Like many of you, I am also a connoisseur of New Year resolutions. I have sampled the "reading lists" and the "get in shape" aspirational classics. I have also tried the more exotic flavors of "career change" and "learn a new language." Whatever the resolution, we probably share something else in common: failing. I have learned our biggest problem with resolutions is that we make them backwards.
You read me correctly. All our resolutions have something in common; we are being hard on ourselves. Most resolutions come from a sense of needing more discipline, wanting to end a vice, or just feeling insufficient in some way. The reality is that, in most cases, our mistake is that we are too hard on ourselves. If you really want to succeed at a New Year's Resolution, then you should resolve to treat yourself better.
Does This Shame Make Me Look Fat?
Focusing on the classic "get in shape" resolution, I have had the best year ever. 2016 was the year I rode my bike over 2,500 miles. I got in an average of 1 hour of exercise a day, and while I didn't reach my "ideal weight" I did consistently lose weight all year. I realized I failed all my past year's resolutions because I was going at them backwards, so this year I resolved to go easier on myself.
Studies have shown that stress, sleep loss, and guilt pack on the pounds much more effectively than that favorite dish or latte you tried to sacrifice. Skipping breakfast and lunch because you are too busy? That messes with your metabolism and means your body is clinging to every dinner calorie for dear life. The harder you are on yourself, the unhealthier you are. Sounds like common sense, but we somehow keep talking ourselves out of it.
Healthy Things Feel Good, They Don't Require Self-Hatred
Getting outside and exercising feels great. Yeah, it might take a little self-will to push yourself out the door if your skin currently carries the porcelain shine of a Nosferatu, but once you get the taste of fresh air and endorphins, you will be hooked. The problem is that exercise takes time out of our busy day. We aren't failing for lack of discipline, most of us feel too guilty to take the time for ourselves.
If you have a high stress job, the body will start craving things like salty snacks and high-fat burgers because they are scientifically proven to reduce stress. It's not your lack of discipline, it's your work-a-holism driving your self-destructive cravings. Not to mention the other items we go to in times of high-stress....
Eating healthy food feels good, exercise feels good, reading feels good, all the things that are good for you really do feel good. We don't do them because we live in a shame/guilt culture where you are told every day that all your problems will go away if you just work harder. The reality is that the problems will always be there in the morning, so you might as take a break.
My 2017 Resolution
There is one resolution I failed at last year: vacation. I promised myself a break every 3 months to recharge. I did it once, and then worked myself till I hit Christmas vacation like a car that has lost it brakes hitting a wall at full speed. Vacations help you remember who you actually are when you are not rushing to meet everyone's expectations. They give your mind a break to process things and recharge. Why didn't I take them? I felt too guilty...