Millions of people are soon to make a New Year’s resolution that they can’t keep. Sadly, the overwhelming majority will stop pursuing their goals by February. One reason why the best laid plans fail is that New Year’s resolutions tend to be borne of guilt, often pertaining to improving one’s health. People commit mostly to losing weight, getting in better shape, learning new skills, and living life to the fullest. All of these resolutions, however, are the usually result of self-criticism and self-judgment, and that’s why it’s so difficult to follow through.
If you start from a place of self-judgment, then you carry it with you everywhere you go, including to the gym. It’s nearly impossible to truly get healthy if you live under the cloud of criticism. It is fear-based and, simply, not good for you, mentally or physically. To live in fear is to crush your spirit, and a crushed spirit will not sustain you over the long haul toward improved fitness.
Fear is also bad for you physically. It is harmful to your body’s natural supply of melatonin, which is vital for the regulation of sleep patterns and serotonin, which is a brain chemical that plays a crucial role in many of your bodily functions. Fear can make it difficult to do something as instinctive as breathing. Ever seen those professional athletes who, early in a game or match, cannot catch their breath? These athletes are in phenomenal shape; it’s way too early for them to be that tired. It’s fear that is making them struggle for oxygen.
Granted, the fear that informs self-judgment may not be as acute as the fear we feel when performing in front of 40,000 fans, but the general rule still applies: Fear is bad for the body and the soul, and it’s a horrible impetus to improve health. You simply cannot hold onto the energy of judgment for protracted amounts of time. That’s why people, who go to the gym motivated by fear, stop going a few months, or even weeks, later. Or that’s one reason, at least. A key one.
Resolutions work better when they come from a place of stimulation and wonder. For instance, rather than begin the New Year by saying, “I’m not very smart, so I am going to commit to reading 50 books this year,” instead say, “I know a lot of terrific things, but this year I want to commit to learning more about sharks, the Founding Fathers, and film noir because those topics fascinate me.” It may seem like a trick with words, but the difference in the underlying attitudes makes sustained success possible.
It’s the same with nutrition. Rather than resolving, “I eat terribly, and I need to eat better this year,” which is an attitude of negative and harsh judgment, try a resolution like this instead: “I’m going to pick some different foods to try this year, things that I’ve been curious about for a while.” That resolution could include anything at all—main courses, side dishes, exotic breakfast sandwiches, juices, even desserts. The result will be that you stimulate the palate, leading you to eat a wider variety of foods. It will make the act of eating a more conscious and joyful experience, and, ultimately, more satisfying, which will be better for your body and better for you.
Regarding your fitness goals, try not to make a resolution that suggests you aren’t good enough (because you already are, really). Instead, make a resolution to do something this year that could be fun. Replace “I have to go to the gym three times a week,” with “I want to learn how to play squash.” It doesn’t even have to be that complex. It could be, “This year, whenever I drive past a terrific hill, I’m going to stop the car and run down it.” Or maybe resolve to climb trees again, just like you did when you were a kid. Or go outside and dance around every time it rains hard. That kind of stuff actually improves your fitness.
Or maybe just resolve to implement more fun movements into your life this year. Instead of promising to lose 20 pounds or to run six miles every other day, both of which require large commitments, decide to get down on the ground and exercise on your hands and knees a few times each week, like you did as a child, or that you’re going to jump up and down more, simply, because it’s so fun.
I know it sounds too simple to be effective, but think about it: How many times did you jump this past year? Probably not much at all for many of you. Do you really think it won’t be fantastic for your body to jump a lot more often this year? Or get up and down off of the ground more frequently? We know it’s a tiring and useful exercise because we see so many drills for professional athletes that include it. So do you really think it won’t make a difference for you? Or moving sideways, either out on a walk with your dog or playing with your grandchildren or whenever.
Bottom line: It’s all about intention. When your intention is based on joy and fun, effort comes easily and naturally, but when your intention is based on self-judgment and fear, actions become a chore, a duty, a grind. Everybody who reads that sentence knows exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve all experienced it. So for this New Year’s resolution, don’t focus on changing yourself or your actions. Focus, instead, on changing your intentions to include more fun and joy. You’ll likely have far better results.