The New Year
Once again, it’s that time of year. On New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight, a new year is born. When I wake up on Friday morning, was I reborn? Sadly, I am still a somewhat paunchy (although I have great muscle definition underneath all of that fat!), balding, middle-aged guy, with a bunch of good and bad habits. Despite, 2015’s good intentions, I haven’t changed much this last year.
New Year’s resolutions have fallen out of favor, largely because most adults fail miserably at keeping them. Newly acquired treadmills, stair steppers, and rowing machines become clothes hangers by March. By June, they are on Craigslist. Or worse, they are collecting dust in an over-stuffed garage.
Why do most New Year’s resolutions fail? Motivation for change doesn’t correspond with the turning of the calendar. Just because 2016 started Friday doesn’t mean I’m ready to shed the weight I gained last year. Sure, I have been thinking about losing those 5 lbs. (okay, closer to 10 lbs.) for six months. Why not get serious now? Great idea! But do I have the motivation to sustain the effort?
That’s the ten-pound question.
Researchers tell us that motivation for change entails a simple formula—incentives for change have to be twice the reasons for staying the same. Well, let’s see. I want to look better in a bathing suit this summer, have looser jeans, and be healthier. On the plump side, I like ice cream, changing eating habits seem like climbing Mount Everest, and I’m already pretty healthy despite my extra pounds. Hmm—that’s three pros and three cons for my New Years diet. I need a few more reasons to lose weight. Furthermore, social scientists throw in a kicker concept—how much do I believe I can lose those 10 lbs. and keep them off? Don’t ask—I have lost and gained a thousand pounds over the last 20 years.
Motivation for change is born from the dynamic interplay of incentives, barriers, and beliefs about my ability to achieve my goals. It makes New Year’s resolutions look like taking a New Year’s swim in the Puget Sound.
So what can we do after the confetti is gone?
- Pick one goal you would like to accomplish this next year. Be modest. You are more likely to be successful if your keep it small, simple, and singular.
- Focus on changing one behavior. “I will spend more time playing with my kids. I will spend more time with my partner (remember date nights?). I will be more patient with my teen when she argues with me about curfew. I will have more meals at home. I will bring my lunch to work. I will get a massage once a month. I will eat more vegetables at dinner. I will walk 2x a week. Make it achievable, feasible, and realistic.
- Make a plan. Keeping it short and simple is not enough. How will you handle challenges that rise up and stare your conviction in the face? Will you remember your affirmation next week when you get busy? Write your goal on a 3X5 card and post it on your bathroom mirror so that you won’t forget it in the heat of the moment. Every morning and night re-affirm your intention.
- Make it a yearlong undertaking. Plan on taking a year to make this one change. It will take you that long to make it a habit.
- A slip is not a fall. If you miss your walk this week, don’t abandon your goal. If you yell at your kiddo, don’t throw in the towel. If you miss a date night two weeks in a row, don’t throw your resolution out of the window.
If you fall off your New Year’s horse, get back on it.