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Exercise Psychology Tip #9: Here's Something More Effective Than Making New Year's Resolutions!

Posted Oct 18 2008 2:35pm

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Well, I'm back from my parents' house. (Erik & I travelled there to celebrate New Year's with my family & friends from home). We celebrated the New Year in a very traditional way, as many people do -- ushering in the new year with a glass of champagne, the TV tuned to the masses of people gathered in Times Square, & an enthusiastic countdown to midnight! (I can't seem to recall a New Year's Eve that I haven't watched ball drop, wherever I was!) And of course, there were the usual sound effects of a New Year's Eve -- the loud "Pop!" of a champagne bottle being uncorked, glasses clinking together in celebration, & everyone in the room kissing & hugging each other, wishing each other a "Happy New Year!"

At one point in the evening, people began talking about the inevitable -- New Year's resolutions. One person said they'd like to lose 10 lbs., and another said something very similar. But before they could really get started, one very wise lady said, "My New Year's resolution this year is not to make any (more) New Year's resolutions!" ;-)

That comment elicited a really good chuckle & a lot of knowing looks from the crowd, & prompted someone else to chime in in agreement, saying that there wasn't any point in him making New Year's resolutions because he never kept them anyhow.

Well, I couldn't agree more. I'd prefer to set New Year's "goals" for the upcoming year, which fill me with promise & possibility, as opposed to making New Year's "resolutions," which are most often pointless exercises in self-defeatism.

This brings me to a related topic: Why do some people constantly set themselves up for failure by making resolutions or personal commitments, knowing full well that they won't end up keeping them?

Well, I propose a really simple solution: Other than not making resolutions, I think we need to address the larger & much more consequential issue: How we respond when we don't fulfill our most noble endeavors & obligations or come up short.

When we fail to keep resolutions or any other sort of promises or commitments, or when things don't go our way, let's not throw in the towel & give up so easily. Let's not respond in the same old way, i.e., feeling guilty & then doing self-destructive behavior that sets us further away from reaching our original goals. Let's not go in circles, avoiding making the same idiotic & pointless choices that prevent us from reaching our ultimate goals, & certainly won't further our cause any.

Instead, I propose that we not only change how we respond to our perceived "failures," but also change how we view "failure" in general.

We need to change the way we look at our own foibles and failings, otherwise we threaten to "sink the entire ship upon which we so hopefully set sail."

Self-sabotage is the twin sister of Low Self-Esteem, & the daughter of Guilt.

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Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?:

(1) Maybe you'd been eating really nutritionally for months on end, & were almost "too perfect" about it (like a saint!), but then, on a singular occasion, say the holiday office party, you cracked & ate one chocolate-chip cookie too many at the holiday party? Was your response to panic or mentally "beat yourself up" & then go on a wacky, crash diet? Did you find that after a few weeks or months of dieting, you cracked again? And then, because you couldn't keep to your insanely unbalanced diet, you decided to ditch your entire health-conscious nutritional plan, after previously eating well for months on end?

Do you really want to undo all of that hard work? Wouldn't it have been better to forgive yourself for eating those cookies you ate at the holiday party & instead, just decide to move forward by following a healthy eating plan that incorporates the occasional cookie or treat every now & then, so you don't repeat the cycle (of going nuts & overeating)? Consider the alternatives.

And if you really thought about it, wouldn't it just make way more sense to just eat healthy foods in reasonable portion-sizes, instead of following the latest diet craze? Diets only provide temporary "solutions" to problems which are usually much deeper in nature & much more long-standing in scope. They rarely have sustainable results over long periods of time; they might offer a temporary solution, but they are certainly not a viable lifestyle choice. The goal of attaining sound nutrition & healthy eating habits isn't something you simply accomplish in a 30-day plan; it's a long-term process, which can take years to properly develop & reinforce. But that takes work & dedication, & is usually not something that people with "quick fix" mentalities like to hear.

(2) Or maybe you were feeling really gung-ho one day & ran one run that was a bit too far or a bit too fast & you ended up feeling sore & perhaps were unwilling to run the next week? And then that week turned into two, or three, or four, until you completely fell off the fitness wagon altogether?

Maybe a better solution would be taking a few days off to rest/recharge & refresh, or possibly changing up your exercise regimen with some cross-training to keep it interesting. If you must, isn't it better to stop exercising for a few days than to stop entirely? The point is to keep progressing, & more importantly to keep going, despite the setbacks. That's the heart & spirit (& in fact, the very definition!) of a true athlete, through and through.

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Ask yourself this one key question: Do you personally choose to set aside your errors & press the mental "reset" button, or do you get caught up in the error itself & compound it ten-fold?

Of course, the problem is not in the error itself, but what we decide to do, once we make the error. Do we let one or two mistakes tank us & cancel out all of the earlier progress we made?

It's not the fact that we "fail" that is bad in & of itself, it's that so often we don't know how to recover from our failings, or take the lesson from them that we were supposed to learn. We've got to stop misplacing our feelings & thoughts about our own perceived "failures" or "shortcomings" as a way to shift focus & distract ourselves from our goals. We've got to stop using our failings as an excuse not to keep trying, to keep reaching for what we want. We need to quit indulging ourselves in feelings of self-pity & guilt, & stop wallowing in our perceived shortcomings.

So let's put aside the guilt, self-immolation, & disappointment, that give us an all-too-easy way out of the pact we made with ourselves.

Isn't the ultimate goal to fulfill these promises we made to ourselves, that we supposedly so desperately want more than anything?!

Or, are we making these promises for show, for someone else's ears/benefit, so we can temporarily feel good about ourself without actually having to expend the effort to achieve anything?

It's not necessarily how you've answered these questions, but rather what you decide to do with the answers once you've got them. As the cliché goes, awareness is the first step. If you come to terms with your own behaviors & realize which ones aren't serving you anymore, then that's a promising start on the road to course-correction.

Instead of getting stuck in reverse, I challenge you to think of these perceived "failures" as part of life, as part of your growth, as a strange & wonderful gift that life is giving you, that's disguised in another form. It might not seem like a gift or a blessing at the time, but how many of us have experienced something we originally thought was "bad" only to get some greater good out of it?

We need to see "failure" as nothing more than a temporary roadblock, instead of an all-consuming black hole of immobilization & despair. Where once we saw "failure," we now need to see a "lesson." Where once we saw a "problem," we now need to see a "challenge."

How can we grow if we're trying too hard to be perfect all the time? If we don't make mistakes, how can we truly learn?

But even more importantly, once we do make mistakes, we need to take the lesson from them, instead of repeating the mistakes over & over again. Repeating mistakes of which we are consciously aware is not only a stupid behavior, but a wasteful one as well.

Since we only have so much time on this earth to live, it's really important that we accept ourselves as we are, focus on moving forward even when we have setbacks, allow ourselves to make mistakes & learn from them, & give ourselves permission to enjoy life to the fullest.

Being able to move forward in our lives, despite problems, pain, or sadness, is essential to our being & a healthy mental outlook. But first, even before we can do this, we need to be able to "see the forest through the trees."

I'm sure you've all heard about the "abundance" theory that's fairly popular right now. Well, without getting into the more hokey aspects of that philosophy, I'd like to point out that it's nonetheless, has some merit.

Gandhi put it best when he said, "What you think, you become."

Whatever you dwell or focus on (i.e., visualization of your desires = self-fulfilling prophecy), that is what you will bring forth into the world. If you focus on "what you lack" & you'll get more of that. If you focus on "what you want," you'll give out that energy & propel yourself in that direction too.

In the new year, let's all take stock of ourselves in an honest & gentle manner, to encourage us to look forward with hope, to realize the best in our natures that we have to offer -- Let's put forth the kind of energy into the world that we can be proud of, that makes us want to be the best human beings we can possibly be.

Let's bring forth the kind of energy we want more of in our life, & put that energy to use to propel ourselves towards the kind of life we want for ourselves.
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