by Rosina Pzena, M.S.
It’s the first week of a new year, and that likely means many of us have settled on a New Year’s Resolution. Normally I only last about a week or two before I give up on my resolutions, and this is quite common. What is it about resolutions that cause many of us to say “forget it!” the moment we make one slip from our resolved exercise plan, diet, or other behavior? This likely occurs because our beliefs about our resolutions are too rigid and irrational: “I MUST eat healthy. I SHOULD go to the gym every single day.” And, for me, what’s left unsaid is usually “If I don’t manage to keep to my New Year’s Resolution, I’m a failure.” This leads me to feel depressed. Then I think “why bother?” and give up.
In order to keep ourselves from saying “forget it!” to our New Year’s Resolutions a few days or weeks into the year, we can alter our irrational “should” into preferences. “I would prefer to eat healthy, but I don’t absolutely have to and if I slip up, I’m not a failure, just a human being.” That kind of thinking helps me feel simply disappointed in one choice, not depressed— so I don’t give up on my goal.
One further thing to keep in mind is to set achievable goals. If you want to change your behavior, you have to start small, otherwise it is more likely you will be discouraged and want to give up. If my goal is to eat healthy forever, I will think I completely failed the moment I am not able to stick to my diet at one meal. On the other hand, keeping my diet resolution to “I would prefer to make healthy choices each day” puts things in a one day at a time framework. When I am able to eat healthy ONE day, I already feel successful, and then I will be motivated to keep going. If I am NOT able to eat completely healthy one day, my rational belief helps me accept that I made a mistake because I am human, and I know I can try again.
Maybe we should all resolve to keep our beliefs rational and flexible this New Year, and then we won’t run into these problems!