Happy New Year! As we start into the new year, many of us are looking to improve our selves and our lives. I think that’s fabulous! I want to put out some warnings, however, for some new year’s resolutions that can be harmful, rather than helpful.
- “I want to lose weight.” So many people have this resolution on their to do list come January 1. However, if losing weight is the end goal, it’s not a sustainable one. Once you hit a certain number (or get to an insurmountable plateau), how do you keep motivation? When you focus on weight loss and not lifestyle changes, short-term sacrifices (like severely restricting food intake, eating really strange foods, etc.) can seem okay. A means to an end. Weight loss is the only goal, so there may not be concern for how you get to that magic weight. What happens when you go back to “normal eating?” If you are only looking at weight loss and you’ve met the goal, you may slip back into unhealthy eating patterns and the pounds will come back on. Even worse, eating very little or making weird food choices can make you feel miserable and punished, not healthy and svelte. Instead, focus on how you want to feel. The resolution “I want to make healthier choices in what I eat, my level of activity, and other self-care practices, so I have more energy, I am more able to do the things I want, etc.” is much stronger. It focuses on actions you can take and the way you would like to feel, not a measurement that you may not be sure you can reach. It supports permanent lifestyle changes that lead to a healthier you. Nourish yourself toward wellness, don’t punish yourself toward starvation!
- “I want to be happier.” How can hoping for happiness be harmful? Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes. Feeling happy all of the time is not a realistic goal (although “They lived happily ever after” certainly makes it seem so). If, like every single one of us, you aren’t feeling happy all of the time, you can judge yourself. Spoiler alert: when you judge yourself, it can impair your ability to be happy. Also, what does “happy” look like, anyway? Choosing happiness, especially when you know what that means for you, can be amazing. Desiring happiness, when you don’t know what happiness looks like for you and have no idea how to get there, can be harmful to your mental health. So – what shall you do instead? Define your happiness through observing what already makes you happy (is it when you are doing something meaningful? Is it when you feel connected to others? when you are competent or trying a new activity?). These feelings (fulfilled, connected, competent, creative, etc.) are important because they are your own personal recipe for happiness. Seek out activities that support this recipe as much as you can. Find small steps you can take each day to reach your own definition of happiness and understand that you will not feel happy all of the time.
- “I will stop doing [fill in the blank].” Now, we all have vices that we would like to give up. Quitting the big things (like drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.) is not really what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is the smaller things (biting nails, excessive social media consumption, gossiping, chewing gum, staying up late, etc.). I’m telling you – we all have something we’d like to give up! Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give those things up. I’m saying that having the resolution being a blind, white knuckle, I’m giving this thing up, kind of goal is harmful. Why? Because willpower can be exhausted and may not sustain us for long enough to kick the habit. When we focus on the habit we want to stop, it is kind of like repeating “don’t think about elephants, don’t think about elephants, don’t think about elephants.” Not helpful right? You are focusing your attention on elephants and not on what you could do instead. The habits we have serve a purpose. In order to quit them, it is important to look at what that purpose is, so we can create a replacement that can also serve that purpose. If we stop our habit without a replacement, we may create a bigger need for it! Our attention is focused on the habit and we need it more – you can guess what happens. This habit we wanted to quit gets more firmly ingrained. Instead, find healthy replacements for your unwanted habits and do more of those activities. Hopefully, you will leave no time and little need for those habits you would like to quit. Then, when you add willpower on top of that, you should see progress toward this goal.
What do you think? Shall we look toward this year with a commitment that we will not make short-term, compromise-ridden, white-knuckle, poorly thought out resolutions? Let’s look to evolve our lifestyles, so that we can support our own health and wellness and our personal version of happiness with habits we’re proud of. That’s what I call thriving!!
If you would like help in exploring the whys and hows for this year’s evolution, please don’t hesitate to give me a call (424-241-3205) or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).