of punishment.
Change one behavior at a time
Unhealthy behaviors develop over time. Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Don't get overwhelmed and think you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.
Talk about it
Share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers quitting smoking. Having someone with whom to share your struggles and successes makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.
Don't beat yourself up
Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps are completely normal and OK. Don't give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.
Ask for support
Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies for adjusting your goals so that they are attainable, as well as helping you change unhealthy behaviors and addressing emotional issues.