Thinking of January as the time to start a wellness goal may actually backfire in the long run.
You spend the final weeks of December indulging in all that the holidays have to offer ― an extra glass of eggnog, delicious frosted cookies and lazy days curled up in front of the TV. You promise yourself that you’re going to start on that health goal very soon. Come Jan. 1, you vow to be in the gym seven days a week, packing salads for lunch and drinking eight glasses of water a day.
But then it doesn’t work. Why? While it can seem motivating to make a New Year’s resolution to revamp your lifestyle, experts note that this isn’t always the most effective approach.
Here are some reasons why looking at January as the time to start a new health regimen can actually sabotage your goals, plus some advice on what to do instead.
The statistics are not in your favor.
Most people give up on their January goals by mid-February, according to one professional coach.
It’s a known fact that most New Year’s resolutions, while well-intended, don’t get off the ground ― at least not for long. The failure rate is said to be about 80%. And according to Elise Auxier, a certified professional coach in Tampa, the majority of people that make January goals lose their resolve by mid-February.
“We start out with such enthusiasm, vigor and fortitude, only to quickly realize that our shiny goals are apparently destined to be buried in the sandlot of broken dreams within six weeks,” she said.
Your resolution might not have the right motivation attached to it.
The beginning of a new year comes with cultural and social pressure to get healthier in one way or another, noted Nick Frye, a behavioral counseling manager at health coaching company OPTAVIA. This usually means losing weight, hitting the gym or eating better.
“The problem with this lies in the concept of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation,” he said. “With intrinsic motivation, we are driven to achieve our goals because they reflect our most personal values, our truest aspirations and our most authentic selves. Extrinsic motivation means we base our goals on what other people think we are supposed to achieve.”
The bottom line? If you aren’t embarking on a new health journey because it is meaningful and important to you, then it’s usually just a matter of time before the commitment fades ― no matter what time of year you started.
A January resolution can create an “all-or-nothing” mentality.
New Year’s resolutions also have a way of making you feel like you need to go full-force on a goal or you may as well not do it at all.
“Putting all your eggs in the January basket and hoping that ‘this year will be different’ can not only create undue stress but can also create an ultimatum in your mind to stick to it ‘100% or nothing,’ which creates the perfect cop-out for when life inevitably happens,” said Tiffany Caplan, co-founder of the Caplan Institute of Health in Ventura, California.
There will be times when you will inevitably deviate from your health goal ― your work meeting ran late and you missed your yoga class, you were under the weather or traveling and unable to find a healthy lunch spot. If this happens, you might be more tempted to give up on a “resolution” entirely. Instead, focus on a goal day by day.
Your “new year, new you” goal may be too big to achieve.
When you apply a new habit, it needs to be small enough to be sustainable.
“Last year, you didn’t work out at all, but this year you are going to work out one hour a day, five days a week. That seems overwhelming just to read, doesn’t it?” said Christine Kenney, a health coach in Nashville.
Kenney added that this is often why people are quick to abandon new healthy habits that are set for January.
“We find ourselves taking on such big new habits that they don’t stick because they are just so far from our normal routine,” she explained, noting that the majority of tasks you do in your day are already habits, so when you apply a new habit, it needs to be small enough to be sustainable.
Kenney recommended starting small, adding that even tiny changes can have a big impact. Try taking a pilates class every Wednesday night or commit to making one healthy meal per day.
“Often, people try to change everything about themselves at once: their diets, their activities, their social life, etc. All of the changes at once [are] hard to maintain; people quit after a few months and then don’t change anything until the following new year,” said Ashley Nash, a personal trainer in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
The January wellness movement is overwhelming.
So many people enjoy the holidays, then pack into the gym like sardines the first day of the new year. But this can add an extra layer of stress to your goal, according to Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness trainer and instructor in Los Angeles.
“Everybody else is doing the same thing, so the gym is full, the trainers are super busy and you won’t get the personal attention you would get if you start your fitness journey in February or June,” she said.
DePatie added that seeing everyone going full-throttle in the gym in January can also set you up to push yourself too hard.
and the sports medicine guy’s waiting room is full by Valentine’s Day.”
“It encourages people to jump into fitness at a level that might be too hard or fast for them,” DePatie said. “It’s all part of the new year ‘magical new me’ syndrome. I see it every year ― the gym is full in January, and the sports medicine guy’s waiting room is full by Valentine’s Day.”
Additionally, waiting until January means you are starting your health journey “when toxic messages about how all bodies need to be perfect [are] at a peak,” DePatie said.
“In January, every potion, pill, abdominal exerciser and health voodoo company has their before/after magical thinking advertising going full-tilt,” she said.
The problem, she explained, is much of this advertising makes promises that are simply not real. “You’re probably not going to end up looking like that fitness model or 16-year-old runway star after using that product. And constantly being bombarded with those images not only bashes our self-esteem but also sets us up to fail.”
Delaying your goals can make them even harder to obtain.
“The best time to attempt a health behavior change is right now,” a psychiatrist said.
Most importantly, by putting off your goal, you are cheating yourself out of time.
“In general, the best time to attempt a health behavior change is right now,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care. “And if you succeed, when New Year’s comes, you’ll feel proud of the fact that you are already well ahead of everyone else who is just attempting to follow their resolution to change.”
Putting off your health goals until January also creates the idea that your health and well-being is something to put off, said Alysa Boan, a certified personal trainer at FitnessTrainer.com and RealFitnessMaven.
“When we set a start date too far out, or allow too many obstacles to occur before we begin, we often set ourselves up for failure,” Boan said.
In reality, there are ways you can enjoy the holidays yet still generally live a healthy lifestyle. (One big meal, for example, isn’t going to derail you.) Begin now by taking small, daily steps that help your well-being. Try drinking more water, cutting back on alcohol or going for a walk after dinner.
“Instead of waiting for a better day, or period of time, try shifting your mindset toward what you can do today to improve 1% in the area you feel needs attention,” said Mike Clancy, a health and wellness expert and founder of Mike Clancy Training. “This type of action-based behavior is built upon the success of consistency, rather than a sweeping change at a future date.”
10 Tips For a Happier, Healthier Life
1 Eat ‘primally’ Common sense dictates that the best diet is one based on foods we’ve been eating the longest in terms of our time on this planet. These are the foods that we’ve evolved to eat and are best adapted to. Studies show that a ‘primal’ diet made up of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as meat, fish and eggs, is best for weight control and improvement in risk markers for illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes. This ‘go primal’ food philosophy will enable you to cut through the marketing hype and dietary misinformation, and allow you to make healthy food choices quickly and confidently.
2 Keep hydrated Water makes up two-thirds of the body and performs a plethora of functions, including acting as a solvent, carrier of nutrients, temperature regulator and body detoxifier. Maintaining hydration can have a profound influence on our vitality and energy levels, including mental alertness. Aim to drink enough water to keep your urine a pale yellow colour throughout the course of the day.
3 Eat mindfully In our fast-paced world, there can be a tendency to eat while distracted and shovel in more food than we need and, at the same time, miss out on culinary pleasure. Many of us will benefit from eating mindfully. Some things to think about here are avoiding eating when distracted, eating more slowly, and taking time to taste food properly. One particular thing to focus on is chewing your food thoroughly – not only does this help us savor food, it also assists the digestive process.
4 Get plenty of sunlight in the summer… Sunlight, and the vitamin D this can make in the skin, is associated with a wide spectrum of benefits for the body including a reduced risk of several forms of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis, as well as improved immune function. As a rule of thumb, vitamin D is made when our shadow is shorter than our body length, ie when the sun is high in the sky. While burning is to be avoided, get as much sunlight exposure as possible for optimal health.
5… and in the winter Low levels of sunlight in the winter can cause our mood to darken. Even when it’s cold outside, it pays to get some external light exposure in the winter, say during lunchtime. Another option is to invest in a sunlight-simulating device and use this daily from October through to March.
6 Get enough sleep Sleep has the ability to optimize mental and physical energy, and optimal levels of sleep (about eight hours a night) are linked with reduced risk of chronic disease and improved longevity. One simple strategy that can help ensure you get optimal amounts of sleep is to go to bed earlier. Getting into bed by 10 pm or 10.30 pm is a potentially useful investment in terms of your short- and long-term health and well-being. Shutting down the computer or turning off the TV early in the evening is often all it takes to create the time and space for earlier sleep.
7 Walk regularly Aerobic exercise, including something as uncomplicated and low-impact as walking, is associated with a variety of benefits for the body and the brain, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases, anti-anxiety and mood-enhancing effects. Aim for a total of about 30 minutes of brisk walking every day.
8 Engage in some resistance exercise Resistance exercise helps to maintain muscle mass and strengthens the body. This has particular relevance as we age, as it reduces the risk of disability and falls. Many highly useful exercises can be done at home, such as press-ups, sit-ups and squats. Invest in a Dyna-Band or dumbbells to extend your home routine to other exercises, too.
9 Practise random acts of kindness Random acts of kindness are good for givers and receivers alike. It could be a quick call or text to someone you care about or have lost touch with, or showing a fellow motorist some consideration, or giving up your seat on a train or bus, or buying someone lunch or giving a spontaneous bunch of flowers.
10 Practise the art of appreciation Modern-day living tends to be inspirational and we can easily find ourselves chasing an ever-growing list of goals, many of which can be material. Some of us could do with spending more time focusing not on what we don’t have, but on what we do. Our mood can be lifted by giving thanks for anything from our friends and family to a beautiful landscape or sunset.