Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

New Year Resolutions 2013: Let’s Go Beyond Diet and Exercise

What kind of person do you want to be in 2013?

Another New Year and another opportunity to engage in the age old exercise of New Year resolutions! You know the drill…you commit yourself to improving your diet and exercise program or perhaps find a better job or romantic partner and pledge that you’ll make it all happen in 2013! For most people, within a few weeks or months, other priorities take center stage and various stressors emerge to derail you from your new year resolution plan and goals. You give up hoping that next year in 2014 things will be different.

It is understandable that New Year resolutions make good sense when we reflect upon the end of one year and the start of another. Additionally, it is also understandable that, more often than not, we would fail in our efforts to change our behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise, work habits, and so forth. If there is one thing that I have learned as a clinical psychologist during the past 30 years of conducting psychotherapy with people is that behavior is really hard to change once established …very very hard to change! It is so  difficult to change behavior once habits are well formulated.

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For example, look at Oprah. As you likely know, Oprah has struggled with weight issues for decades. At times she has been very successful and proud of her success. At other times...not so much. Think about it. If someone like Oprah who has all of the financial and other resources available to her including the very best personal chefs, trainers, advisors, and so forth can’t be successful then what are your chances of doing what she can’t accomplish? Not wanting to be too discouraging but perhaps we often have unrealistic expectations about behavior change too often depending upon sheer will power and motivation to get us to exercise more, eat better, and so forth. This usually just doesn’t do the trick at all. 

While improvements in diet and exercise are important maybe we can go beyond these typical resolutions to address something that might be much more important now. Maybe the question that we should ask of ourselves at this time of year is "what kind of person do I want to be?" The recent tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the political arguments over the fiscal cliff crisis, the nasty ways that people treat each other that we see in the press and elsewhere all screem out to have all of us ask this important question: How do I way to be in the world?

Perhaps at this time of year it may be helpful to reflect on how we want to act towards others. In my book on ethics, Do the Right Thing: Living Ethically in an Unethical World, I try to highlight 5 important values that can guide our behavior. These include Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Competence, and Concern for others. While there are many different strategies for ethical behavior and decisions making well articulated over 2,500 years of moral philosophy, I tend to think that if we follow these 5 virtues then more often than not we’ll be the kind of people we can be proud of and we'll make good ethical decisions most of the time.


So, while improvements in diet, exercise, and the like are great goals for the new year, being better people, more ethical, more caring, more respectful, more loving, more kind, and so forth may really be where we want to put our New year resolution efforts in 2013.

What do you think?

 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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