Fixing Broken New Years Resolutions:Tips and Tricks

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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?


 Accckkk!!!

(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!


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?

31 comments:

  1. The one thing i can't keep on track with is getting taxes ready early. So i'm going to cut myself a break and work on it 15 minutes a day, instead of stare in horror at the huge pile of paperwork.

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    1. Hi Messymimi! Love the 15 minute plan, I forgot what a great way that is to approach big scary tasks. Some how "work on taxes for 15 minutes" sounds much less gruesome than "do the taxes!"

      --Jan/Crabby

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  2. I'm definitely falling down on the "fulfilling goals" job. I always intend to achieve something in the morning (but then am too tired to move - I've never been a morning person) or in the evening (by the time I'm done with work, I feel so tired that I just want to go home, eat dinner, and veg out). I'm starting to actually wonder if there's a physiological reason for my tiredness, because I never used to be quite this exhausted all the time. Le sigh...

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    1. Sheesh that sounds frustrating! Hope you can get the tiredness thing figured out, whether it's a medical thing or a lifestyle one or a motivational issue. Whatever the cause, it's a lot easier to tackle goals when you're feeling energetic. Sorry you're having to deal with that!

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  3. Okay, maybe this isn't immediately helpful, but I've always been a little suspicious of new year's and new years resolutions because January seems the least opportune time to change things up! I always preferred the school years structure where the new year begins in the fall (me and a bunch of friends actually celebrate "real" new years in September). You have less arbitrary pressure and with any luck you're not too depressed from light deprivation to do anything about it.

    So... my advice is to not hold off on new year's resolutions until the new year, but get started at any time during the year and go at it little by little.

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    1. Hey Malin, I think that's excellent advice! Yet year after year, so many people abandon their goals at the first sign of trouble and then wait until another January 1 comes around to try again. Seems like a waste of a lot of perfectly good months.

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  4. Totally with Malin on this one - why wait until January? Better to squeeze every drop of motivation while you've still got it, for whatever it is you want to do!

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    1. Totally agree, Shadowduck. I think my plans to steal the Shovelglove concept and turn it into a multi-million dollar fitness marketing empire must start sooner rather than later!

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    2. Heh... You'd need to talk to Reinhard about that! To quote from the shovelglove website: "I was briefly tempted to "productize" the shovelglove into some kind of infomercial scam, but that would violate the whole spirit and charm of the thing. You don't need some prefabricated plastic piece of junk. Go to the hardware store around the corner and make your own shovelglove. Worst case scenario you wind up with a useful tool lying around the house."

      I love the way that guy thinks... #8-)

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  5. My goal is to ramp up health and fitness. This is going well, but now the guilts have set in over not spending enough time on my thesis. And since it's due super soon maybe that's what I should be focussing on anyway? Can health and fitness wait? Short term vs. long term goal I guess. Conflicted much?

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    1. Hi Becky,
      The Guilts are relentless, aren't they? It's hard enough to sort out priorities without those nagging voices complaining that whatever you're doing, there's something else you should be doing instead!

      Congrats on your progress with health and fitness, and hope those goals and the thesis learn how to play nice with each other. Sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now, but also a lot of determination. Good luck!

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  6. My goal is to be able to study more for my CPT along with being a stay at home mom, student, and wife. Help me!

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    1. Wow, you've got a ton of of stuff going on. (And a great blog as well!) But I'm guessing you have a lot of inner strength and resources to draw on, and are capable of pretty amazing things when you get your priorities figured out and a plan in place. So cool that you're up for challenging yourself to achieve so much!

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  7. My resolve has always kept me from making a resolution. The only thing I do every New Year is ask myself how far I've come... and hope I can feel some sense of pride in myself.

    This year, so far, so good.... but then, it's only February. I've got a ways to go. NO patting backs just yet.

    :D

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    1. Hey, I say if you've reached February without feeling stuck and stalled, you're ahead of 99% of people out there. Back patting is totally justified! Will be interesting to see what sorts of awesomeness you're capable of by the time another year rolls around.

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  8. I think I'm struggling against destiny, here. But I haven't really broken my resolutions. They were:
    1. to put down my food/fork between each bite to increase mindfulness of what I eat. Which I do. I've been good. Except that I don't actually eat any less, apparently.
    and,
    2. to add a little jogging to my dog walking. which I've done, but only a little.

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    1. That's awesome that you're keeping up with new healthy habits! The first steps from walking to jogging are the hardest, aren't they? Sucks because you have to battle inertia over and over--however, if you stick with it, you may find eventually that continuous running will seem like far less effort than what you're doing now because you don't have to summon up so much mental effort to keep at it. And I'm impressed about the fork thing, sounds like a great trick to increase mindfulness!

      Sounds like you're taking a smart approach--I've found that people who set achievable goals and build slowly are the ones who hang in there and succeed, even if it's a frustrating pain in the ass to forgo the quicker results that come from radical unsustainable lifestyle changes.

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  9. I definitely fall in the camp of no New Year's resolutions. That being said, I started heavily changing myself (some intentional, some not) about the second half of last year.

    It is amazing how long it has taken me to understand that failing is part of the new habit forming process. Once I started to embrace that; the failing became easier. One fail doesn't destroy the progress because now I am much quicker to get back on track.

    I find that a lot of my need to change habits comes because something is changing for me beyond my control and I have to figure out how to adjust. Once I know a change needs to be made, I generally am not going to wait for a benchmark date to do so, I am going to start trying to work on it from that moment forward. Especially since it will look so raw in the beginning.

    I loved the point that we will be energized by a statistic and then not remember where we saw it anyway. That is a great point and motivation tool!

    Thank you.

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    1. That is such an awesome point about the need to embrace failure (and discouragement, and plateaus, and all kinds of various suckitude) as part of the change process! Took me a long time to get that. And I'm with you on the timing thing; have never understood why people wait until New Years to make changes. But if google stats are any indication, interest in self-improvement tends to skyrocket this time of year, so I think a lot of folks must be saving up all their good intentions for an annual short-lived quest to clean things up... for a few weeks until they forget again.

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  10. "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?" Haha, love it!

    Most of my "resolutions" are going well, but I like to think of them more as general goals that happened to start around the first of the year... Seems to relieve some of the pressure and expectation of failure :)

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    1. Great reframe! In fact always sort of poke fun at the whole resolution thing, because I always have some sort of goals I'm working towards, but somehow I got on board this year and started calling them resolutions once it got close to January 1.

      And whether they're resolutions or goals, glad you're doing well with them!

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  11. My big goal this year is to become a regular exerciser for the first time, well, ever (short 1-2 month stints not included). The hardest part so far has been a combination of a) accepting that "realistic" progress does not necessarily equal "fast" progress (i.e., 1x/week is a good start & there's no need to get grumpy about it), and b) getting my motivation back after it sags for a few days from illness/stress/general busyness/etc..

    On a side note, I like taking the time after the holidays to reflect on the previous year and figure out what I'd like to tweak about the next one. I guess that puts me in the pro-New Years Resolutions camp.

    On a second side note, hi other Becky who wants to exercise this year!

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    1. Sounds like a great year for Beckys everywhere to get fit!

      I think you're being so smart to set your goals so that they're achievable, and then build from there. Getting the habits in place is HUGE!!

      Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Around the 1st of February, I started exercising more than 2 days a week. I'm a month behind the standard resolution start time, but I feel like I may have hit upon the formula to keep me exercising. In addition to my 2x/week Pilates class, I am now part of a 3x/week beginners running class. For both activities, there are people expecting me to be there, and my internal guilt won't let me let those people down, therefore I have to show up and exercise! So far, it's been a winning combination.

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  13. That's awesome Jennifer! Classes are a great way to build in a little accountability and plus it's way more fun to torture yourself physically if other companionable folks are being tortured at the same time.

    Or wait, whoops...exercise is FUN FUN FUN, not torture! (Sorry sometimes Crabby escapes from Cranky Fitness and infiltrates the comments here).

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  14. I kind of lost track of my goals, and time has gone by, now I'm worried about how to get there. Help! :) Thanks for the advice.

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    1. Well good for you for realizing you wandered off track! Maybe start with one small thing you can do this weekend get momentum going again? Good luck!

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  15. I just had my yearly physical and as always the talk is about my weight and not exercising. I didn't even make any New Year's resolutions this year because after a week I have abandoned them. Ugh! I need a push....

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    1. Ah, the physical is a time-honored way of getting a reality check about the need for all that exercise stuff. Finding relatively pleasant ways to do that can be challenging, but definitely worth it, hope it's a great year for that for you!

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  16. Yeah, I've worked on many resolutions; those I've made on New Year's day have failed, but I've succeeded at a few resolutions and self improvement goals made at other times of the year.

    Things that work for me:
    1. A specific goal. i.e. one year to change a specific behavior, rather than trying to make a broad change ('I want to eat healthier.') or cold turkey ('No dairy after December 31st, period!'). In the goal, I write out the reasons why I want to change, how the undesirable behavior affects me, what I hope to learn, and what I hope to improve.

    2. Heightened awareness and observation: Heightened awareness is becoming aware of how the behavior I want to change really affects me, and is becoming aware of the behavior in all situations --at home, work, morning, noon, night, family, friends, alone, with strong feelings, without strong feelings, etc. Observation means looking at the behavior objectively. Why did I do what I did, or why did I not do something I should've done? I look at what, when, who, where, why, etc.

    3. Measured review: consistently recording (at specific intervals) what happened -good and not good- to see the problem over time. Jotting notes in a journal really helps here. The length of time between notes varies, depending on what I want to change. The length of the interval needs to be short enough so as not to forget about the resolution, but also allow enough time to pass for the situation to be changed to come up again. Writing at specific intervals takes away the desire to write only when when things are going well, and to not write when things aren't going well, or vice versa. It provides a more complete picture.

    For example, more than a year ago I decided to eliminate dairy from my diet --I had a low-grade allergy to it. The reasons where health related, and the allergy was easy to see on my hands (which were unattractive because of it). Trying to change the goal over the course of a year, rather than cold turkey, really helped when I'd forget to pay attention, or when I was tired, or when someone else was making the meal, whether it was family or a restaurant, etc. One slip up didn't mean that I'd failed the resolution. What I hoped to learn and improve were specific to situations that were important only to me. I chose one year in length because I wanted to eventually be able to easily handle the most common situations, and to get through at least one holiday season. The holidays can have foods that are offered only once per year. (In the end, I lengthened the resolution to 15 months to work through a second holiday season.)

    Heightened awareness for this resolution required pausing before putting all food and drink in my mouth which in the beginning, was the 'no fun' part of changing. Over time, the awareness decreased as the new habits became natural.

    The measured review involved writing down all situations that involved dairy (usually writing 4-5 times a week in the beginning) and writing down other things too when I had time, like how I felt about eliminating foods that I really liked, how I found (or didn't find) acceptable substitutes, and writing a Dear John letter to my favorite dessert --ice cream.

    This resolution or self-improvement project wasn't my first project, or my first attempt at eliminating dairy from my diet. I find that getting started involves a few starts and stops, as I shift from wishing about the change to action to consistent action. In the beginning, it means remembering that I'm in the process of changing, and that I have to stick to the measured review --even if the review involves more notes about failing more than about succeeding. The real motivation to do, or to be, comes from within. Persistence pays off. The end result can be wonderful.

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    1. Wow, that's really inspirational! Love the way you were able to be persistent but nonjudgmental and the whole measured review concept is brilliant.

      Sounds like a great template for achieving all kinds of great changes in your life--hope things continue to go well, whatever you might be striving for!

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