It's that time again; we all sit around contemplating how to make improvements in the coming year, but what if your New Year's resolution actually derails your progress toward lowering anxiety, and reducing stress? The tradition of choosing a resolution reaches back thousands of years, but history may not lead us down the best path in this case. I understand you may want to use the new year as a time for self-improvement, but indulge my thinking for just a moment, because I am entering 2017 without a resolution in sight.
I don't mean to shame anyone into walking away from a well thought out resolution; donating more to charity, creating stronger relationships with family members, or seeking out growth opportunities at work. Too often, however, resolutions focus on physical appearance and health behaviors like losing weight, going to the gym more frequently, or eating healthier (whatever that means). I believe these types of resolutions do more harm than good.
For one, most of us won't actually follow through with our plan. As a fitness instructor, I see this each year as my class attendance spikes in January and February, but slowly drops as each month passes. Our failure to complete our promises to ourselves stems from a variety of places, but the key here is our perception of failure, which I believe creates an unhealthy and self-hating cycle. Consider how your view of yourself changes over years of "failed" resolutions; your self-worth may plummet, or you may begin to see your motivation as somehow broken, feeding the same monster that forced you into fixing something (most likely not broken) in the first place.
My other gripe with resolutions points to something more specific; our culture's inclination toward finding flaws in our health or physical appearance. Why do we want to start a new year telling ourselves we need to lose weight, eat better, or exercise more, especially those of us who already lead a somewhat balanced life? My outrage skyrockets thinking about the potential negativity we are sending out into the world by holding our bodies to such unrealistic standards.
Yes, some of us could make better and more balanced health choices, and I acknowledge some health behaviors should be changed (like quitting smoking), but maybe January 1st places too much pressure on an already long road ahead for those seaking positive change.
Allow me a brief moment of public health nerdiness.
The transtheoretical model, otherwise known as stages of change, explains why most resolutions fail; to make a change you have to be ready to make a change, and most of us simply are not ready. No amount of shame, guilt, or will power makes up for not truly wanting, and understanding why this change feels so important to you, and even then, sometimes you take a few steps back because life gets in the way. And guess what? It's okay. The world will not crumble down around you, your friends won't stop loving you, and you get as many chances as you need to try again.
Placing my nerdiness aside, even the most well-intentioned and positive New Year's resolutions may not succeed becuase making a significant change in your behavior requires thought, planning, and time (lots of it).
The point? In 2017 I plan to continue working on decreasing my food anxiety, and finding better balance between personal growth and realistic expectations, so why do I want to start the year focusing on the exact opposite? In a sense, these plans mimic a resolution, but instead, I view them as a continuation of a journey I started years ago, and I have no need, or desire to change anything just becuase 2017 is a few days away.
For those of you still wanting to use this time to reflect and reset your intentions for the future, go for it! Just do me a favor and think about how your goals reflect your best self, and for everyone, I hope this year brings adventure, joy, acceptance, and little extra kindness.
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
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