Should I set a resolution to lose weight this year, or not?
Every year, millions of people make New Year’s Resolutions to live their best lives and be their best selves. Losing weight is usually at the top of the list. The six most common New Year’s Resolution goals include:
- Lose weight
- Eat healthier
- Improve a relationship
- Read more
- Improve finances
Why you should not set a resolution
These goals should make you happier, so why shouldn’t you set a resolution? If you don’t know what you really want or if you haven’t done the work to understand your motivations, setting a resolution alone won’t help you make progress. Without groundwork, there will be a lot of inertia and excuses to overcome. And what if you fall short? Then, instead of feeling happier, you may feel bad about yourself or even reinforce an existing unhelpful belief that you hold, that you are not someone who ____ (is able to maintain a healthy weight, exercise, read regularly etc.). Lastly, if you set a resolution and you hit your goal and you celebrate, all motivation to keep doing what you’ve been doing may disappear, and you’ll likely go back to your old habits. Of course, none of those are good reasons to not try improving your life. But if you understand how they hold you back, you can overcome them.
Why things did not work, or did not last, before …
Any change from routine is going to require energy to carry forward. As an adult, there likely is no one there to force you to do the thing. If you tried a keto diet to lose weight, for example, you may have had initial success, then plateaued, and since gone on and off. Overall, you likely lost steam on the diet. As your adherence to the diet starts to slide, bad feelings may start to creep in and make you feel stuck. Because you set a weight goal that you did not reach, “not being there yet” meant that you experienced negative feelings. You either thought you should have done more, or decided it was not important enough and not to bother. Sound about right?
What the true failure was
Even though you made headway, learned new skills, tried new recipes, and experimented with new ingredients, you failed to recognize that you accomplished all these successes. In addition, your body is probably more fat-adapted and more metabolically flexible now and better off because of that, yet you never acknowledged the skills you were learning and the benefits you received by trying. Because your goal was a certain outcome and the diet was just a tool to get there, the process was taken for granted. Judging yourself harshly for not hitting an exact target is one kind of failure as that can crush your motivation. The true failing though, whether you met the goal or did not, was in not connecting with and feeling your deep need, desire, or impulse to change your life and allowing that to give you pleasure in the pursuit.
Instead, practice showing up mindfully and trying
Making a resolution is a brave act because there is always a chance you’ll fail. A big chance, it turns out; only 46% of resolution makers—less than half!—succeed at their resolutions. The first thing to celebrate is having the nerve to try! Don’t defer feeling accomplished and celebrating until the goal weight is achieved. You can lose motivation from this in two ways:
- If you do not meet the goal, punishing yourself with perfectionist thoughts is the opposite of motivating, it makes it harder to follow through or try again.
- If you celebrate the singular act of achieving the goal, there is no momentum to carry on with the actions that helped you get there.
Instead, enjoy and celebrate the act of showing up. Every time you have an opportunity, practice taking any kind of action towards what you want and feel how good it feels to be more of the person you want to be.
I see celebrities do it; what do they have that I don’t?
Singer Adele famously lost 100 pounds over a two-year period. Not only did she lose weight, but she also reduced her anxiety and started to show up in photos makeup-free, having fun, looking loose and relaxed. That is a positive transformation we can feel good about working towards! She had a team of trainers in her corner and professional support with her food plan. If you had someone in your corner, cheering you on, reminding you to celebrate, teaching you to be proud of trying—it would probably change everything.
Imagine this time you have a coach
As a life coach, I teach people to work with their brains to achieve their aims. The steps below will improve your chance of success and you will already be most of the way there! If you can avoid the pitfalls that come after these tips, you are much more likely to improve your chances this time.
1. Resolve (decide) to do something, then write down your goal.
Want to improve your chance of success? Setting a resolution can make you more than ten times more likely to succeed at upgrading your life. Folks who set resolutions are much more likely to achieve an aim such as achieving a healthy weight than those who wish the same but make NO resolution. A resolution is even more powerful if you write it down. Go get some paper!
2. Have a growth mindset.
A focus on habits, not outcomes, is part of having a growth mindset. This way of thinking acknowledges that you never really finish getting healthy or learning a language or instrument, it is always something we choose to practice and make a part of our identity. While you cannot control the outcome (the weight on the scale, for example) choosing to adhere to certain eating principles is something within your control and something you can consistently work at. Another aspect of having a growth mindset is to see any failure as a normal learning experience that brings you closer to success. This helps you to be resilient when you fail. Being willing to try again is an important quality for ultimate success since most goals worth achieving are still valuable no matter how long it takes.
3. Choose a clearly defined method.
Eating healthy to lose weight or improve your mood or body composition sounds great but is too vague. There are many ways to achieve an outcome, but you are more likely to succeed if you have clear guidelines to follow. With a meal plan to follow, you are more likely to eat right, for example. Likewise, with something like the MIND diet or the plant-based keto diet, there are clear guidelines, so you’ll be clear when you are or are not doing it. Psychiatrist Dr. Chris Palmer uses the ketogenic diet to successfully help his mentally ill patients with their weight and mood. One reason he likes it is that he can clearly tell if they are adhering to it (or not) by measuring their ketones. On the MIND diet for cognitive health, there is no clinical marker to measure, but there are specific portions of foods such as berries and nuts to meet each week to stay on track. On Dr. Anna Cabeca’s Keto Green plan, followers are encouraged to measure both ketones and urinary pH, to ensure they remain in ketosis and that their diet remains alkaline while following the keto diet.
4. Pick habits that support the outcome and allow for regular wins.
Let’s say your new process goal may be to practice a plant-based ketogenic lifestyle; you commit to stay fully compliant with a ketogenic way of eating six days per week for 12 weeks. In this case, make the resolution about your routines such as creating a shopping list and ordering biweekly or how often you will eat at home. Break it down into several smaller aims if you need to. Check that each is something you can control. You can celebrate every day that you stay below 40 grams of net carbohydrates per day and every time you reach six days per week and when you have done this for 12 weeks.
5. Make sure you have the tools or foods to match the system.
Plateaus can result from poor tracking. Once you have written down the desired outcome, pick the habits and actions you will use, and schedule times to check in and quantify your progress. Tools help us measure progress and track our actions with honesty. If you are re-committing to keto, you’ll need a way to measure and track ketones. Remember that diet foods are tools too. The smoothie you usually make might include too many high-carb fruits and a protein powder that results in too much protein. Plan to rebalance recipes like this using healthy oils (I love Flora Omega Sport+ for this!) and purposeful swaps such as well-blended frozen cauliflower to thicken a smoothie.
5. Be prepared for your success.
Behave the way someone would who has already achieved your goal. Stock up on healthy foods and keep them in the freezer for emergencies. Practice feeling the way you want to in your relationships now. Celebrate feeling successful with every good choice. Imagine feeling confident and comfortable looking at your bank statement or reflection in the mirror. Embody triumph. Imagine how you will feel when you achieve your goal and practice this feeling now. Start to think of yourself as a person who makes good choices. Identity as a healthy, active person.
6. Take yourself lightly.
Be very forgiving to yourself. Laugh as you learn from your mistakes. The stress of thinking badly of yourself is nearly always counterproductive. (Stress is a direct contributor to belly fat!) Managing stress and loving yourself through your lifestyle choices is a much gentler approach. Catch yourself practicing the habits that help you achieve the goal. Notice yourself consuming the right macros, sleeping well, and going outside. This is a powerful way to reinforce the positive feelings of success and accomplishment.
If you’ve got those covered, let’s look a bit closer and troubleshoot:
Common reasons your prior resolutions failed:
1. You failed because your resolution focused on the outcome, not the process.
Big outcome-based goals, like “lose 30 lbs” or “run a marathon,” are hard to succeed at. They defer feeling good to completion, which can be months in the future or never arrives at all. They are often doomed because they depend on many factors susceptible to forces outside of your control, and once you get them, you may feel blue and even a bit lost. Instead of looking at the outcome (losing weight, having a better relationship, more savings, less debt, etc.) focus on the process (meal planning, hugging more, automated savings, weekly debt payments) that will get you there. When Adele lost weight, her goal was to get healthy, not skinny. Getting healthy is about more than looks, it feels good. “Getting healthy” is a superior aim to “getting skinny” because it is a continuous process rather than a destination. Unlike an outcome goal, which disappears once you hit it, process goals transform you for life.
2. You started with the wrong thoughts.
“I have gained weight, I need to lose weight, get rid of my gut” are not happy thoughts to propel your journey. They may come with underlying thoughts like “I am overweight” and “overweight is not healthy” which cause you to identify with being fat and being unhealthy. If you identify even at a subconscious level as a person who is fat and unhealthy, your brain will not be able to act out of alignment with that identification. To behave in a healthy way, it is helpful to identify as a healthy being, one who has fat right now; “having fat” is a current state, but “being fat” is an identity. Goals about changing our bodies and bank accounts are very self-centered too. They also tend to be things we want to keep to ourselves, and therefore they propel us toward working on our goals all by ourselves. If we rethink the goal we seek, to one that serves a higher purpose, thinking about how it can benefit others, including people we love or other creatures and people worldwide, it allows us to open up about our goals and work on them without isolating ourselves, providing us with a better chance to maintain our new habits and integrate them into our lives going forward.
3. Your understanding of what you were committing to was too vague.
What is the method you will use? When you decide to read more, do you just picture yourself curled up with a book? What are the details? When will you visit the bookstore? How will you remind yourself not to turn on the TV at night? You need a plan that lays out the method with steps that are within your locus of control, and which provide feedback or assurance that you are moving toward your goal, and then choose to commit to the steps to achieve the goal. Adele adopted new habits like adding SIRT foods to improve her vitality and longevity and lifting weights to get stronger. It helps to know exactly how many servings of a food to add and what intensity of weightlifting needs to occur.
4. You had a process goal, but you needed smaller steps that were further broken down.
You’ve changed your outcome-based goal of “be less depressed” or “lose weight” to a process goal, such as “eat less sugar” that will help move you in that direction. Good for you! Now, break it down. Focus on one action. For example, defining “less sugar” may be determining that packaged food must be under 10 grams of sugar per serving. Super! Do a kitchen clean out next. Then organize the kitchen to make it easy to pick the healthiest food. Then, find ways to tweak your usual meals to be healthier. Alright, real progress! Then, get the ingredients you’ll need for these healthy recipe upgrades. You are doing it! The key is you do one small step, then stop and pay attention to everything you learn or implement each time before you move on.
5. You postponed celebrating.
You will be more likely to succeed if you celebrate your choice to move in a certain direction and enjoy the process as opposed to only celebrating the crossing of a finish line. With a big process goal of “eating healthier,” it is hard to know when you’ve arrived. It may just be part of a larger goal to have more energy for life or to live to meet great-grandkids, and that is great as it postpones the finish line indefinitely. The reward centers in your brain will enjoy this and make it easier to keep going if there is always something ahead of you to strive for. Congratulate yourself for your commitment to that aim and every time you choose well, make note of every task accomplished along the way. Celebrations might be giving yourself words of encouragement, doing something nice for yourself, or anything else that builds momentum.
6. You were too serious, and it backfired.
Some people are great at restricting, making sure there are no temptations around until eventually, it backfires. If you deny yourself all pleasure, you may find your inner rebel standing at a kitchen counter “just trimming” a piece of cake “until the edges are neat”. The cake is not the problem, but the moment can be difficult to recover from if you have all-or-nothing thinking. Maybe your inner justifier has shown up to tell you ‘you deserve it’, when the truth is, you deserve to be free of your sugar cravings and the inflammation you’ve been living with. Instead, build acts of rebellion into your plan. Plan enjoyable meals, build in freedom. When you celebrate along the way, you are less likely to blow things up and resent your resolution.
7. You felt terrible.
Speaking of resenting your resolution, change is hard! So do not imagine it will be easy. In fact, the harder the thing is to do, the more dopamine will kick in after, and the better it will make you feel to get through it. But if you are really having trouble sticking to routines that help and serve you, you can practice embodying the feeling you want—say, a feeling of accomplishment, pride, and happiness—as you go. Your mind helps you to create more of the same, so imagine it now. Feel accomplished, feel like a success, tell yourself you are a success and act as your own cheerleader. Having the right resolution helps with this too. If you have a focus on building lean body mass, more energy, a healthier body, or balancing your blood sugar, instead of simply losing weight, it prevents some habits that make you feel irritable or cause you to lose muscle or cognitive function!
8. You did not have the tools or supplies you needed to follow through.
You cannot commit to jogging if you do not own running shoes. In fact, you might need a good playlist and comfortable headphones too! Do you have a blender that makes it easy to create whipped drinks or creamy soups, do you have a selection of tasty healthy oils on hand to easily make food that suits your new high-fat, low-carb lifestyle? If you wish to read more, do you need an e-reader app, or do you need a library card? Equip yourself to make new habits easy and enjoyable.
Things are different now because you understand how to set yourself up to succeed, and you are going to enjoy every single good choice you make, not achieving a certain outcome. Resolve to behave a certain way and celebrate this choice. Be clear about what you want and why you want it, how you’ll do it and what you’ll need to succeed, and write it down in clear language. Start with the right attitude and keep a sense of humor and self-compassion as you go. Celebrate more often, making it fun. Honestly track your behavior, fine-tune as required, and create a life where you enjoy the continuous process of improvement!
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