It’s a curious thing that it’s at this time of year – more than any other – that so many pledge to launch at times very dramatic lifestyle changes.
Only to see their fired-up resolve melt away as the dreary mid-winter months unfold.
Yes, it’s the post-Christmas season of dreaming up a flurry of New Year’s Resolutions, from quitting smoking to shedding pounds to getting in the best shape of our lives. But how effective is this yearly routine?
According to Wikipedia, some of the most popular resolutions are plans to lose weight, pay off debts, save money, get a better job, get fit, eat right, get a better education, drink less, quit smoking, reduce stress, take a trip or volunteer more.
But unfortunately, most people, regardless of their specific New Year’s resolutions, see plans fall flat by February.
And it’s the usual ones that seem to fall by the wayside – efforts to lose weight, a goal to learn something new, travel, stepping up on volunteering or getting out of debt.
Where is a lasting sense of “stick-to-it-tiveness?”
According to Dr. Pauline Wallin, a clinical psychologist based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, during the month of December people tend to overindulge in eating, drinking, spending money and neglecting exercise. And unfortunately some bad behaviours start to surface.
But the resolve to change behaviours is at its peak when people feel full or broke, she said.
“It’s easy to think about going on a diet as we groan from a bloating holiday meal. It’s no problem to plan to quit smoking when we’ve just had a cigarette and replenished our nicotine level. At this point we feel confident about our New Year’s resolutions because we have not yet confronted any prolonged physical deprivation or discomfort.”
When January dawns, people are generally done with all the rich food and the lethargy that often trails such over-indulgence.
So it’s easy to shell out the cash for the gym membership, for example.
But appetites for bad foods, passivity or smokes eventually resurface.
So resolutions tend to get pushed further ahead.
But human nature being what it is, our behaviour isn’t likely to change much when the weather warms up. So why do people ditch resolutions?
Wallin said one reason is that folks become discouraged when results don’t come quickly. She offers a few tips to help ensure success as people consider how to better their lives with the New Year.
First, examine your motivation for change.
“If you can’t think of a better reason than the fact that you’re uncomfortable at this moment, then you’re better off not making promises to yourself that you probably won’t keep.”
But, as she points out, if you are realistic and accept the responsibility of discipline required for change, “Your motivation will be sustained long after the discomfort from overindulgence has passed.”
Secondly, set realistic goals and focus on behavioural change more than the goal. It’s also important to allow for imperfection. And whatever your plans, put them into motion now — don’t put off strategies for a changed lifestyle any longer.
Writer Phil Cooke said that real change is one of the most difficult things we’ll ever tackle in our lives. Let’s face it – even the threat of death isn’t enough to change some folks’ behaviour.
We all know of people who have been warned over and over again about the consequences that await them if they don’t change a certain behaviour – and they opt not to.
On the website ChurchLeaders.com, he cites a study that showed within only two years, 90 per cent of open-heart surgery patients go back to their old eating habits – “The same lifestyle that got them there in the first place.”
For real change to happen in our lives, we need more than wishes and resolutions, he writes. “We need to understand how to embrace the kinds of techniques that allow real transformation to happen.”
Another useful tool? Find personal cheerleaders.
A circle of solid and consistent support can do wonders in our endeavors to live better, richer or more disciplined lives.
“Surround yourself with friends who believe in you, and eliminate negative people from your life. I cannot stress this enough. Spend less time with people who drain your energy and resources, and more time with people who love and support your dreams and goals.”