To Resolve or Not to Resolve? On New Year’s Resolutions

possibilityAre you a New Year’s Resolution type or not? I find that people tend to fall into one of two camps — the resolvers and the non-resolvers.

There are just as many reasons to make New Year’s resolutions as there are not to make them. On the make-them side, there is of course the eternal flame of hope that burns most brightly when we turn a fresh page. And what fresher page than a new calendar year?

Picking up on Catherine’s promise that we’ll be posting about the whole “new leaf” thing, here are some of my thoughts.

Almost everyone has something they want to change–get the finances in order, simplify, and the perennial favourites: lose weight, get fit and healthy, eat better. These have great pull as the holiday season winds down and some of us (not to out myself, but okay, I’ll out myself) wake up from the fog of a sugar-induced coma.

But on the don’t-make them side, there’s this: Only 8% stick to their New Year’s resolutions.  Anyone who has ever had to elbow their way to their favourite workout equipment in their gym during the first week of January knows full well that shortly into February the crowds thin again.

Of the top ten most broken New Year’s resolutions, four are about diet, fitness, weight loss, healthier eating (lose weight and get fit, eat healthier and diet, quit smoking, drink less).

Hope is a powerful motivator, though. And hey, maybe you or I can be among that 8%. After all, said article gives the formula that is the 8%’s key:

The key is to realize that adopting a resolution isn’t just about goal setting. What you are really trying to do, is to change your behaviors. And behavior change—to exercise more, to spend less, to stop smoking—is very, very hard.

The key  is in Gleicher’s “change formula”, balancing key motivational factors against resistance:

These factors are:

D = Dissatisfaction with the current situation

V = Vision of the future state

F = First steps towards the future state

And those three variables when multiplied together must be greater than:

R = Resistance (or the cost of change)

In other words, the combination of your current dissatisfaction, goal clarity and specific action plan must be greater than the resistance (i.e., pain) associated with making the change:

Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance

The power of this equation is in realizing there are two ways to win. You can increase the left side of the equation—the size of your motivation, goals and plan—or you can decrease the resistance on the right side of the equation.

That’s the big, “aha!”

I have often found myself quite aware lately that my resistance often outweighs my goals. I told my swim/triathlon coach just about a month ago that I want to get faster but I’m not sure I want to do the work. That’s called resistance. No amount of awareness in the world is going to help if the resistance out-paces the vision.

So what do the 8% achievers do? They plan for the resistance and work with it, trying to reduce it. Here’s where small steps, support, manageable action plans, fun, can come into it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are process goals and outcomes goals. Process goals may be best thought of as habits. Remember, behaviour changes are what we want to stick.

I lean towards the not-make side because I feel as if this is where I start to set myself up to feel crappy about myself.  Nat talked about gentleness and owning our choices. I’m all for that too.

I read recently about cultural procrastination, which according to this article is what kicks in when the resolve, so strong on January 1st, starts to slide:

We always have good intentions that we don’t follow through on. That’s what procrastination is — the gap between intention and action. When you look at New Year’s, by definition, you’re making your intention to start at least days from now, if not weeks or months from now. That gap between intention and action is why I call it culturally prescribed procrastination. Because if you recognize, for example, that you should get more fit, you should change your diet or you should quit smoking, there’s nothing like a good intention now where no action is required to make you feel good. If you recognize these things, then why aren’t you asking yourself the question, ‘What can I do right now to make that change?’ That’s why New Year’s resolutions by definition have an element of procrastination to them.

I’m not here to talk you out of making resolutions. It’s everyone’s choice how they want to approach the clean page that presents itself on January 1st. I’m as prone to the next person at making unreasonable plans for extraordinary change (see my struggles about moderation versus all-or-nothing). Indeed, speaking of procrastination, that’s a big one on my list — I make resolutions about doing less of it all the time.

Here’s an alternative: we can go into the new year with total self-acceptance. That works too. Even Calvin knew that.


Best wishes for 2016, from Tracy I.

5 thoughts on “To Resolve or Not to Resolve? On New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Great post. What’s your strategy going to be when it comes to getting faster? I’m curious. And what about doing the work don’t you like? I want to hear more!

  2. I like process outcomes/changes. Changes in habits. Make a tiny change for the day. Not really think about what you did. Then do it next day or several times per wk. Not think much about it. Why bother obsessing over it? LIfe is too short.

    This is how I dropped eating a lot of white rice every dinner. I slid out of eating it without noticing what I was doing often.

    Then I realized I truly had stopped eating rice regularily.. I eat rice approx. 2-3 times per month which is a huge change for someone like myself, who used to have rice every dinner 80% for lst 40 years.

    It’s like getting a child to eat something they don’t really like but it’s healthy. Don’t make a big deal about. Distract their attention to something else good for them during the meal or just after they’ve ingested it… 🙂 Yes, easier said than done.

    I don’t have New Year’s resolutions… they have the opposite effect on me: it discourages me. The only desire is: to be mobile, remain healthy, be active daily and fit my present clothing plus carry on with my non-sport /non-exercise passions for my own mental health (art, writing). Not sure if these are resolutions, but more just survive well and live a quality lifestyle.

  3. No I don’t have cycling goals. I never start off the year with a total cumulative mileage annual target. I just cycle.

    I’m not sure about being faster on bike, Sam. Maybe it’s more cycling at a higher cadence several times per wk. with several hills each time –both solo and with other similar cyclists. I’m not a speedy cyclist. I never was. I just live well which means for me, paying attention to my environment around me. Take in Nature, the scenery as I roll by.

  4. Tracy– your comments about resistance really resonate with me. I get really anti-authoritarian with myself about goal setting, which is not productive. But process goals are really what I want to work on (and have already worked on this fall). Gentleness and acceptance will certainly help. This is a great conversation to keep going into 2016.

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