It seems as though we go through the same song and dance every year. Come January 1st, everyone starts thinking up ambitious resolutions to transform themselves from unhealthy couch potatoes into health nuts overnight. They define success as perfection. This is a good thing, right? If everyone stuck to their resolutions, we'd have less smokers, lower obesity rates and heavier wallets.
Unfortunately, very few people see their New Year's Resolutions through to success. Most quit at the first sign of sacrifice and never realize the true benefits of change. To witness this resolution phenomenon first hand, visit any gym and compare its traffic at the beginning of January to anytime in February. Resolution-quitters cause a huge spike and rapid decline in gym traffic during this short period. Fortunately, it turns out most resolutions fail because of some common issues related to change. Avoid these missteps to succeed.
The main reason a New Year's Resolution fails is because it's too ambitious. Ambition is great but changing too much, too soon, ends in failure. The entire premise of a New Year's Resolution, making major lifestyle changes overnight, is a bit extreme. Overhauling a major problem from the 31st to the 1st is nearly impossible. It takes weeks and months to transform bad habits into good ones.
People who go into a resolution expecting to change everything quickly must realize change doesn't happen on its own. Change takes a great deal of work and is very time consuming. If you're not used to eating healthy foods, how do you plan on adjusting to a new diet? If you're not used to exercising 4-5 times per week, how do you plan on implementing a new routine? The answers to these questions may seem simple but when you start carrying out a resolution, you'll quickly realize thinking about change is much different than enacting change.
The best way to get around this problem is to set realistic expectations. Making a broad goal such as "eating healthy" or "getting into shape" ends up in failure because all the work required to make this type of goal succeed is simply too much to handle in such a short period of time.
Instead, try a more specific goal such as "eat one salad per day" or "exercise 20 minutes, three times per week." These goals are much easier to accomplish giving you the confidence to go after more ambitious, long term goals such as "eating healthy" or "getting into shape."
New Year's Day is a great starting point for healthy lifestyle change but it doesn't have to be the end. Don't stop at only one small goal. These small goals should be used as a way to prove to yourself you are capable of succeeding. Once weekly exercise routines and daily salads turn into solid habits, build on these successes and strive for more.
Add a few more push-ups into the routine and two servings of fruit per day in addition to the salad. Once these additional goals turn into habits, take even more small steps (add some running & begin cooking one meal per week).
In a few months, you'll find yourself, eating two salads and five servings of fruit per day, cooking most meals, exercising five times per week and losing more weight than you ever thought was possible. All of this positive, long term change started with one salad per day and exercising for 20 minutes, three times per week. Small steps lead to bigger changes because they are much easier to incorporate into a daily routine than drastic, overnight change.
Ambitious goals (eating healthy or getting into shape) do have a place in the New Year. Creating a plan is the first step in starting a long term goal. Simply wanting to eat healthy isn't enough. First, make a list of what healthy eating requires (examples: reducing intake of fast food, eating more fruits & vegetables, finding healthy snacks, replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, replacing simple carbs with complex carbs).
Instead of trying to start each of these healthy eating requirements simultaneously, pick two and work on successfully incorporating them into your daily routine. Once you've become accustomed to the first two, pick another two. Keep repeating this until you are satisfied. Change is ongoing and doesn't stop with a few small steps. This approach works for a wide variety of goals (exercising more, spending less, learning a new skill).
The Bottom Line
If change was easy, perfection would be the norm. Resolutions fail because people don't realize how hard worthwhile change actually is. Losing weight, fixing bad finances or starting an exercise routine greatly improve quality of life, but this improvement isn't "cheap" or "free." Change doesn't cost a penny but it's very expensive.
The costs associated with beneficial change include sacrificing comforts you thought you couldn't live without, time and hard work. Changing when you still have the option is much easier than letting the consequences of bad habits take over. Exercising & eating healthy, quitting smoking or fixing bad finances are all a lot easier to do today than dealing with heart disease, lung cancer and bankruptcies tomorrow.