We’ve all made the promises to ourselves and others about the things we’ll change in the new year … always conscious of how they’ll fall from our minds by January 3rd. This shouldn’t suggest that we’re not sincere and genuine in our determination, but sometimes the goals of improving our bodies, minds, careers, and families seem unclear. Why do we so quickly fall from our resolutions and lose our way?
Here’s the pattern: of the people who join a gym in January, 80% will have quit by June. In fact, nearly 30% don’t make it past the end of January. Whatever the resolution, we lose the sense of urgency, or the path seems so challenging that we cave into the pressure. To compound the issues of urgency and challenge, the winter months are hard on our mental states: sometimes it’s a victory to not hit the snooze button for a fifth time on a February morning.
The first step in a successful resolution is making ourselves the priority. This isn’t about a false sense of self-worth but understanding the benefits of our resolution rather than the challenge associated with changing our behavior. We fail when we focus on what we need to change, what we cannot have, or what we cannot do. When we envision our goals in a healthy way, we plan and determine how to eliminate our negative behaviors by knowing what positive behaviors need to exist instead. In a simple sense, you don’t quit smoking by taking away your cigarettes. You quit smoking by identifying yourself as a non-smoker, and then simply being that. If you’re a non-smoker, then why would you have a cigarette? Instead, a non-smoker would do things completely different than a smoker – what would those things be?
The most common resolution is to lose weight. The first thing we do when we resolve to lose weight is make a list of the things that we cannot eat. We can’t eat Twinkies. We can’t eat donuts. We can’t eat cereal. We can’t eat bread. What if in lieu of this list, we made a list of the things we can and want to eat. We can eat nuts. We can eat strawberries. We can eat shrimp. We can eat yogurt.
Crowding out is an economic term which refers to a simple effect: by increasing one variable, you by default decrease another related effect. In our case, by adding the positive things which help us achieve our goals – strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, tuna, etc. – we automatically crowd out the things we don’t want. By adding more healthy options, we eliminate the room for junk that prevent us from being who we want to be. In a very real sense, we create a balanced diet as part of our plan, and we achieve a balanced diet in practice because we eliminate the need for anything that doesn’t fit into our lifestyle.
Let’s look at this another way. What about healthy lifestyle options which have nothing to do with our diet: regular physical activity, supportive and loving relationships, a fulfilling spiritual life, a happy and engaging profession. Are these choices sufficient in our lives that they negate the need for the alternatives? What changes can we make to crowd out the things which drain the energy from us, and instead bring us happiness, joy, and freedom? When we feel sated with the things in life, we feel no need or desire to supplement our lives with the things which drain us.
It’s never too late to make a resolution. In fact, I would posit that waiting for a specific date to start a resolution suggests to me that I’m not yet ready to begin introducing positive things into my life, and I need to work to be ready. The real question we ought to ask ourselves is this: “are my personal goals things that inspire me, or do they constitute a laundry list of things I feel like I have to do?” Success in the long run hinges on positive habits and sustainable behaviors which bring happiness and joy to our lives. Perhaps most importantly, that enrichment must exist in the knowledge that slip-ups occur, and that they don’t define failure, but remind us that enrichment is worth planning for.