At the start of a new year a lot of people feel the need to set resolutions, vow to change bad habits, eat less, exercise more, get a new job… the list goes on. Deciding to make lifestyle changes is great, but many times these goals are based on what we have done “wrong” or focus on our imperfections. This why I believe so many New Year’s resolutions do not last and why many people end up with the same list of resolutions year after year.

The new year should invoke a feeling of rejuvenation and “starting fresh,” but resolutions are often filled with negativity. Some people say they need to stop being so lazy and exercise more, stop procrastinating and wasting peoples’ time, stop yelling at their kids, and be a good parent. Sometimes resolutions feed into the idea of the new year being a time for a “new you” when there is nothing wrong with the current you! True, we all have things we wish we could change, but we also have attributes we are proud of. Instead of focusing on a “New You” why not change that to a “Better You”?

How different do all of those goals/resolutions sound when we simply change the focus from negativity to positivity? Instead of saying we need to stop being lazy, why not say we want to move more and make that a priority so we can be there for those who need us? Instead of saying we need to stop procrastinating and wasting peoples’ time, why not focus on better time management and task prioritizing? Instead of saying we need to stop yelling at our kids and be a good parent, why not make a goal of being more patient with our kids and taking more time to enjoy the little moments with them?

Instead of focusing on all the things we are doing wrong, our goals/resolutions should focus on what we want to do right. Think about it. Doesn’t it sound more rewarding it say, “I didn’t make it to the gym today, but I did make myself a healthy dinner to work towards my goal of prioritizing my health” than it does to say: “I didn’t make it to the gym today so I am failing”? Or, “I am glad that I was able to take a few minutes to read with Sam tonight after I lost my temper with him this morning when he broke the lamp” instead of, “Why did I get so upset with Sam for breaking that lamp? I am not following through with my resolution of yelling less.”

Another problem with many New Year’s resolutions is how they are conceptualized: they are focused on the end result and lose sight of how that resolution is going to be accomplished. Take weight loss, for example, and a fictional patient. ‘Jane’ has decided she wants to lose 50 pounds this year, so she makes a New Year’s resolution to lose those 50 pounds before Thanksgiving. This is a totally realistic goal equating to about one pound per week. In addition, she is planning how she is going to achieve her goal by setting smaller goals including:

  • Limit eating out no more than three times per week
  • Sign up for a 5k run/walk and train to add in more physical activity
  • Buy a large water bottle and drink at least 50 ounces of water a day

Overall, this is a well-planned resolution. It has many positive aspects of goal-setting: it is realistic and has very specific action items that should help her achieve her goals.The only missing pieces in Jane’s resolution are “why” and “how.” Why does she want to lose the 50 pounds? How will her life be different when she accomplishes this? Fifty pounds is a significant amount of weight, and 11 months is a long time. A lot could happen between January and November and unless Jane has a meaningful reason why this goal is important to her and how it will change her life, it could prove very challenging to avoid old habits and maintain motivation. But if Jane approaches that same goal with the why of: “I want to lose these 50 pounds because I’d like to be fit and healthy enough to take care of my grandchild two days a week.” And the how of: “By losing 50 pounds I will be more mobile and better able to take care of my grandchild. At my current weight it would be difficult for me to carry the baby, get down on the ground to play, haul a stroller around, etc.”

Finally, when setting New Year’s resolutions, or working towards any goal, it is important to remove, or plan for, as many barriers as possible. There will always be things that get in our way when we are working towards something, but being prepared for that, or learning how to adjust, is the key to not giving up. Keep this quote in mind, “Giving up on your goals because of one setback is like slashing all other three tires because you get one flat.” When you get a flat tire you don’t take a knife to the other three! You may be inconvenienced and delayed, but you eventually make it to your destination. The same thing can be said about our goals. Things will disrupt our plan and delay us, but if we stick with it, we will eventually get there.

For more great information about changing habits listen to this podcast (interview starts at 4:30):

For more tips on mindset and setting goals read this great article:

January 14, 2019 | by Jasmine Miller MS, CN