On New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year! 2014 is upon us, and with the new year come the usual New Year’s Resolutions.

According to an LA Fitness survey, seven of the forty most popular New Year’s Resolutions are health and fitness related:

  • Lose weight (3rd)
  • Get a six pack (19th)
  • Eat less chocolate (20th)
  • Drink less alcohol (22nd)
  • Quit smoking (26th)
  • Run a half or full marathon (29th)
  • Try extreme sports (36th)

But you didn’t need me to tell you that the start of the year is a popular time for making big health-related promises to yourself. Promises that almost always ultimately fail – a University of Scranton study found that just 8% of New Year’s Resolutions are achieved, leading to inevitable feelings of guilt and remorse (just like those feelings I hope you avoided on Christmas Day).

Most people would love to know why New Year’s Resolutions fail, in the hope that understanding their failure will lead to future success. However, to go down that path is to miss the point entirely.

Here’s the reality: New Year’s Resolutions – in their “traditional” form – will almost always fail, regardless of how hard you try. Why? Because whatever you are trying to achieve requires far too much willpower.

New Year’s Resolutions are inherently flawed in that they usually demand a drastic (and often abstract) outcome. Just look at the resolutions in the list above: things like losing weight, quitting smoking, or running a marathon. These are all huge goals.

The key to sustaining resolutions (whether they’re made at the start of a year or any other time) is to focus on minor change. Don’t simply demand weight loss; implement minor changes (like these). Make a resolution to eat more protein at breakfast, eat a banana instead of a muffin for your morning snack, or chew your food twice as much. These are small, clearly stated resolutions that are easy to keep, will help you to become healthier, and will become habit before long.

I know making these small adjustments isn’t as sexy a notion as a gigantic New Year’s Resolution, but I’m far more interested in results than appearances. It’s like the tortoise and the hare – while a big New Year’s Resolution might get you off to a roaring start, you’ll falter before long. In time, the tortoise will overtake the hare and beat it to the finish line. Be the tortoise.

The start of a new year is a strong symbol of re-birth, a blank slate, starting from scratch, and so on. But don’t waste the opportunity to provoke sustainable change by running before you can walk. Start small, establish solid habits, and continue to develop a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t ever feel restrictive.