This is the time of the year when most of us think about New Year resolutions and plan to make drastic changes in the way we eat, drink, and in general live our lives, all with the intent of being better and healthier.
There are some reasons why this process is so appealing to most of us:
First, after have indulged in the past few weeks –eating more than usual; eating richer foods; spending more money; drinking too much; ignoring work and other responsibilities for social and recreational activities, and so on – we feel the need to compensate by setting more stringent and demanding goals for ourselves. This is a typical way of reducing possible guilt about these indulgences, and giving us and people around us the message that we are on the right track now. Setting new, healthy resolutions gives us a feeling of control and powe over our impulses and actions.
Another reason we set new goals at the beginning of the year is that we function better when we conceive of things as having a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning of a new year gives us the message we can turn another page, start fresh, and have another chance, no matter what happened the year before. We can let go of past mistakes more easily and look forward to new experiences with fresh eyes. If last year was a difficult one, we can renew hope the new one will be different and look at it with anticipation rather than dread.
Yet another reason is that setting New Year resolutions give us a feeling of growth. We can use past experiences, we believe, to build new and loftier goals for ourselves. We can look back at the past and see how much we have grown since then and plan for the future. We like to think that each year will be better than the previous one.
So far, so good. So, why is it so difficult to stick to our resolutions?
Most of the time the reasons for failure have to do with setting unrealistic goals. We want to lose too much weight in too short a time. We plan to go to the gym every day of the week, when in the past we didn’t go at all. But when we introduce drastic changes very seldom we can sustain them in the long run. And when we fail, it is easy to give up and forget about them… until the next New Year, when we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, unless we approach our New Year resolutions differently.
So, here is what you should do:
Think realistically about your daily schedule, your level of energy, your priorities and obligations. What can you squeeze in your day without pushing you over the edge? Perhaps twenty minutes on the treadmill two or three times a week is all you can do right now. Perhaps even this is too much, if you don’t have easy access to a treadmill, and you have little children to take care of when you are not at work. Perhaps all you can afford is a walk on Saturday morning, or a little time to yourself to gather your thoughts and be more aware of how you feel.
Perhaps you can start eliminating one item from your diet, rather than changing it radically. The important thing to remember is not so much what we change that is important, but whether or not we can sustain such change on a consistent basis.
The bottom line is that radical changes are rarely sustainable, gradual ones are more likely to be sustainable. So, focus on small changes here and there and build from them, gradually, incrementally and, above all, consistently.