Ahh, that awkward time between Christmas and New Years. Christmas decorations start to come down and everyone begins to think of what resolutions they will give up in the following year. Yes, I did mean “give up.” Did you know that 73 percent of people who make Resolutions give up before meeting their goal? It’s true. Even worse, most people give it up by January 10th. That’s right. Only TEN days into the New Year, and most people give up. Doesn’t matter what the goal might be: lose weight, quit smoking, spend more time with the kids… No matter the resolution, we puny humans give up on it just a week and a half into it.
So what gives? Why do we make resolutions only to give them up less than two weeks later?
We make them because:
At the end of the year, we are packing on the pounds, smoking like chimneys, and snapping at our kids. Whatever your vice may be, you’re doing it in December. Me, I have a sweet tooth, and I’m convinced the only thing saving me from gaining the 30 lbs I lost a couple of years ago (er, well, I’ve gained 10 of it back, but I’ve not gained the full 30!) is my gluten sensitivity. Carbs and sugar are my weakness. I love me some salt and spice, but I only have salt and spice with carbs. And dairy. Dairy is my other major downfall. Chocolate, of course, is on the list, but at least I’m not scarfing all the cakes, cookies, and other baked goodies that seem to permeate every holiday party and, particularly, my work’s break-room. Yeesh. Especially when I see the goodies from our sister company sitting nice and pretty next to the toaster.
Point being, December is full of stress, parties, sweets, and all kinds of other things that bring out the absolute worst in us. Yes, it’s a time of giving, of remembering Christ’s birth, and of spending time with family… But let’s be real, here. Buying presents for the kids, being surrounded by sweets, and working like crazy just to pay for the gifts you bought all add up to the very worst in you coming out to play.
And yet, the cold weather, the longer nights, and the time remembering years past, push us into deep self-reflection so that we look back over the year and wonder, “What have I done?!?” Suddenly we look at that last piece of gluten-free chocolate cake (or maybe that’s just me) and think, “Oh dear. Did I really eat that much of it?” Or perhaps we catch ourselves in a moment of weakness, responding to the kids in a curt manner, and wonder, “Who said that? Was that ME?!?” And then a little light bulb flickers on.
I need to change.
I need to make this right.
I can’t do this anymore.
It’s not healthy.
I MUST MAKE A RESOLUTION!!!!!!
And then we fail. Because…
1) We set our goals too high or too broad. Setting an unattainable goal, or giving a blanket statement (ie, “I’ll lose 50 lbs!”, “I’ll spend more time with the kids and less time at work”, “I won’t go over budget”…) only sets us up for failure. When we suddenly realize the weight of our goal (no pun intended. No, actually, I meant that.), and see how much hard work it takes to attain that goal, we look at what we thought was the gentle rolling hill and now see it as Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s impossible, we say. I just can’t do it, we say. It’s too hard, we say. When we set goals that aren’t realistic and aren’t tangible, or when we don’t say EXACTLY what we’re going to do, it almost guarantee our failure.
2) We go the opposite direction and start too small or too precise. We might say we’ll work out just once a week. But once a week makes it much harder to create a habit, and makes it more likely to be forgotten, or to make an excuse (“It’s just this once…”). Being to exact gives us too much room in other areas to make excuses. We might say we won’t yell at the kids, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be speaking gently, politely, or kindly to them. You might still be sarcastic, use crude language, or be gruff–even if you don’t raise your voice. When there is not enough wiggle room (like in #1), we get scared and overwhelmed by the massive deed required of us; but when we have too much wiggle room, there is no discipline and gives way to making many, many excuses.
3) Other holidays come around. So you’re doing great on your diet. You’re loving the five pounds you’ve lost in the past month. And then… Valentine’s Day. If you were one of the few who persevered past January 10th, there’s still a good chance you’ll give up by Valentine’s Day. But maybe your goal isn’t weight loss; maybe it’s spending more time at home. But then your sweetie booked a mini-vacation for V-Day and now you need to work a little overtime to make up for it, because you really don’t want to be in debt. Or perhaps it’s not a holiday, but some other event that happens. Maybe you get a little more than you expected in your tax return, and while your goal is to stay on-budget and get out of debt, you take the extra cash and use it frivolously rather than put it towards the debt. Hey, you deserve it, right? Well, maybe. I mean, technically you “earned” the money by paying your taxes, and surely your tax preparer made sure you really, truly deserved it. But ultimately, what will happen is you’ll get that big check in the bank, and for the next month, you’ll assume you have enough for little purchases–extra treats at the grocery store, a new shirt, or that Blu-Ray you’ve been wanting to splurge on… And then you get a notice from your bank and you realize, “Oops! I guess that didn’t go as far as I thought it would,” and you’re back into debt. A really long explanation, but I hope you got the gist of it. My point was, things start happening, throwing you curve balls, and once again you start to make excuses as to why you can “cheat” on your resolution.
4) We just plain don’t care anymore. After the first couple of months, people stop asking about your resolution. You’ve neglected your workout buddies, have bummed cigarettes off that guy at work, and now work overtime on a regular basis. Your resolution has lost its appeal and you decide, “I’m comfortable at this weight”, or “At least I don’t snap at the kids as much as I used to…”, or “Whatever. It’s not worth my time or energy to pursue anymore.” And so we give up. Because everyone else has given up by now, so why should you bother to keep going?
So what do we do to combat these three major Reasons to Fail?
1) RAM it! Set Realistic, Attainable, Measurable goals. When you set a goal, ask yourself if it is these three things. I’ll provide an example using my own Resolution of losing weight:
Realistic: Rather than say, “I’ll lose 50 pounds by summer!” I’ll say, “I will lose one pound a week.” Not only is that much more realistic, but it’s also much healthier. It’s also a more precise goal, with the end in sight. It’s not something overwhelming (50 pounds) or too far off or abstract (summer); rather it’s giving a precise amount with a short-term goal. It’s realistic.
Attainable: Not to be confused with “Realistic”, I feel that “Attainable” refers more to the method by which we make our goals Realistic. For instance, saying “I’ll never eat sugar again!” is not very attainable (or realistic). But saying that I will limit myself, and thus create a rewards system (“If I stick to the plan during the week, I can have one piece of chocolate on the weekend”) that will help me to achieve that goal. Saying that I’ll never eat cheese is simply asking for me to fail. Once I have that one little piece, I think, “It’s not so bad…” or “I failed!!! I give up!!!”, then I’ll start to falter. But if I set attainable boundaries (one serving of dairy per day), I’ll be more likely to achieve them, which will make the bigger goals (one serving of dairy every three days) even easier.
Measurable: Yes, 50 pounds are measurable. But there are other ways to measure success. Such as pants size, stamina, skills/abilities, and overall appearance. But let’s step away from the weight loss goal for something more abstract that would be more difficult to measure. For instance, “Be more patient with the kids”. Rather than using terms like “more” or “not as much”, etc., use a more exact plan of action. Instead of focusing on the overall goal, look at your method. Rather than resorting to snapping at the kids, keep a list in your mind: 1) Ask child to do ___; 2) If they disobey, speak sternly and apprise them of the consequence of disobedience; 3) If disobedient, follow through on consequence in a calm manner, without emotion. Keeping that plan in your mind, you can then measure your success based on how many instances per day you were able to achieve your goal, using this course of action. And if you don’t follow through and do lose your cool, you can measure that against your success, and then do a self-examination to see what went wrong and how you can fix it in the future. Which brings us to the next point…
2) Don’t get fixated on your failures. As humans, we are bound to fail. As that old saying goes, it’s not how many times you fall down that matters, but how many times you pick yourself up. Getting too focused on what you’ve done wrong will lead you to wrongly believe that you are unable to achieve your goal. It likely is achievable (if you made it Realistic and Attainable, that is), but if you beat yourself up and get distracted every time you fail, you won’t ever succeed, because you’ll never be able to move past that failure. So rather than seeing it as a failure, look at it as a learning experience. If you failed, why? And how can you avoid it in the future? Why did you eat that cake? Smoke that cigarette? Yell at your kids? Overspend? What was the cause, and how can you do better the next time around?
3) Give yourself a reason to keep going. For one friend/relative who is also on a weight-loss journey, the reason is, “To have more children”. For someone quitting smoking, it may be as profound as “To see my great-grandchildren,” or as simple as “So I don’t stink anymore”. For someone wanting to spend more time at home, the answer seems obvious–to spend more time with the family and build better relationships wit them. Staying on budget may mean saving up for a large purchase, like a car or house. So what’s your reason? If it’s your child, maybe take a picture and put it where you would perform the action leading to that goal. Maybe you’re losing weight for fertility; put a picture of the child you have–or maybe even a picture of a positive pregnancy test–and put it on the treadmill. Put a picture of your child on your cigarette carton Or buy the ones with a picture of a cancerous lung already printed on it. Maybe play your family’s favorite song on your way to work so you are reminded to go home on time. Whatever your reason, find a way to remind yourself. Make it mean something so you can keep persevering.
4) Ask for help. This may be the most important one on the list. Humans are social creatures and we like to share our adventures, journeys, and struggles with others. Why else do we have so many social media outlets? Why else am I writing a blog that only a mere 17 people are following? Because we want our voices to be heard. We all want a soapbox, a community group, a sharing circle–whatever you call it, we want it! So ask someone for help. Even if they aren’t doing it with you, just talking about it with someone–and having them ask you about it–will keep you motivated, bring new ideas and opportunities for you, and will help you to achieve your goal.
And if you’re the praying type (like me), you’ll want some Supernatural help as well. Because as a Christian, I know that I gain my strength from the Lord, and I know that without Him, I can do nothing–but with Him, nothing is impossible. To change your actions, you need to change your mind, your heart, your desires, and your attitudes. And for those kinds of major changes to take place, you need Someone much better and more powerful than yourself to make it happen.
“[Jesus] said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.’” (Luke 18:27)
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)