Think twice about your resolutions

AFTER a season of excess, it’s no wonder New Year’s Day comes with a hearty dose of self-recrimination and impassioned vows to improve. There’s no doubt that the more your liver is aching, the more painfully your belly is straining against your belt, and the emptier your bank account, the more you feel the need to make resolutions.

Yet the New Year’s resolution is not the positive assertion of discipline or the Puritanical show of steely will that we like to tell ourselves it is. In many cases, resolutions are born of sheer physical agony – heck, my stomach usually feels like it’s been filled with toxic waste by the time New Year’s Day rolls around, so I’m practically shouting from the rooftops my intentions to stay away from alcohol for ever more, and while I’m at it, carbs and shopping.

But, surprise surprise, resolutions aren’t necessarily good or healthy. Mind, the mental health charity, says plans that focus on issues such as weight or career progress can trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy, and that focussing on problems or insecurities can lead to a sense of hopelessness, low self-esteem and depression.

Dr Jo Perkins, of Orbit, a City-based pyschological coaching consultancy, insists that it’s important to get resolutions right if you’re going to make them at all. “Don’t set resolutions for the sake of it, particularly those you keep resetting, like diet and exercise,” she says. “Unless your resolution means something to you, you won’t make it work and then you’ll feel bad. So, the first thing to do is ask yourself: ‘Is it meaningful? Why is it important?’ Really go into the resolution. Engage with it.”

It’s also important to think about where you’ve fallen down before – what are your pitfalls, your triggers, your successes with that particular area? Are you setting yourself up for the impossible – and therefore failure?

“We’ve all said we’re going to go to the gym more, not going to eat chocolate, and going to see family more. But don’t set those goals for the sake of it. If it really means something to you to go to the gym, then be flexible and set yourself realistic standards – don’t, for example, decide on 9AM on a Saturday morning after a big night out as your workout time.”

Perkins also encourages people to pay attention to the thoughts that derail resolutions – negative behaviours begin with thoughts and beliefs, such as “I’ve had a bad day at work, so I deserve this glass of wine or this bar of chocolate.” That belief that you “deserve” something that’s actually not very good for you needs to be challenged.

Some people make a real go of their resolutions – but Perkins says they tend to be moderate types that just need a little boost in January. It’s the people going for an all-or-nothing approach who end up worse than they started – after a month of deprivation the pendulum swings the other way, and come 1 February, they’re eating their weight in chocolate. “Above all,” says Perkins, “don’t set yourself too high a challenge. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to lose a stone in a month and not spend a penny. Be realistic – if your heart’s not in it, it’s not going to happen.”