Do you make New Year’s resolutions related to your weight, eating, or exercise? Or did you make them until you figured out that they would be broken by February?
I used to make them which makes sense as I’m one of life’s goal setters. One with sub-goals, 5 year plans and task lists. (A counselor once told me that I wasn’t fulfilled in my relationships because I was getting all my thrills from marking things off my to-do list. Ouch.)
I’ve achieved many of these goals – including habit change and even weight loss.
Yet, the health habits never stuck and the weight never stayed off. Inevitably my next year’s resolutions included the same weight loss, eating, and exercise goals. Despite success with other goals, I ultimately felt like a failure.
New Year’s resolutions around health seem like a good idea, a necessity even. We’ve all been encouraged have goals, to write them down, and to make them SMART. Ergo, this year we will only eat before 6 pm, never touch sugar, and lose 25 pounds by summer.
Specific. Measurable. And yet doomed.
If you are a chronic dieter, it’s highly unlikely that another diet or restriction scheme is going to result in the success that has eluded you in the past. Even if you achieve your goal, you’re likely to find yourself back in the same place you started before the year is done.
What’s going on?
After decades of wondering what’s wrong with me, and re-committing to becoming new and improved (while embarking on yet another new and improved diet), I decided to look deeper.
What I found first was that goals only work on things you can control. And weight unfortunately isn’t one of those things.
Despite the diet industry’s admonitions, weight is now known to be almost as heritable as height. And as inflexible to long term change.
We know that diets don’t work because restriction doesn’t work. This isn’t to say that weight change can’t occur, just that many of the root factors are outside of our direct control (think hormonal system, central nervous system, DNA, environment). That renders making a weight loss number the focus of your New Year as useless as making a resolution to win the lottery.
Not only is failure predictable, but you’ve wasted valuable life energy in the pursuit. Trying fruitlessly to change the things you cannot change only leads to de-motivation, failure, and the belief there is something wrong with you. That’s the darkest of the dark side of New Year’s resolutions.
What if instead of focusing on weight you focus on what you can change, specifically your habits? This theory says that while you can’t change what your body does, you can change the inputs – such as how you eat and move.
I’ve been a proponent of this approach for years. But these resolutions have their own dark side.
The tendency is to set up goals without realistic supporting plans, to expect too much change too fast, and to rely exclusively on willpower to keep you motivated. Life will inevitably hit a bump and fitting in exercise or finding some vegetables that day won’t be the priority. And again you will feel that you have failed.
Consider also that the whole idea of needing to do things better is based in shame. This type of “self improvement” can even be seen as a form of self bullying.
As a friend of mine said today, we need a better story for ourselves. One that will motivate rather than defeat us. What if the better and truer story is that we’ve been doing the best we can in the situation we are in? And what if that’s OK?
What would happen if you embraced the belief that you don’t have to improve anything because you’re enough just as you are? That you can simply keep doing your best – no resolutions needed?
That’s the decision I’ve come to.
From now on any goals and resolutions made will be strictly for my business. My New Year’s resolution for myself is to just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other every day toward what is most important, and do my best.
It’s how I survived this year of grief. “We gaan door, “ my husband and I said in Dutch many times to each other, meaning “we keep going.” We didn’t know any other way and we still don’t. All we could promise is to keep going.
I will try to remember to breathe, to slow down my eating, and that I will feel better if I go outside. I will try to remember to pause and assess my emotions before making eating decisions. I will strive to keep up a regular eating routine so I don’t get overly hungry. And I will put play and rest on my to-do list.
And when I don’t do any of these I won’t beat myself up. I will just keep going as I have been.
It’s counter-intuitive but by not keeping score or even attempting to set goals this past year I’ve actually taken healthier actions overall. Maybe there’s nothing to rebel against? Or nothing to measure against except my own inner knowing of what will support me best? Or maybe eating chocolate was what I really needed?
That’s why at the end of this coming year I’m not going to count up how many greens I ate, or steps I took. I’m not going to weigh myself as a measure of success or failure. Instead of counting and measuring I’m going to ask if I enjoyed my body and if I showed it some care. I’m going to ask if I kept going through the bad days and the good.
And that’s going to be enough.
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This week I’m re-reading Emotional First Aid – Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries by Guy Winch. It’s a great book when you find difficult emotions driving your eating. I love his TED talk and also his short book for TED called How To Fix A Broken Heart which is excellent for anyone who has lost a relationship, pet, or dream.
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We’ve got much more coming, so stay tuned!
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