- New Year’s resolutions can affect mental health when they don’t go according to our plans.
- Reframing your approach to reaching resolutions can help you succeed.
- Create specific goals and give yourself time to achieve them.
New Year’s resolutions are exciting. They can create a sense of motivation and hope for taking control of your health and bettering the year ahead.
“This can give a big shot of dopamine and adrenaline, which can cause an almost euphoric feeling of ‘Yes! Let’s do that!’” Teralyn Sell, PhD, psychotherapist and brain health expert, told Healthline.
However, if you fall short on taking action to make change or reach your goals, you may feel a sense of failure.
“We might even engage in more negative thoughts, which are unmotivating altogether thus negatively affecting our neurochemistry,” Sell said.
Christina Brown, weight loss coach, agrees. She said resolutions have a mostly negative impact.
“Creating and even just thinking about creating a resolution often causes us to feel stressed, overwhelmed, or even depressed,” Brown told Healthline. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be a certain way or to stop/start a habit, and when we fail to keep our resolutions — which more than 90 percent of us do fail at this — we then feel those negative feelings I mentioned.”
Making healthy changes is still a good thing and worth striving for.
However, readjusting your approach and mentality in the following 9 ways can set you up for greater success.
While kicking off a goal at the start of the year is tempting, Brown said too much pressure is put on January.
“I believe that if you want to make a change and create a different reality for yourself in any area of your life, change must start now. Not Monday, not January 1, but right now,” she said. “If we feel that we can only make changes/resolutions on Jan. 1, we set ourselves up to fail.”
When perfection is the goal rather than progress, Brown said most people end up quitting as soon as they realize they can’t be “perfect.”
“The best and easiest way to become healthier is to create lifelong habits. Diets don’t work, but healthy eating habits that are sustainable for the long run do work,” she said. “Exercising every day for 3 weeks and then giving up will not bring you results. Exercising 3 days a week for the rest of your life will.”
While typical resolutions have more to do with how your body looks than how you feel emotionally, Sell said try to reverse that sentiment.
“[Most] people have this just a little bit backward and think if they lost weight, they would feel better,” she said. “While this can be true in some cases, we don’t always go about it in the [healthiest] ways.”
Sell suggests focusing on improving the health of your brain as a way to naturally increase your feel-good chemicals. By doing so, you’ll feel more alert, do more, and naturally want to exercise and eat better.
“Because 2020 has been emotionally fatiguing, how about focusing on the health of your brain as a resolution for 2021,” Sell said.
It takes time to see changes in the body caused by fitness and diet.
“It often took many months or even years for your body to get to the point where it is, so it will take time to get back to where you’d like it to be,” Brown said.
While a “quick fix” is desirable, when it comes to fitness and diet, one doesn’t exist.
“It is hard work. If a fitness routine or a diet sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true,” Brown said.
Obsessing about what the scale shows adds to the time crunch.
“This is just a number and only tells a small part of the story. Our weight fluctuates every day and even throughout the day. When we start working out, our body composition changes, meaning we are losing body fat while gaining muscle,” Brown said.
“The number on the scale may not change, but you will notice your clothes fitting better, and that means you are losing inches because you are losing fat and replacing it with muscle, which is much leaner,” she said.
While joining a gym can be a sign that you’re serious about fitness goals, Sell said exercise doesn’t have to be at the gym.
“In fact, we need to change the way we think about exercise. Instead, just think of it as moving your body more. Thirty minutes of movement a day is all it takes to improve your mood, reduce your stress, and more,” she said.
Find ways to move that you enjoy, such as a walk, bike ride, or streamed workout video. And make an appointment with yourself at the same time every day to do it.
Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine need protein as fuel, Sell said.
“Additionally, nutrient cofactors (vitamins and minerals) are necessary for the neurotransmitter pathway to biochemically convert. Opt for nutrient-dense foods and high-quality protein sources,” she said.
Talk with your doctor about supplements for amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
“This will improve mood, drive, and focus — all things we need in 2021,” Sell said.
While it’s easy to blame your favorite foods or drinks for stopping you from reaching your goals, denying yourself from eating them can backfire.
“My motto is everything in moderation, and I coach my clients to use the 80/20 principle, in which they eat healthy 80 percent of the time, and then allow themselves their favorites the other 20 percent of the time,” Brown said.
“Anytime we deny ourselves of anything, that one thing ends up being the only thing we can think about and eventually can lead us to an eating binge,” she said.
If you turn to food to cope with stress, depression, loneliness, or boredom, Brown suggests creating a “when”, “then” scenario.
“For example, ‘When I feel bored, then I call a friend to chat’ or ‘When I feel like I need comfort, then I take a bath,’” Brown said. “These scenarios allow us to honor our feelings without using food and we create a new, healthy habit to take the place of eating to cope with our emotions.”
Brown said creating specific goals is better than general ones.
“Saying ‘I will lose 20 pounds by Dec. 31’ is a much better goal than ‘I want to lose weight,” she said.
To do so, she suggests creating goals that are SMART:
“Once you have created your SMART goal, list the steps/plan you need to take in order to reach your goal,” Brown said. “[For example], your plan could be ‘I will lift weights for 30 minutes 3 days a week, do HIIT workouts [high intensity interval training] 2 days a week, and use a food diary to track my calories and keep them under 1,700 calories a day.’”
Specific goals for diet resolutions/habits to create might include:
- Cut soda and juice out of your diet.
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water per day.
- Eat protein at every meal.
- Eat complex carbs in place of simple carbs.
- Eat fruits and veggies at every meal.
Specific goals for fitness resolutions/habits to create might include:
- Lift weights 2 to 3 days a week.
- Add high intensity interval training (HIIT) to your workout routine.
- Add mobility training.
- Have at least 1 rest day a week.
As you work toward your resolution, Brown said to create a list of what you’re struggling with. Then pick one item to focus on and establish a plan to make it less of a struggle.
“For example, if you are struggling to fit exercise into your schedule, put the exercise session into your calendar and keep that appointment just as you would an appointment with your boss — you would never cancel on your boss, so don’t cancel on yourself,” Brown said.
If eating too many snacks throughout the day is your struggle, start a food diary on paper or with a free app like MyFitnessPal.
“Knowing that you have to write down every single thing you eat, including that handful of chips you grabbed out of the pantry, will make you more mindful about what you are putting in your mouth,” Brown said.
Once you have conquered your struggle, move it to the “what has been working well” list, and tackle the next item on the “struggle” list.
“Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to focus on too many things at once. Make it simple, create a simple plan, and move on to the next once you feel you have created a good habit,” Brown said.