Monday, December 31, 2012

Are New Year's Resolutions Worth It?

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? Do you swear that you will lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, have more patience, read more books, all on the stroke of midnight as one calendar year flips to another? And if you do make them, do you keep them?

We've all read articles or heard news reports on how to keep resolutions, how to make achievable goals, and how to be good to ourself if the resolution falls through - but is there a point to making the resolution in the first place? Yes and no. It depends on why you are making them - because you should or because you want to.

Making life changes can be difficult. Bad habits are not easy to break and good habits may gradually become part of our life.  They aren't an instant result from one thought. Habits are formed over time, so it is to be expected that bad ones will take a while to break and good ones a while to form. Making a resolution to change something because of a change in a date may not make that much sense, unless your resolution is really to start making the change, rather than expecting the sudden and complete change.


It may be too late for this January 1st, but it seems the people who are best at keeping their resolutions are those who prepare ahead of time. Smoking cessation experts often tell their clients that they need to pick a "quit date." The date can be a week away, a month away, or six months away, but the point is for them to have something to work towards. This can be the same for any type of life change. Preparing for the change, setting things into motion that will help direct the change, will help you be more successful.

One thing at a time

Resolutions like "getting fit," usually involve more than one life change at a time. Getting fit usually requires a change in eating habits, an increase in physical activity, and perhaps other changes, such as cutting down on alcohol consumption, working less, and carving out more time for fun activities. That's a lot of stuff to change in one sitting. And if you have set out to change all that, chances are that you're setting yourself up to fail.

What is more realistic? Change one thing first.

Give yourself a timeline and pick one change, perhaps the easiest so you can feel what success is like. Say that you are going to cut down how many evenings you stay late at work and set yourself a two- or three-week goal to show yourself you can do it. Once you find yourself getting home earlier than you used to, add the having more time for fun. Perhaps you can use the time to cook yourself healthier meals, leading towards your goal of eating a more healthy diet. It makes much more sense to change your diet before you start pushing your body with more physical exercise than the other way around, doesn't it?

Now that your new, healthier eating habits are taking hold, you're not as stressed from working late every night, and you have more time at the end (or beginning) of the day, maybe this is a good time to start on getting more exercise. And so the changes go. One change leads into another and increases your chances of success, unlike being overwhelmed with making a bunch of difficult changes all at once.

Choose your own new year

Your life changes don't have to be on January 1. January is when the gyms and diet franchises do so well - people join in droves so they can start trying to keep their resolutions but many drop off within weeks, if not sooner. Why not make your changes for February 5? March 16? April 27? That's what I did. July 1, 2012, I decided it was about time I got serious about getting fit. Although not seriously overweight, I was out of shape. Part of this was fibromyalgia-related, but part of it was just laziness and it was time for me to get moving. On the first day of July, I began eating in a more healthy manner. Because I don't eat a lot of junk food or snacks, that part wasn't hard, but what was difficult for me was being sure I drank enough water (I may have been a camel in a previous life) and eating more servings of fruit and vegetables.

After two weeks of my new eating habits, I joined a local gym. Because I was already eating more healthy food, my body wasn't making two adjustments at once: diet changes and new exercise regimens. And for the first time, I was successful in my endeavour to get fitter. I ended up going to the gym every day and within five months, I lost over 20 pounds. I was stronger, my fibromyalgia pain was less and my fibro fatigue wasn't as intense.

You can make life changes. Just don't feel pushed into making them on New Year's Day. Make them when they feel right for you, when your chances of succeeding are best.