3 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

It’s 2017 and I want you to meet Sally.

Sally wants to lose weight this year and, like most of us who want to lose weight, she wants to keep it off forever.

So…Sally joins a gym.
Sally goes on a diet.
Sally promises to eat only rice cakes for snacks.
Sally vows to never binge watch TV again.
She sincerely believes that this year will be a different year—the best year.

Fast forward to March 2017.

Sally is on her computer, watching Game of Thrones and eating peanut butter (yes, plain peanut butter). She hasn’t lost weight but actually gained 10 pounds and feels terrible about herself. She’s failed, just like last year.

What happened to Sally? The same thing might have happened to you, year after year. For some reason, New Year’s resolutions are hard to keep; the weight keeps packing on and our health keeps deteriorating.

Why does this keep happening? It’s as if we’re reliving January of last year all over again, but it’s even worse this year because the scale has a higher number on it. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? What are the deep inner workings that prevent us from doing the incredible things that we set out to do several months ago?

There are countless reasons and excuses that we can come up with, but let’s not spend time on those. At our deepest level, I believe that there are three major things that prevent us from following through with our goals.

1. We do things out of fear.

“F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.” – Les Brown

Between the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Industrial Revolution happened, along with the formation of large companies. Factories and railroad companies ruled the land and monopolies were formed. Oftentimes, the workers of these companies were supervised by severe bosses who “struck the fear of God” in their workers. It was, and still is at times, believed by many that fear is the greatest motivator. However, recent studies have shown otherwise.

According to BioMed Central1, healthcare expenditures at highly stressful companies are almost 50% more than those of other companies. Not only that, stressful or otherwise fear-motivated employees tend to disengage with their jobs in the long term. According to the 2014 Globe Benefits Attitudes survey2, over half of employees experiencing high levels of stress are disengaged from their work. The result? More cases of negligence, which in turn causes more mistakes and, eventually, failure. Current studies show that fear does not motivate; rather, it debilitates.

So what happens when we let fear be our motivation for success? F-E-A-R will quite possibly spell F-A-I-L in the end, for us and for Sally.

2. We tend to do things by ourselves.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up…” – Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10a

In 1968, the song “One (Is the Loneliest Number)” was released. According to various sources, the singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson wrote the song after he called someone and got a busy signal. The loneliness he felt was apparently so great that he wrote a song out of the experience.

Did you know that loneliness, although often shrugged off by many to carry any real significance—is claimed by several healthcare professionals to be a serious condition? According to studies done by Dr. John Cacciopo, a social neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, the effects of social isolation are as evident as hunger, thirst, or pain.

Loneliness can actually contribute to increased chances of developing disease, promoting advanced aging, and increases the risk of early death by 45%.

In fact, many physicians believe that loneliness should be a diagnosable condition, so much so that they recommend it should be put in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

If being lonely can develop such severe health complications, how much progress can we expect to establish with our health when we’re trying to become healthier on our own? And, for that matter, how healthy is it to constantly be alone? Evidence shows, not so healthy.

When it comes to fitness, various studies have shown that exercise with other individuals can significantly improve one’s performance. According to a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine3, when we exercise with a friend, we can double our performance, or more. That’s significant! That’s 100% more output, 100% more burned calories, and 100% easier to commit to a resolution.

And then there’s diet. In her book The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls explains how she reversed the effects of her multiple sclerosis with a good diet. She also claims that she has yet to see an individual who has successfully reversed his or her condition without the participation of friends and family. In other words, when our families are involved in our diet, we’re able to heal, but when they’re not, we may never succeed.

From here, we can conclude that in both exercise and diet, we need others to be with us.

3. We tend to forget our “why”.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.” – Viktor Frankl (Holocaust survivor) 4

Oftentimes, when a patient has their first meeting with me, they’re excited and looking forward to a more hopeful future. They’d heard that I’m a naturopathic doctor and they want to enlist my help to turn their life and health around. Of course, I’m always happy to see this.

However, after putting in a few months of effort, most patients’ enthusiasm dwindles down and they slip back into their unhealthy ways. At such points, I would ask them: “Remind me again why you wanted to do this.” Usually, their response is, “I don’t know…to lose weight?”

While they may be telling the truth, the deeper truth most likely has nothing to do with the weight. From my experience, people actually have much more depth than they know and it’s my job to remind them of that. So, when we come to that point, I refer to something we’d talked about before. “When you first came to see me, you said you wanted to be able to chase your grandkids around. Isn’t that your main reason?” When I remind patients of their “why”, they become inspired again to commit to their resolutions.

The truth of the matter is, we don’t want to lose weight or regain health “just because”. No, those things are just what are required to get what we really want.

Deep down, what people truly want is to be able to play football like they did in high school.
We want to feel the wind in our hair again without knee pain while riding a bicycle.
Or, like my patient, we want to chase around two precious grandchildren and give them a big kiss.
We want those sweet, intangible things that give so much meaning and beauty to our lives.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychologist and Holocaust survivor. Throughout the Holocaust, he noticed that:

Those who held onto a meaning,
Those who went on with a purpose,
Those who remembered their “why”…
These were the people who endured a little bit longer and, in some cases, were able to survive.

If remembering our “why” can help us in times of extreme suffering and sadness, I can say with certainty that it can also help us keep our resolutions. In fact, it’s crucial to our survival.

1 Azagba, Sunday, and Mesbah F. Sheraf. “Psychosocial Working Conditions and the Utilization of Health Care Services.” BMC Public Health. N.p., 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 11 Jan. 2017. <http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-11-642>.

2 Kilduff, Jamie. “Workplace Stress Leads to Less Productive Employees.” Willis Towers Watson. Willis Towers Watson, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2017. <https://www.towerswatson.com/en/Press/2014/09/Workplace-stress-leads-to-less-productive-employees>.

3 Irwin, Brandon C. “Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted When Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect.” SpringerLink. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 11 May 2012. Web. 11 Jan. 2017. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12160-012-9367-4>.

4 Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. 4th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

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Rolando Fulgencio, ND

Dr. Rolando Fulgencio is a Naturopathic Physican in the Seattle area. Founder of Fulgencio Natural Health Center, he did his undergrad in Walla Walla University and received his medical degree from Bastyr University. He's also the media director and program director for F5 Challenge, a ministry that promotes fitness, health, and fellowship through outdoor activities.

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