Almost on queue as the clock strikes midnight, writers, bloggers and other prominent figures share their often conflicting opinions about whether we should set New Year’s resolutions or not. Each side, whether in favour or against, gives a very passionate argument on why we should heed their advice.
So what should we do among so much confusion and contradiction?
The end of the year holiday season is a time of temptation with so many parties, family dinners and stores displaying their finest treats and goodies. Who amongst us has not overly indulged until they had to loosen their belts? Who hasn’t gone on a Christmas shopping spree and overstretched their budget? And who hasn’t partied late into the night and then ditched their early morning exercise routine?
After such indulgence and excess, it is natural to look to the new year for a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new chapter in life. A fresh start, a new you – the first of January seems perfect.
I too am guilty of that way of thinking. In fact, I celebrate the Chinese and Iranian New Years which means I have two more opportunities every year to dream of a new beginning.
Yet after repeated failed attempts of setting new goals and vowing to pursue them on the first day of whatever new year happened to be at hand, I noticed two things: first, New Year’s resolutions don’t work, and second, they give me a good excuse to screw up big time in the weeks leading to the special event.
Does that mean that we should drop the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions this year?
After some reflection and research into goal setting, I came to the conclusion that it’s not about when we set out to create a new habit and quit an existing one; it’s about the strategies we have in place to achieve those goals. It’s about the process – our daily tendencies, the actions we take every single day. Those add up to become something bigger.
Forget the Goal, Focus on the Process
We’re often taught to set SMART goals. That’s how I used to approach any goal, making it Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive. However, when I was running a weight management group where the participants had set SMART goals, I noticed that their goals either wouldn’t be met or couldn’t be sustained. This indicated that there was something flawed with the SMART approach.
Let’s suppose we set a weight loss goal. It is easy to see why focusing on the “goal” is ineffective.
When you are set on losing weight – whether it is five pounds or fifty pounds – you are only interested in getting rid of that weight. The process of how you do that is not necessarily of the utmost importance to you. You can reduce your calorie intake but still consume those calories in form of donuts and lose weight. I actually did that a lot as a teenager.
But can you keep the weight off with such tricks? Highly unlikely – I never could. Once you achieve your weight loss goal, you’ll likely fall back into your old habits, and it was your old lifestyle that had caused your weight gain in the first place.
Of course there are diet plans that include healthy meals and regular exercise, but the sole intention of a diet is still weight loss. There are also far too many extreme diets and intense workout programmes that guarantee results, but the truth is that those harsh measures cause harm to your mind and body in the long run. I often hear people who’ve joined a slimming programme say they can do it because it’s just for six weeks. But what happens afterwards? Once the target weight is achieved, most people stop following the steps outlined in that programme and resume their old lifestyle.
However, if we focus on creating a healthier approach to food, changing our nutrition habits and incorporating exercise, then we will not only lose weight, but also keep it off! This success can be directly linked to developing new, health promoting habits – and habits are harder to break, aren’t they?
Often when we have a goal in mind, we consider it a destination, a place to get to. This incorrectly places the emphasis on the fact that we are not there yet. Essentially, we’re telling ourselves that our life is not good enough yet, and we put our happiness on hold until we get there. How many of us have a pair of skinny jeans tucked away at the back of our closets, waiting for that magic number on the scale? Or maybe it’s a beach trip you are postponing until you lose those extra pounds? Or maybe you think you’ll find the courage to ask for a promotion at work once you are a few pounds lighter?
Being committed to the process means not waiting for the end result. Instead of attaching your self-worth to a goal, focus on your life and its daily calls. Say yes to the sexy black dress and go to the big reunion party. Feel confident to talk to your boss. Go out and enjoying yourself. Simply being more present in your life helps you make different and better choices when it comes to your health, nutrition and fitness. It seems paradoxical, but by not fixating on weight loss and actually doing all those things you postpone, you achieve your target goal easier and often faster.
When your only ambition is to lose weight, you vow to stick to your plan no matter what else is happening in your life. You might end up ignoring injuries because going to the gym is scheduled. You may deprive yourself of enough calories and feel sluggish. Or you may end up feeling guilty when you eat the piece of cake your granny baked.
However, with a process-focused mentality, you don’t mind missing a workout or having a calorie rich treat, and you certainly consume enough calories to stay active and energetic throughout the day. Creating a healthy lifestyle is a journey and you’re in it for the long haul.
While I’m not saying that we shouldn’t set goals, it’s critical to remember that the process actually helps us to achieve our intentions and make progress regardless of when we intend to make it happen.