This Might Be the Best Resolution You Can Make

New research explains why resolutions are so likely to fail.

Posted Jan 09, 2021

 9dream studio/Shutterstock
Source: 9dream studio/Shutterstock

The new year is usually a time when we make resolutions, express our hope for the future, and shake off our past troubles to make a new start at whatever we want to change. We see the new year as a fulcrum for change. Whether or not our New Year's resolutions come true (and most don't), we don't let that bother us as we power through our lives with the hope that just having made a resolution will eventually enable it to come true. But 2020 was a much different and more challenging year!

So, how should you approach this new year?

The year 2020 was a doozy! We've experienced political strife, social unrest, and to top it off, a pandemic that looks like it will continue for some time. Should we still hold on to the rituals of making resolutions, etc. 

Should we still be optimistic?

I recently listened to a podcast interview of actor Michael J. Fox on Fresh Air (NPR). He has now had Parkinson's for 30 years and he talked about some of what he's learned from the experience. One thing caught my attention. He said (and this is not a direct quote) that he has, even after his diagnosis, always tried to present an optimistic spin on his life, always trying to see the positive side. But after a recent serious medical issue, he realized that he needed to learn to be an optimist and a realist at the same time. For him, this meant no longer always painting a "rosy" picture—"everything will turn out OK." Rather, he realized that this was not sustainable because things don't always get better which can then lead to disappointment and feeling like you've failed. He was able to see that having gratitude is essential to being able to sustain optimism and hope no matter what your situation may be.

What do you have to be grateful for?

This year you may struggle to find things to be grateful for. So give yourself a break and don't expect big huge accomplishments for 2020. This was a tough year for everyone. Look for small changes, small things you appreciate. If you've been struggling with binge eating, food addiction, or emotional eating, maybe you didn't meet your goals to "stop binging" or to "start working out" but you were able to make smaller changes.

Gratitude is linked to overall well-being.

You may not know that gratitude is not just a "woo-woo" concept, it actually has lots of research to back it up. Here are some of the benefits from research studies of reflecting on what you are grateful for:

  1. Daily gratitude is linked to more frequent exercise and fewer medical problems.  
  2. People who practice gratitude tend to take better care of themselves and engage in more healthy behaviors.
  3. Gratitude can help buffer the negative effects of trauma, reducing risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

When your life is a reflection of what you value most, what you love, you are more likely to be living a life that you're grateful for. 

While it may be difficult to easily think of things to be grateful for if you did have a tough year, reflecting on what you value most in life and how the events of 2020 helped you to tend what you value may help. For me, my lengthy recovery from COVID-19 infection in March forced me to re-evaluate my penchant for pushing myself so hard. I didn't have a choice I had to rest, to reduce my work hours, to manage my stress. Because I genuinely value my family relationships, I have doubled down on spending time talking with my sisters by phone, being more available to them, and also accepting their support while I was ill. I'm grateful for them and for my recovering health.  

If you value spending time with your kids, the pandemic may have enabled you to tend what you value by enabling you to spend more time with them due to school closings. I've heard many parents talk about how this has changed their relationship with their children for the better.  

Or maybe you value being appreciated at your job and you ended up being laid off from the job where you were not being appreciated or valued and you were able to find new work or make a career change or go back to school. These experiences may not have seemed fortuitous in the moment but perhaps looking back you can see aspects of them you are grateful for. Below is an exercise to help you practice gratitude in the new year—another way to approach healing your relationship with food and your body.

Exercise: Practicing Gratitude

1. Make a list of situations you may have experienced in 2020, and perhaps at the time you did not think about being grateful. 

2. Make a list of areas of your life where you feel you are struggling to be grateful. (Example: My mother does lots of thoughtful things for me, but I rarely show my appreciation.) 

3. In response to the lists above, write a thank you list of specific actions you are willing to take to show your gratitude to people in the areas you listed. 

4. Identify a daily ritual you can use to practice gratitude. Examples may include:

  • Write down three things before you go to bed that you are grateful for
  • Say "thank you" to three people every day
  • Say "thank you" to three people every day
  • Take a few minutes at the start or end of each day to take three deep breaths—breathing in gratitude with each breath and feeling the energy of gratitude pulsing throughout your body with each beat of your heart.
  • Practice this affirmation daily for a week: Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. Today I am grateful for all that I have and all that I am.

If your binge eating, food addiction or emotional eating worsened during 2020, you're not alone! It takes a lot of support to heal from food and body image issues. If you're ready to take a realistic step towards true recovery (vs. the usual "optimistic" new year's diet), set up a free consult appointment.

Happy New Year!  

Dr. Carolyn

References

Emmons, R. A., and M. E. McCullough. 2003. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84 (2): 377–89.

Peterson, C., and M. E. P. Seligman. 2004. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.