January 1st and Magical Thinking

534234_468128779918532_2030491874_nOkay, so I’m just going to say it – there is nothing special about January 1st compared to any other day of the year.  Although part of me appreciates the optimism of “new year, new you,” it is – in my opinion – a load of BS.  Endowing January 1st of a new year with some kind of special power is magical thinking, and I think that is a big reason why so many people fail to follow through on their resolutions.

First, you are not automatically a new you today at 12:01 AM that you weren’t yesterday at 11:59 PM.  You are the same you – the only difference is, you have set a goal and may be more motivated than you have been lately.  Perhaps it is a goal you have set and failed to achieve repeatedly, like getting down to your goal weight or running a 5K.  All of the things that stopped you from accomplishing your goal before will still be there.  They have not magically disappeared in the void between 2012 and 2013.  You have not suddenly become allergic to Twinkies or enamored with kale.  You have not spontaneously developed the endurance of an Olympic athlete.  You are not a new you unless you change, which means doing things differently than you done before and putting in work.

I want to pause here regarding the repeated failures.  Having a poor track record when it comes to following things through can feel like a burden, but multiple failures give you tons of great information!  What I mean is that if you have failed repeatedly, then you should be pretty aware of what causes you to get off track.  Maybe it’s happy hour after work.  Maybe it’s the junk food your roommate buys.  Maybe it’s boozing it up while watching sports on the weekend.  Having experienced those things, you can use that information to create a sabotage-proof plan to actually do things differently this time around, which can lead to…success!

For instance, I have found that my kryptonite is cashews (especially the honey roasted kind).  They are so amazingly tasty that all sense of willpower totally goes out the window when I keep them in my apartment.  A container of them will generally not last more than a day or two if I buy them at the store.  For a long time, I would convince myself that my willpower was sufficiently strong enough to buy them and eat them in moderation, only to prove myself wrong again and again, regretfully looking at an empty container of sweet and salty deliciousness.  Instead of beating myself up over my lack of willpower and trying in futility to develop it, I finally accepted that regardless of how disciplined I feel, I just can’t have them around.  History has proven that I can’t eat them in moderation, especially if I’m dieting for a show.  So I don’t buy them.  Ever.  Unless I am treating myself (i.e. after a competition).  And even then, I buy the smallest package possible to minimize the damage!

So first, you need to set a goal.  Once that is done, you need to really evaluate what obstacles and challenges you will face in pursuing it and make a plan for how you intend to deal with each challenge you might face in reaching it.  If you have the luxury of repeated past failures, use that to your advantage.  Do you skip your workouts because you always hit the snooze button when your alarm goes off in the morning?  Then switch your workouts to the evening.  Or put your alarm clock across the room so you have to physically get out of bed to shut it off.  Or get a training partner to help you stay accountable for showing up to the gym. 564635_470638449639538_272104425_n

One of my bad habits used to be ordering Domino’s.  Any time I had a stressful day at work and ended up staying late, I would be starving and exhausted when I got home, so I would order pizza and cheesy bread from Domino’s.  It was awful.  I would always feel so ashamed and disgusting afterward.  So, I started bringing an extra meal with me to work in case I had to stay late to avoid being starved when I did get home.  I also kept ready-made meals at home so I could eat as soon as I got home without needing to spend time cooking (or give myself an opportunity to think about ordering pizza).  I also made a promise to myself that I would eat a clean meal first before ordering pizza.  Once I had eaten my chicken and veggies and had some time to unwind a little bit after getting home, I usually still didn’t feel tempted to order Domino’s.  And finally, if I just absolutely HAD to have Domino’s, I decided that I would forego the cheesy bread and order a small thin crust veggie pizza.  If I ended up going the Domino’s route, at least I could make a smarter choice.

I am not trying to be a downer about New Year’s.  If it gives you a boost of motivation that will empower you to make changes, then that’s great.  But please do not be naïve about it.  This year is not different just because you say it is or just because the calendar changes.   Intentions are great, but actions are where the rubber meets the road.  You MUST do things differently this year for you to truly be a new you.  Set a goal, evaluate potential obstacles and challenges, and then create a plan to successfully overcome or avoid each of them.

The upside to realizing that there is nothing magical about January 1st is that when you do have a setback or slip up (we all do – no one can flawlessly execute 365 days per year), the next day is a new day and a fresh chance to start over.  February 3rd or June 22nd or September 16th all have the same potential for a new beginning and a clean slate that January 1st does.  No magic.  Just putting in work day in and day out.

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