It happens every year about this time. You can almost mark it on the calendar with great predictability. Over the years, I have watched it happen time and time again. Is it the after Christmas shopping sales? Do I mean the celebration of Martin Luther King Day? Perhaps I am referring to the days getting longer?
Answer: None of the above (at least not in this case).
No, the very predictable thing that happens every year about this time is that the crowd at fitness centers who packed the place just after New Year’s starts rapidly thinning out after only a week or two. As a “gym rat” of many years myself, I remember this phenomenon well. All the folks who bought a year’s membership to the place on January 1st are now back at home in bed or on the couch.
Why does this happen? Why do people have such a hard time adopting new behaviors, even when they know that behavior changes for better health are good for them? There are many reasons but here are my top ideas for what turns New Year’s resolutions into New Year’s dissolutions.
- Automaticity. Change is hard. We as humans are creatures of habit. We like routines and we like predictability. We get caught up in auto-routines that drive our behavior. These behavior patterns can get in our way, even when we are motivated for change.
- Unrealistic goals. I work with coaching clients all the time who want to address goals for exercise, nutrition, sleep, weight management, reduction in blood pressure and others. They also want them all to change NOW and try to focus on too many of these items at once.
- “All or nothing thinking.” This type of thinking pattern gets people caught up in extremes. They either achieve a goal or they do not. This type of thinking demands perfection and labels anything short of that as “failure.”
- Lack of reward/recognition. We all like to have some reward for a job well done, especially in a work environment. Therefore, bonuses or commissions are great motivators for employees. Yet, we don’t think to do this for ourselves.
- Lack of social support. We may be insecure about our goals, and we don’t share them. This means that there is no one else to help us be motivated or to whom we might feel some accountability for our behavior change. Social support is often critical to help us change.
So, how can you turn New Year’s dissolutions into effective resolutions?
- Limited goals and small steps. Rather than addressing 5 or 7 goals, focus on only one or two at most. Limit your focus so that you can more easily keep track of what you want to accomplish.
- Set attainable goals or SMART goals. If you have been a “couch potato” for many years, you should not set the immediate goal of going to the gym 5 days per week. Instead, start with joining the gym and going once per week. Do that for a few weeks and then increase to twice a week. Small steps matter and are highly rewarding!
- Seek support for your goals. As noted above, those who are public about their goals are much more likely to achieve them. Find people with whom you can share your efforts at self-improvement. Maybe you will find someone who wants to be an accountability partner with you, and you can help support each other’s goals.
- Recalibrate your goals as needed. Effective goal setting also involves adjusting them as needed. If you find that your plan for going to the gym is not working, think about what other types of exercise you might enjoy.
- Let go of self-judgment. Be patient with yourself. Remind yourself that behavior change is difficult. Turn your inner critic into your inner cheerleader.
Those are my top ideas for ways to be more successful in setting goals for 2023. It is not too late to adjust your resolutions and to view them as “a work in progress” that you can recalibrate as needed. Hopefully, this will help keep you all motivated toward better health and wellness through the New Year.
On second thought, I may not want to give away all my secrets of how to maintain behavior change. I still want my choice of treadmill at the fitness center.