As we were discussing back over at Cranky Fitness, very few folks who make New Year's resolutions or other self-improvement pledges ever follow through on 'em. Some people barely make it a few hours into the New Year before they're puffing on forbidden cigarettes, barking at family members they swore they'd have more patience with, or scarfing up big bag-fulls of Doritos, because... well, Doritos are made of corn and corn is a vegetable, right?
Even those who start off strong and get a few weeks of good behavior established may eventually start to lose steam and return to old habits. After all, self-discipline is hard and sacrifice sucks and who in their right mind wants to get up at 5-freakin-a.m. to get to some godawful gym to face annoying perky people wearing spandex?
(Photo swiped from Beauty and Fitness)
If your beautiful shiny New Years Resolution somehow got smudged, chipped, cracked, mangled, and then tossed in a trash dumpster smelling of stale beer, used cat litter and rotting cantaloupes, you may be wondering... is too late? Can broken resolutions possibly be repaired?
Of course they can!
Say, did you read that new study showing that people who start to slack off on New Year's resolutions but seriously re-commit to their goals by early February ultimately meet with an 87% success rate? Well, you probably didn't, since I just made it up, but that statistic sure sounds hopeful, doesn't it? And a few days from now you won't remember where you heard it, you'll just be glad you got back on track and have a vague recollection that there's a very good chance you'll be successful. Hey, you're welcome!
So there are lots of different reasons for blowing off important promises to yourself, some of them legitimate and some of them really dumb. But either way... perhaps it's time to get out the scissors and duct tape and get your poor resolution patched up and working again.
New Years Resolution FAILs: Causes and Fixes
1. Unrealistic goals. You signed up to join your friend in a spring marathon even though you haven't gone running yourself since 7th grade P.E. class and you hated every excruciating lap around the track. Gosh it's just shocking you now find yourself struggling to keep up with your training plan and are tempted to bail! Whoever could have predicted that? Obviously the whole thing was a stupid idea and you should give up entirely and go back channel surfing for exercise, right?
Fix: Dig beneath the shiny surface of your overly-optimistic goal to figure out the important part. Was it the notion of daily exercise? The desire to challenge yourself with something a little out of your comfort zone? The yearning to have people clap for you as you cross a finish line?
Chances are, there was something underlying your goal that fired you up in the first place. Find it, feel it again, and pick a more realistic, achievable version of "success." And then break it up into baby steps that you can reach quickly! Even reasonable "ultimate" goals can seem hopeless at times if they are set too far in the future and aren't broken down into tangible, accessible targets.
2. Losing Momentum and Motivation. Once the novelty of a new resolution wears off, you're left with the daily slog of self-restraint and sacrifice, and somehow you need to muster up vast quantities of willpower to make yourself do things you just don't freakin' feel like doing. Plus, if you're like most people, this year's goals may not be entirely new and fresh, but instead are new versions of oft-abandoned older quests to Be a Better Person.
Fix: There's a whole Cranky Fitness post with lots of specifics about re-motivating, but here are a just few quick reminders: Change your routines up! Give yourself rewards for progress! Connect emotionally with your goals! Figure out what you're telling yourself, and if it's stupid, cut it the hell out and say something helpful instead! Enlist help and support! Throw exclamation points into every single sentence you say to yourself until you annoy yourself back into good behavior!
Get that momentum back!
Photo: Swansea photographer
3. Life Intervenes: You were doing just great on your "healthy eating" and "start meditating an hour a day" goals until your boss gave you a 90 day project with a 30 day deadline and started hinting about cost cutting and pondering whether your department might need to trim some "dead wood." As your every waking hour is now accounted for, your four food groups have become coffee, snickers bars, burgers, and Excedrin PM. And all you can meditate on is what brand of cat food you'll have to start eating if you're one of the ones chosen for the chopping block and you can't find another job.
Fix: A fall-back emergency plan. If you drastically cut back on expectations, but leave yourself a tiny piece or two of your original goal, you can count yourself "on track" and pick things back up when your life gets less crazy. Your resolution won't then become something you "used to" have, but will live on, albeit perhaps wheezing away on life-support, until you can resuscitate it again. Perhaps you can vow to pick up slightly less junky fast food, getting some healthy groceries delivered, and start meditating 5 minutes a day before falling asleep.
4. Old Habits Die Hard
Diet? Well, I did say "hold the fries..."
Fix: Patience and Perseverance!
Sure, there are some people who wake up one morning, decide to eat healthy and quit smoking, and never eat another gram of sugar or light up again. But that ain't true for most people. In fact, typical successful behavior change comes complete with tons of failure, discouragement, inertia, hopelessness, and nearly as many steps backwards as forwards. Those who are successful recognize this, but also know that the brain is an adaptable organ and it pays to hang in there. Eventually, new habits will be formed and it will all be much easier.
But until then, acquaint yourself with the concept of "homeostasis," which is a nice sciencey sounding word and one that is much more fun to toss around than "laziness," "stupidity" or "weakness." And don't take setbacks as an excuse to keep from trying again!
5. A Change in Your Priorities
Did you vow to update your resume, apply to at least 50 new jobs, buy an interview outfit, and attend a new networking event every week because your job totally sucked and you couldn't stand it another minute? And then did your asshole boss get shipped to Cleveland to wreak havoc on the self-esteem of employees from a whole different division of your company? If your new situation is slightly more tolerable, and your desperate need to leave NOW has been replaced by a general sense that "someday" you want to change careers, then don't be surprised if those job applications don't get filled out.
Yet some people continue to beat themselves up about lack of progress on goals that no longer fire them up.
Fix: Acknowledge changing priorities, chill out, and spend energy on pursuits you truly care about. Don't let arbitrary benchmarks set during one period of your life take up mental space if they're no longer as relevant. So feel free to bail!... at least until your next boss turns out to be even more of an asshole than your old one.
But if you've got a goal you still care about... how about you take a little piece of it and do something TODAY?
Anyone working on any resolutions or self-improvement goals? Are you on track, or in danger of flaming out? Or, got any helpful tips for the rest of us?