January 3, 2016

Why I gave up New Year’s resolutions

I’m an all or nothing person.  A black and white person, an on or off person, an ‘eat the whole bar of chocolate or don’t have it in the house’ person.  There’s not really an in between for me.

This actually makes me really good at making crazy New Year’s resolutions, and for the most part, sticking to them too.  As a child and teenager, I used to give up sugar for lent every year and for the whole forty days I didn’t touch anything with a morsel of sugar in.  It wasn’t hard, I’d made the decision so I just stuck to it, reading every single ingredient label.  Since then, I’ve used countless January firsts, new months, Mondays, end of vacations, birthdays, every hint of a new beginning to set myself resolutions, but now I don’t do it any more.  Why not?

I stopped because I don’t want to tell myself any more that any one day is the end of something, or that any next day is the beginning.  It doesn’t work for me.

For the black and white person I am, if you keep to a resolution you win.  If, however (or let’s be real: when) for a moment you slip or make a small bad choice it’s an instant failure.  Then what?

For me resolutions were always reactive and for the short term to remedy a feeling, and not ‘real life’.  I found that pretty much every resolution I made, be it January 1st or at any other point, it was in reaction to a low moment, and I would reactively set the bar high.  Too high.  ‘No more…..‘, ‘I’m fully quitting….‘.  The problem then became that when I didn’t stick to it 100%, I let it all go instead of picking myself up and keeping going.  So a trip out to a restaurant that ended up with an order of pizza instead of the cleaner salad option I would have resolved to order before leaving the house, then resulted in feeling frustrated and throwing in the towel. I’d broken the rule so what was left to guide me? Nothing.  Ok, so now I’ll go home and crack open a bar of chocolate, then finish some leftovers even though I’m not hungry, then snack on the nuts on the counter…  The night would finish off far worse than if I’d taken myself in hand, realized the learning experience and then just picked up and moved myself towards a goal.  Resolutions are rules and once they are broken, there is nothing left as a guide.  It was a big day for me when I realized that I could take those low moments and instead of feeling like I was back tracking, tell myself I could learn something.  Now I identify what went wrong and work out what I can learn and do differently and, suddenly the day becomes productive. I can forgive a day that didn’t go the way I would have wanted if I tell myself I can learn from it, and not repeat the same thing again.  It’s empowering and freeing in the moment that would have been the ‘fail’ moment had I made a strict resolution. 

For some people New Year’s resolutions work well, I’m not going to deny that, we’re all different.  If that’s you, go for it.  Just choose something manageable, and be flexible.  Much better a year where you actually change a little, than a year where you change a lot for the first week.  If you’re going to set resolutions I encourage you to set them towards something inspiring and not away from something you don’t love about you.

For me though, I prefer the idea of a journey.  If I slip up or take a wrong turn, I’m still on a journey, I haven’t failed.

Pregnancy and nursing have been a whole new journey for me in managing health and eating so I’m reworking this journey all over again.  The last day that I ended up called a ‘learning’ day was just last week.  My whole family is in town, multiple cakes, sweets, and snacks are lying all over the place and there’s lots of eating in between meals, all the time.  It’s a recipe for ending the day feeling ‘blurg’.  With the new demands of nursing and the hunger it brings I threw caution to the wind and thought, ‘maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe I’ll just eat cake whenever I walk past it’.  The end of the day had me feeling bloated, over fed, and annoyed at myself.  I picked up my iPhone and wrote myself a note (I find that helps me solidify my thoughts). I felt low and frustrated, I felt like I’d lost a day in my journey to shed the baby pounds, I wished I’d made different choices. But what helped me was that there was no resolution I had back tracked on, rather just another sentence in the conversation with myself.  There was no fail, just a day that was a learning day rather than an ‘acing it’ day.  But on the journey of life, and food, and health we have to learn, so those days have to happen – I just make sure I actually learn the lesson so that they serve a purpose.  I don’t need a week of down days, one will do… I try to learn quickly and move on!

So what do I do instead? I have values, and more general goals, I don’t wait for a certain day to start, and I don’t have an end point.  I also know myself, really well, and I’m striving to keep learning me.  I have a pocket full of experiences and scenarios that I’ve learned from.  I remind myself of those in any moment.  I know how most things will make me feel, I know when moving away from my ‘usual’ is worth it, and when it’s not.  I know what indulgences are really enjoyable in the long run, and which ones are only fun in the moment.  And I know that for me, only-fun-in-the-moment just isn’t worth it for me.  I know that saying, ‘It’s [fill in the blank event], eat whatever you feel like for just one day,’ doesn’t ever finish well for me.  And I know for example, that I need clean treats in my house because I will always have a sweet tooth, and when I see something I want that I know won’t serve me well, I can pretty much always say no if I can promise myself something cleaner instead when I get home.  I know that I’m more prone to crave sugar when I’m dehydrated, tired, or need protein.  I also know I want to fuel my body on real food, and that I feel so much better that way.  I know that I want my body to run at it’s best all the time and that means filling it with clean, nutritious, natural food.  I know that I want to feel vibrant and full of life every day and have the energy to live life fully, and from experience I know that what I put in my body changes that.  Knowing me helps me keep it a journey, a journey of learning.

Even if I’m not a resolution maker, and even if I’m eating chocolate as I write, I love January.  I love the start of the year because it reminds people the world over that new beginnings do happen, that fresh chances and blank slates are real, and it encourages us to look at who we want to be and move towards it.  So I applaud you if you’re doing that in any way this January! I encourage you though, to keep it a journey.  Make it real life.  Real life has ups and downs, real life has unforeseen circumstances, real life has different character types, and real life is a journey to know ourselves.  Give yourself room to take the year, and the goal reaching, as it comes.  Whatever happens, give yourself grace to be where you are today, just maybe not enough ‘grace’ to still be there tomorrow.  

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