So you failed your resolutions…now what?
It’s okay—that all-or-nothing mindset was just setting us all up for failure anyways.
I admit I am the queen of goal-setting. I am so frustratingly type A that most of the time, I let my lists and goals completely dictate my entire life. This is why, when my willpower wanes and I find myself unable to keep up with what I originally planned for myself, I feel that failure. Hard.
New Year’s resolutions put such a harsh expectations on all of us every single year. Even if the intention is to better ourselves—whether it be in terms of our health, our careers, or even our relationships—trying to set such high expectations may not always go as planned. Apparently, out of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions each year, 91% of people won’t achieve them.
So what is one to do if they truly want to better their life? Some would argue that setting healthy habits is the key to success, which for an anal type-A b***h like myself, that is very true.
But what about those who find themselves hating the idea of having to set healthy habits? Sure, Atomic Habits may be trending on Amazon’s book list this month, but that doesn’t mean it’s required reading for your success. In fact, habits aren’t meant to be everyone’s cup of tea. For some, habits can actually set them up for failure simply because their personalities aren’t meant to form habits in the first place.
The problem is, our culture—especially in terms of health and wellness—makes us believe that if you aren’t one to set healthy habits, you will not succeed. Diets and workout programs are all built on this idea of creating habit change. Credited nutrition programs and even medical doctors advise habitual change as a way to get healthier. And yet, 91% of resolutioners are failing to keep up. Why?
This is the key question behind the research of Michelle Segar, PhD, an NIH-funded researcher at the University of Michigan and author of the book The Joy of Choice. Her book details why having the joy of choosing rather than forming habits can be the ultimate key to success—especially for those who are failing to keep up with their resolutions year after year. I had the chance to interview her for an article I wrote about New Year’s resolutions (you can read it here), but there were a few of her nuggets of wisdom that were too good not to share here as well.
Habits shouldn’t require willpower.
Segar first makes it clear what it means to form a habit in the first place. “Habit formation is creating an automatic habit that we don’t have to think about.”
Yes, feeding your dog or making the coffee does require some decision and brain power as you go (how much coffee do I need? do I have enough dog food?) but the act of actually doing it doesn’t require much willpower to start. Segar calls it an “unconscious, cue-based action.” You just do it, because it’s a known habit in your life. Or be subject to a massive caffeine headache later.
So why can’t working out or eating healthy be the same when it comes to forming habits? Because unfortunately, it requires a heck of a lot more willpower. You’re using so much energy to do these activities (working out for X minutes a day, walking X number of steps, cooking X meals a week), so when that energy fades, or something unexpected comes up in your day that completely derails your strict habits, it all goes to shit.
This is the story of an inhabiter.
“They need to recognize that they are inhabiters and not blame themselves for their lack of success because the old story behavior change is really set up for habiters and not for inhabiters,” she says. “The way their whole society has really been oriented is based on gold standards, rigid ideals, and precision. It’s kind of like a tightrope; it’s based on being able to walk this tightrope or hitting a bullseye every time. And if you don’t hit the bullseye, you just fall. What we need is a much more flexible strategy.”
Stop being so hard on yourself.
Are you always so strict with yourself?
Really, think about it. When it comes to your life say as a parent, a partner, an artist, or a career person, do you let one mistake cause you to quit? Sure, you have bad days. But does that mean you give up as soon as failure comes your way?
Probably not. Segar says the same should be applied to getting healthier.
“Our approach to exercise and healthy eating is so dogmatic and based on all-or-nothing thinking,” Segar says. “Yet when we step out of those two behaviors and we go into our parenting lives and our professional lives and our partnering lives, we don’t expect perfection, right? We’re always being flexible. We have no choice in these other areas but to keep going on the path. We don’t expect perfection, yet we don’t bring the same grace to eating and exercise.”
Allow yourself to fail.
Sure, maybe that strict meal plan or workout routine wasn’t sustainable, and that’s 100% okay. Instead, learn from that failure. Evaluate why it didn’t work out, and learn what you actually like when it comes to healthy eating and exercise, and what you don’t. And give yourself the grace to keep going.
The truth is, there is no finish line when it comes to being healthy. We’re not setting weight loss goals or body measurement goals. Taking care of your health is a life-long commitment. So take it slow, there’s no need to rush. And enjoy the process of learning about what works and doesn’t.
Find non-habit-based goals.
For example, I’ve made it a goal this winter to cook a big pot of soup every week to have for my lunches. Something brothy with lots of beans, or a spicy curry chicken soup with coconut milk and lots of veggies. It makes the act of cooking something healthy for my lunches way more exciting—especially when it’s cold outside and all I want to do is cuddle up with a cup of soup.
Instead of saying “I’ll work out three times a week” what if the goal was “I want to try three new types of workouts this month?” Maybe you’ll find one you absolutely love. And you don’t need a whole lot of willpower to get that done.