Let’s begin with the fact that I do not believe in New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make them. I do not encourage others to make them. There is a low rate of long-term success attributed to changes made as a result of vowing to do (or not do) something beginning January 1st, and I feel like “New Year’s Resolution” encompasses an assumption of finiteness (it’s a word) and failure. It’s one thing to set up contingency plans for when we face trying times during the course of changing behavior, but it seems like we make resolutions kind of knowing we aren’t actually going to follow through.
I (sort of) like that many of these resolutions entail health behaviors – quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, running a race – because bringing awareness to health is a good thing. However, I am frustrated by our gangbusters-like approach to addressing personal health, which inevitably putters out and often does not resurface until the following January. Additionally, many resolutions are over-generalized - reduce stress, lose weight, get fit, get more sleep, eat healthier, go on a diet - and I think that is partially what sets us up to fail. Popular media isn’t helping. The pervasive headlines and book titles that connote magic or secrets are ineffective at best, and counterproductive at worst. If it’s so simple, why isn’t everyone doing it?
Yeah. Because it’s not.
As I’ve touched on before, there is conflict in approaching a complex problem with an oversimplified plan, and such conflict impedes lasting change. I encourage you to start with this concept when approaching your own behavior change. Accept the fact that it will take concentrated effort, and that it may entail re-prioritizing some things. But you get to decide how you want to view that effort and re-prioritization.
For those of you who are following me on social media (and if you’re not, you should!), you may have seen my recent post with this M. Scott Peck quote: “Abandon the urge to simplify everything...appreciate the fact that life is complex.”
This quote largely reflects my overarching paradigm for health behavior change, however there is a distinction worth noting. A key reason why individuals face difficulty in reaching their wellness goals is that they focus solely on the intricacies of plans and regimes, while ignoring the complexities of what is feeding behavior to begin with.
Don’t get mired in minutiae.
In fact, I believe this is why we do focus on the trivial details of certain behaviors…it’s a way for us to avoid digging deep into possible core contributors, many of which are longstanding, overwhelming, or painful. Certainly I’m not indicating that individuals are consciously self-sabotaging, however, we do tend towards comfort.
While I am big on acknowledging the complexity of behavioral contributors, I believe in a simple approach to the actual behaviors - I do not promote complicated recipes or eating plans, I do not promote diets that require adherence to insignificant rules such as eating a certain times or eating certain combinations of foods together, and I do not promote conditional exercise strategies such as only engaging in one type of activity or performing activities in a certain order.
Really, my version of “simple” = “don’t add complication to existing complication.”
I will, for a moment, put aside my disdain for New Year’s resolutions and embrace the reality that is – many of you are already planning them. Therefore, I propose two challenges:
1. Start your resolution before January 1st. Start tomorrow. Start today! There’s no reason to wait, and I believe that the pressure of a January 1 start date thwarts our best efforts before we even embark on the journey.
2. Whether or not you make New Year’s resolutions, spend January 1st the way in which you would like to spend most days over the next year. Think about what truly supports your health goals, what genuinely feeds your soul, who sincerely contributes to your happiness. Think big, think small. And don’t forget about the challenges I proposed in my last blog; they can work in conjunction with those posed in this current post.
I am often asked how the things I write and talk about translate to my own life. Here is an example. I think my personal stance on Challenge #1 is clear (if not, go back and read the first paragraph of this blog). As for Challenge #2, on New Year’s Day, I plan to wake up from sufficient and restorative sleep, exercise (likely taking a walk and going for a run if the weather is such that I will be able to enjoy it), laugh, express gratitude, interact with some of my favorite people, and eat real, whole food that embodies compassion and promotes health.
As always, I welcome comments. Please share your thoughts on resolutions and your New Year’s Day plans.
Much love y’all,