5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making A New Year’s Resolution

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Without even having to do a Google search for the “Most Common New Year’s Resolutions” I bet you can guess what the top three usually are: Eat Healthier, Exercise More, and Lose Weight! But to humor myself, I did the search and confirmed my suspicions. Also in at the top are: Save Money, Get Organized, and Travel More.

It’s no surprise all of these “resolutions” are on everyone’s mind right after the holidays. Your bank account may have taken a hit after buying all the presents, your house might look like a disaster after hosting company, or maybe you still have piles of wrapping paper rolls and empty boxes in a corner like I do, tugging at that idea of a beautifully organized gift wrapping station in your craft room that has never come to fruition. *Sigh*

It’s also easy to freak out about the “holiday cheer” that may have settled around your waistband after all of the delicious food and goodies you’ve indulged in at gatherings. Maybe it sparks a desire to make a resolution to cut yourself off from certain foods for awhile, or to exercise more to work it all off! But before you hastily make a new year’s resolution to compensate for your holiday behaviors, I would like you to sit down and ask yourself these 5 questions:

1. Is it SMART?

In business, when setting a goal you want to make sure it is SMART: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. If you come up with a broad resolution like “I want to save money,” how can you quantify that at the end of the year to know if you actually achieved it? Maybe instead think about something you want to save money for and realistically come up with an achievable goal that you can track the progress on. It is all too common to be very optimistic about how much you can accomplish in one year, so perhaps shorten the time frame and start small. Habits grow from small changes over time. So be real with yourself; don’t set yourself up for failure by making grandiose goals that aren’t actually achievable.

2. Are you being genuine?

Think about your bucket list. Will your resolution actually help you check any of the dreams on your bucket list off? Or are your resolutions something that you feel you “should” do out of guilt or obligation? Don’t compromise what brings you joy. Really ask yourself what the motivation and intention behind your resolution is.

3. Is it healthy, or is it “healthy”?

It might be tempting to want to cut yourself off from certain foods after the holidays or start a new diet on January 1st. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “My diet starts Monday!” over this past weekend among friends and family members. I bet you’ve gotten email offers or have seen some Facebook ads for new diet programs–I saw one on a sign in the mall this weekend. It’s everywhere this time of year! But let’s remember basic biology before committing to yet another new diet: What happens when you tell yourself, “I am never going to eat X again?” Maybe for the first few days or weeks, it’s relatively easy to restrict yourself from that particular food or food group, but eventually it probably starts looking pretty tempting again. Your “self control” might be able to resist for a bit longer, but inevitably what is going to happen? More than likely you’ll find yourself in a hungry state staring right in front of a big plate of cookies or that last bag of chocolates you’ve hidden in your pantry or freezer, and temptation will win out every time. You’ll find yourself overeating on that forbidden food, leading to feelings of guilt and shame because you weren’t “strong enough” to resist. But it’s not your fault, it’s simple biology–the classic binge-restrict cycle. This is why 95% of all diets “fail.” So keep this in mind when making your resolution to “eat healthier.” Think to yourself “Will I want to still be doing this/eating this way when I’m eighty years old?” Focus on behaviors you can engage in long-term, i.e. for the rest of your life.

4. Will it truly make you content?

Let’s talk about values. Have you ever put time and thought into what your own values are? Values, rather than goals, are enduring qualities that are important to you, such as being an honest person, or being able to express your creativity in the work you perform. When you make decisions for yourself based on your values, regardless of the amount of happiness the decision may or may not bring you, you can feel confident that the decisions you make are based on what is truly important to you. Consider this when contemplating a resolution that may provide you with the illusion of happiness, like weight loss or making more money. Realize that in these cases, the number on the scale or in your checking account will never be “good enough,” and will likely never make you truly content. However, if you align your goals and resolutions with your values, you are far more likely to feel content and genuine.

5. Do you really need to make it a resolution?

If you’ve answered the previous questions honestly, perhaps you have realized your resolution isn’t actually all that realistic, or that the intent and motivation does not align with your values. Maybe you’ve realized the resolution may end up digging you deeper into the hole from where you originally started. While I’m certainly not discouraging behavior change for health or self-care reasons, I want you to be set up for success. You don’t have to commit to a “year-long” resolution in order to promote behavior change. The best way to instill lifelong habits is to start small, and to give yourself grace in the process. One of my favorite quotes to remember when I’m feeling overwhelmed by a project or goal is by the FlyLady, a sweet woman who has built a career on helping people keep a clean house. She always ends her emails with, “You are not behind! I don’t want you to try to catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are, O.K.?” She doesn’t say this with the expectation that you’ll be perfect on your first try, or that you’ll be able to always control the clutter in your house or car from that point forward, but to just start a little at a time until eventually it’s second nature make your bed in the morning, or take five things with you out of your car when you park. As you accomplish small goals, you’ll be able to build confidence and engage in healthier behaviors more often than not. Instead of feeling ashamed of yourself for being unable to achieve a goal that was too unrealistic in the first place, you can feel proud and content that you are living according to your values, and gradually engaging in healthier habits that you can keep doing–even at eighty!

Yours Truly,

Sarah Roth, RDN, LD