Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year: New Resolutions? Maybe Not a Good Idea

It's the same thing every year: come the holiday season, we start hearing from gyms, exercise companies, diet gurus, and all other types of life improvement people and groups, all encouraging you to contact them so they can help you keep your New Year Resolutions. The typical ones are, of course, losing weight, getting fit, spending less money, spending more time with the people you love, and so on. But while the intention is good, is making such resolutions such a good idea? Does it work? If you're like most people - probably not.

Most our flaws, as we may see them, come from years of accumulation. That extra 30 pounds you're carrying around? That didn't just happen over a few weeks. Your smoking habit? It didn't start last month. Spending too much money? Surely that's nothing new. In other words, it took years to get where we are now, it seems almost foolhardy to think that it can take only weeks to get out of these habits.

The other drawback is that New Year's Day is an arbitrary day on the calendar. It's only one of 365 (or 366) days and it's really not that much different from any other. Except perhaps in a bad way: there is a lot of pressure on that one day. Because it is a new year, people expect others to proclaim that they will honour that new year with a new twist on life. And they'll watch you. Promise you'll lose weight? What will your friends and family say when they see you having a beer or helping yourself to a second scoop of ice cream?

All this isn't to say that we can't and shouldn't make changes. Most of us do have areas where we can improve our life. So if picking the first day of a new year isn't the right thing to do, what is?

Pick a date

First, don't be pressured because of the time of year. Allow yourself to choose when you want to make the changes in your life. Experts who help people quit smoking often say to pick a quit date - so you can do the same. Pick a date when you feel it would be good for you to start going to the gym, stop watching so much TV, start organizing your messy room, and so on. But pick a date that doesn't have any strings attached to it. Pick a day that is just an ordinary day. Write down that date, circle it on the calendar, and tell others if you think it will help. Do what you can to ensure that you will be ready when that date comes.

Make a lifestyle change - not a habit change

It's all so negative: I have to stop smoking. I have to lose weight. I have to become more organized.... Rather than focusing on what you have to do (or feel you have to do), focus on what you can do to help achieve the goals. If you want to stop smoking, changing habits that encourage cigarettes may be a big help. Do you join coworkers for a coffee and cigarette at break time? Why not go for a walk and have a cup of tea instead? Do you always have a cinnamon donut from the coffee shop on the way to work? Why not stay at home a bit longer and make your coffee, enjoying it there? Do you see the difference? You're not trying to deprive yourself - you're trying to change the circumstances so you don't engage in the behaviours you are trying to avoid.

Don't bite off more than you can chew

As mentioned already, these habits didn't just start overnight and they won't stop overnight. The best way to make stop doing something that you feel is harmful is by making lifestyle changes overall. If you want to start exercising, start out with something manageable, that you would be least likely to ditch because you can't do it. Don't pay a fortune to join a gym that you may not use. Just start walking, outside if possible. Walking outside gives you the advantage of scenery, people watching, changes in terrain, and getting some fresh air. You can choose to walk just a few blocks in the beginning, walking farther and farther as you become used to it. You can walk alone or with a partner. And it is very do-able. You can add to the walking once you are comfortable with it. Join a class maybe, go swimming, or do some other activity. Gyms are great places to work out, but before committing the money, be sure that the gym is a place you will go.

If you're trying to lose weight, don't look at *all* the weight you have to lose. It may be too overwhelming. Why not start at losing the first 10 pounds or going down a clothing size? If you give yourself smaller goals, you are much more likely to reach them.

Focus on the positive

Did you miss walking three times out of five days last week because of commitments? Don't beat yourself up. You walked twice, right? Did you walk most of the days the week before? Will you walk most of them next week? Don't focus on what you didn't do - focus on what you DID do.

It's the same thing for losing weight. Were you eating a healthy diet for the past few weeks? Did you just slip up and have a couple of glasses of wine at dinner and then a bigger piece of birthday cake than you felt you should have? Ok, you did. But what about all those other dinners where you didn't have wine and didn't eat cake? Those have to count for something, don't they? Don't focus on the "slipping," focus on the times you felt you did what you wanted to do.

Celebrate your successes

Reward yourself. The carrot is so much more appealing than the stick. If you have a goal, such as going down a clothing size, tell yourself you can buy a new pair of jeans. If your goal is to become more organized in your bedroom, promise yourself a new book or pair of earrings if you manage to keep it organized for a set amount of time. Do you want to exercise more? Treat yourself to a special coffee or lunch after you've walked a certain amount of days. Of course, things are often better if done and celebrated with someone else, so if you have support, take advantage of it and let others help you celebrate.

Forget the New Year Resolutions. Make changes in your life when you want to make them because you choose to make them.