Forget the New Year’s Resolutions

Imagine this situation: The doorknob on your front door is dirty. Someone with grimy, greasy hands used the doorknob on Thanksgiving weekend after working in the yard and now every time you walk in your front door you have to wash your hands. So you think to yourself, in the new year, I really will clean this doorknob.

Far fetched?

I may be the New Year’s version of Scrooge, but that’s what I think we do with New Year’s resolutions. We have some bad habit that we admit we need to change — whether it’s something we need to start or something we need to stop — and we decide to change it in a few weeks or a few months. We’ll change that next year.

Does this make sense?

Let’s make up an example that I’m sure applies to almost no one (cough, cough). Let’s say I recognize that the way I eat is really not good for me. I eat too much of something or too little of something else. So I decide I need a New Year’s resolution.

It strikes me that this might mean you aren’t really convinced that your eating needs to change. If you acknowledge that the way you are eating is bad for you in November, then by setting a New Year’s resolution you are intentionally saying, “I’m going to eat in ways that will damage my body for two more months and then stop.” Those are not the words of someone taking responsibility for their life. Those are the words of the half-convinced.

Seriously. If you think something needs to change, why wait? If it can wait until January 1, 2016, why change it at all?

I’m not diminishing how hard it is to change habits. It can be horribly hard. That might also be what’s behind the New Year’s resolution. We are looking for tricks to help us do something that we know we need to do but that we also know, if we are willing to admit it to ourselves, is going to be really difficult.

But waiting until January 1 isn’t going to make it easier. Find the motivation you need now. Maybe it’s pictures of nasty blood vessels and operations. Maybe it’s pictures of loved ones. Maybe it’s a goal you want to reach. Likely you will need ongoing support and motivation, which is available in abundance on the internet.

One very helpful book that I recommended in a recent blog post is called, “The Power of Habit.” (read the blog post here) It can help you understand how habits form and how to change them.

One more thing: some studies have indicated that if you are trying to change a habit in a positive way (as in a New Year’s resolution), you are more likely to succeed if you don’t tell other people your intentions. The reason appears to be that if you tell people that you are going to, say, start exercising more frequently, you get their approving remarks without actually doing the exercise. So you are putting part of the reward before the behavior, which lowers the likelihood of actually making the change. The exception to this rule is if you are intentionally engaging supportive people for the sake of accountability, as happens in groups such as Weight Watchers. Accountability groups increase your chances of success.

Bah humbug with New Year’s resolutions. Just work toward becoming the person you want to be without waiting for an arbitrary starting date. That’s what I say. 🙂

(But I’m not here to judge you. If New Year’s resolutions work for you, more power to ya!)