The Danger of Setting New Years Resolutions

Mike Coval
January 7, 2021

No, I am not against setting New Years Resolutions.

Do I set NYR for myself? No. I do not find it an effective tool for me as the act of setting them has very little meaning to me. However, I'm a firm believer in doing what works best for you, hence this post (side note: I have a "list" of things that I wish to achieve over the next 20 years and break that down and set goals based off that).

Enough of the back story, let's get to why NYR can be a trap for many people.

Here's why:

1) Their resolution isn't enough of a pain point for them...yet

As human beings, we seek pleasure (comfort) and avoid pain. We do our best to engage in activities that trigger a dopamine (the "happy hormone") response and usually these type of things are subconscious responses that require very little energy to execute. For example, I don't think to myself when I'm stressed, "Hmmmm, I need to hop on social media and scroll for 15 minutes so that I feel better". I'll naturally do it without thinking. High levels of stress, anxiety, and mental/physical fatigue are usually the triggers for this type of behavior for me and many others. The tough part is being able to catch yourself in the moment and stop the comfort seeking behavior. That's another post for another time though.

Now, it's story time. I had a client years ago that came in and they knew that they needed to lose weight. When we discussed their weight loss goals, they said "I don't know, maybe 5-10 pounds over the next year."

The client had shared with me that weight was something that they've struggled with for years. They knew that it was negatively impacting their sleep. They knew it was causing some of the physical aches & pains that they were going through. A high-level achiever in their professional work, they knew that it was taking away from their ability to be mentally sharp throughout the day.

The years of mental anguish had driven them to take their first step in their weight loss journey...committing to a fitness routine.

Reflect on that for a second. Think about all the coping strategies that this person used to avoid pain (even though they were going through mental and physical pain everyday from not doing anything about it). By "avoid pain" I mean taking the first step to truly helping themselves for the long haul. And coping strategies can include, but aren't limited to: mindlessly scrolling social media, watching TV until late hours of the night, alcohol, drugs, sex, creating false narratives in your head to make you feel better about where you are...the list goes on. I'm sure you can relate. I know I can with other areas of my life.

2) They don't know that they don't know how to effectively set "resolutions"

"This year I'm going to drink less, lose weight, and get more sleep"

As you read that resolution, did you spot any red flags with that statement?

Although well intended, there wasn't any specifics. There weren't any timelines.

What this person doesn't know is that they basically set themselves up for disappointment as they will surely fail with this resolution unless they dive deeper into it and add specifics, timelines, and an execution plan.

When I hear a resolution or goal like that, what I'm hearing is that the person is saying that whatever the goal or resolution is, it would be nice to have or acheive...not something that they have a strong burning desire to go above and beyond to make it happen.

Going back to the original point, I also hear that maybe they simply don't know how to go further beyond their resolution or that it simply doesn't mean all that much to them. They may be relying on motivation from a recent painful experience that motivated them to want to change.

Motivation will simply spark the initial behavior. Motivation will NOT sustain behavior. Do not rely on motivation to get you past whatever obstacle it is that you're trying to get beyond.

Motivation has to have a backbone. The backbone will be your "why". The "why" will drive your resolution.

Using this to further story of the client in the previous point, that client lost maybe 10 lbs over the first 2.5 years that they worked with me. Their physical aches and pains dramatically improved. They felt much more energetic, confident, and were doing activities that they were not able to partake in before due to their aches and pains.

Yet, still, they lost 10 lbs and still had a desire to lose more weight.

Then in January of 2015, we had a Transformation Challenge at the gym. It was a 45 day challenge and in that timeframe the client lost 24 lbs! The behavior changes that the client made during the challenge, were sustained beyond the challenge which resulted in 55 lbs of total weight loss from January of '15 to June of '15.

So what was so different in this scenario? The client found out that they were going to be a first time grandparent 🙂 Suddenly, the thought of being there for their grandchild was enough to get past their pain threshold and take some serious action.

It was a beautiful thing and something that was a true honor to be apart of.

With all that said, here is what you can do to ensure that you crush your NYR's for 2021:

1) State your resolution. Think of it as a rough draft because that's exactly what it is.

2) Deep dive and figure out why that resolution is important to you. Block off 15-30 minutes and journal why it's important to you. Simply saying "I want to lose 20 lbs by June", although specific and with a timeline, likely won't be enough if you don't truly understand your why. What will 20 lbs of weight loss by June do for you? I'll feel more confident and right now I don't have that feeling. I'll feel and be more attractive which will be helpful as I look to find the ideal partner to share my life with. I want to run the 1/2 marathon up north in September and being 20 lbs less will feel much better and result in less wear and tear on my body as well decrease my time.

I think you get the picture here. Figure out your "why".

3) Take #1 and get more specific with an outcome by a specific date

4) Create an environment that best increases your chances of success. Your environment includes the set up of your home, the set up of your work office/environment, your social circle, and perhaps a coach or at bare minimum an accountability partner. For example, at home if I'm trying to get in the habit of taking my multi-vitamin every morning after breakfast, then it would make most sense to have the container sitting on the counter at first. I need to put it within my vision in order to a create a trigger that say "take your multi-vitamin".

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Mike Coval

Coval Fitness is a Personal Training Studio and Gym in Ann Arbor, Michigan

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