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It’s a dangerous resolution.  Why?  Because it’s a punitive one, one of many New Year’s Resolutions that fail.

A New Year’s Resolution that helps promote good choices is one that makes it clear that small behaviors are the goal.  Why not give yourself a resolution that helps you feel good?

A resolution that helps you feel better has several features.

Features of Successful (Eating-related) New Year’s Resolution

The best New Year’s Resolutions focus on quantifiable, feasible behaviors that support your long-term goal.  Let’s take one,

I will decrease doughnuts at breakfast.

It’s vague– decrease by how much– and doesn’t offer an alternative behavior to choose.  It’s purely punitive (no more doughnuts!).  Not very encouraging, it is?

A better version:

On work days, I will pack hardboiled eggs, cut up apple, and nuts to eat for breakfast.

This is very clear. It lists a set of specific behaviors to do.  There’s a quantifiable dedicated time: work days for breakfast.  You even have a few days when doughnuts still fit (non-work days).

Evaluating success

The best resolutions can be evaluated in tiny increments as successful.  This means the best resolutions focus on behaviors like taking breakfast, not outcomes in the distant future.  You also need a decent chance of consistent success.  For me, a resolution of doing XYZ everyday is too much.

If the bar is too high, a failure rate will create negative emotions around the experience (and perhaps even eating).  For example, I’m in a group where people set a challenge each month.

Last month, it was to walk one mile per day– but I had had foot surgery so that bar was too high.  A realistic goal for me was to do my physical therapy exercises.  Aiming for small, realistic changes works well for most people when it comes to selecting behaviors with consistent success rates.

What are outcomes?

Outcomes are your long-term goals.  So, think about goals like decreasing blood pressure medications or lowering an HbA1c. These outcomes can (and should!) be celebrated, but there aren’t enough intermediate experiences to celebrate.

Without those small successes to celebrate, the likelihood of success decreases.

What are behaviors?

Behaviors are the actions you take every day, especially the ones that are repeated.  The choice of beverages.  The cupcake after lunch (it was delicious, thank you).  An apple after supper (also delicious).

The decision to eat some fruit.  Taking a walk.  The decision to meditate or pray.  All of these are behaviors that you can give yourself a success sticker* often– unlike trying to hit one number on a scale or a value in your bloodwork.

Because you do these often, you can celebrate the behaviors and reinforce your success.

Build a positive emotional connection

Finding joy in your selection action is essential to the longevity of your behavior.  Hate eggs?  Don’t pick eggs. Pick something where there is pleasure for you.  Select an activity where you will experience pleasure.

Also, celebrating your success helps build positive emotional connection to the activity. Think about the sticker charts for chores used in many families.  You are giving yourself a mental sticker (or an actual sticker, if you prefer) as often as possible.  The more often you experience a “Yay! I did it!” moment, the more positively you will view the experience.

It’s time to avoid New Year’s Resolutions that fail.

Let’s make those New Year’s Resolutions stick. In summary, try to:

  1. Focus on positive, actionable behaviors (small, repeated actions).
  2. Quantify the behaviors you want to achieve.
  3. Be realistic and specific.
  4. Celebrate doing those behaviors.
  5. Don’t forget to select items that you enjoy.

Want to learn more?  Consider attending the February workshop at Riverwalk Athletic Club about staying motivated with your New Year’s Resolution.

*Success stickers can be literal or figurative.  Logs, calendars, or even just telling a friend or family member about something can be helpful.

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