by Eric Sudler, M.S.
Dieting is a time consuming and strenuous endeavor that is worth the payoff if one can maintain the discipline to see it through to the end. In this season where people focus on maintaining their New Year’s Resolution, it never hurts to have a little guidance.
No matter what sources you check, the top resolutions in no particular order tend to be dieting/weight loss, exercising more, better money management, quitting smoking, and reducing drinking. Out of the people who make these resolutions, 75% keep them for a week; 71% for 2 weeks; 64% for 1 month; and 46% for 6 months.
Research also shows that the people who make more explicit goals are more likely to maintain these goals as compared to people who keep their goals to themselves. Now that’s not to say that you need to constantly remind everyone about how you’re going to better yourself. Doing that will bring you to a new resolution the following year: trying not to annoy your friends like you did all last year.
I personally have no problems with making resolutions. However, it seems to me that sometimes people put extra pressure on themselves because it’s the infamous New Year’s resolution. As if it’s the only time of year one can make a resolute goal or purpose. Therefore, after months of building up pressure, the day comes when you break the almighty contract you have made between yourself and the New Year’s gods. Because this sacred covenant has been broken, there is no need to even try again because in our mind irreparable damage has been done.
But what if… this New Year’s Resolution is nothing special? What if the only difference between a New Year’s Resolution and a regular promise to better your life is that one starts on January 1st? Telling yourself that “I must”, “I should”, “I have to” start this diet today and keep it going for the rest of my life can actually be irrational at times. Depending on what’s going on in your life, January 1st might not be a good time for you to start your resolution. Ultimately, the main beneficiaries of New Year’s Resolutions are personal trainers and any company that makes treadmills.
I am not preaching, but merely speaking from personal experience. I made a resolution for January 1st, 2011 to lose weight, having gained a significant amount since moving to New York. January 1st came and went as did February 1st and March 1st. Still no progress. In fact, I actually was moving in the opposite direction of my goal. Finally, towards the end of March, I had a rational conversation with myself. I said,
“Myself, why are you putting so much pressure on yourself to achieve this resolution that you continue to fail at epically? It seems to me that you should continue to try to lose weight, but without the added pressure of keeping some silly resolution. If you lose weight, that’d be great. If not, you know you can stand it. You can still be happy with yourself if you don’t. Why do you need to lose this weight in the first place? Your weight gain has not adversely affected any of your interpersonal relationships nor has it hindered your professional career. In fact, focusing so hard on failing to reach some arbitrary weight has caused you to stress out and eat. Ironically enough, placing so much pressure on yourself to lose the weight is actually causing you to gain more weight.”
I’m not sure what happened that day or what new neural pathways were created, but on April 1st, 2011, I decided to not put so much pressure on myself while still striving to reach my goal. Currently, as I type this, I have lost 28 pounds (and counting) since that day. And it wasn’t even New Year’s when I made that resolution.
So my point is this: Do not fall into the trap of “shoulding” all over yourself this New Year’s in terms of your resolution. Telling yourself that you absolutely must, have to, or should do something rarely gets you to where you want to be. While New Year’s is a wonderful holiday, you do not have to limit your resolutions to that day. If you’re serious and if you’re ready, any day can be New Year’s.