Goal Rush

Why Can't Our New Year's Resolutions Stick?

Each year we set out with good intentions, but our resolutions are often short lived.

By Aly Brady December 18, 2018 Published in the January/February 2019 issue of Seattle Met

It’s the same sad story every year. I hop onto my gym’s sterile treadmill on January 1, hopeful that the new year will wash me clean of old failures, will effortlessly mold me into a kale chip-crunching, marathon-running, toned fitness goddess.

Suddenly the desire to eat healthy, shed those five pounds, or even—more nebulously—achieve a bikini body inevitably arrives with our new, unmarked calendars. But it’s short lived. And I quickly find myself sliding off the treadmill, hanging my head in defeat, and thinking to myself, maybe next year.

So the question bears asking: Do any of us know how to make a proper resolution?

Every year Seattle gyms are inundated with “the New Year’s resolution crowd.” At least, that’s what general manager Nick Vankleeck at Capitol Hill’s Anytime Fitness calls it, having witnessed 75 new members join in the first two weeks of January 2018. (Just 41 percent of them have been to the gym in the past month.) Downtown’s Zum Fitness welcomed 76 new members during December 2017 and January 2018. (Only 31 are still active today.) Regulars at Seattle Athletic Club joke about the noticeable surge of new members in the locker room come January 1, many of whom quickly disappear.

Maybe the problem isn’t the act of creating resolutions so much as the resolutions themselves. Jacob Luckey, fitness director at Seattle Athletic Club, says people often break promises because their goals are too general or result-oriented. Promising yourself to lose weight, for example, focuses on an end product, rather than an action you can realistically achieve.

“I think people are going about resolutions kind of backwards,” Luckey says. “A resolution is the outcome of the things you’re doing.”

Using a new year to transition from never hitting the gym a day in your life, to sprinting on a treadmill several times a week isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Picture starting a business from scratch, with no plan, says Dona Sarkar, Seattle-based author of #DoTheThing, a workbook for following through on goals. Her advice instead is to start small and be specific.

Dori Rosenberg, an associate investigator at Kaiser Permanente’s Washington Health Research Institute, says a tangible objective—modifying a diet, getting to the gym once a week—creates a “positive feedback loop.” The more you achieve the small goal, the more you want to do it. Those doses of success make it easier to motivate yourself moving forward.

But the reality is, people love setting expectations for themselves. And chances are, they’ll continue to set unrealistic ones. The New Year is a natural time for reflection, Sarkar says, and ultimately making goals is human nature.

Sarkar herself has yet to accomplish her own 2018 resolution: sparring in a boxing ring without getting knocked out immediately. She hasn’t eased up on the goal. With any luck, 2019 is the year. She and a friend have already promised to attend a boxing class three days a week, a step she believes will help her become a contender.

No doubt that Sarkar and I—along with countless other earnest resolution makers—will be crossing our fingers on New Year’s Eve, hoping against hope that we can do it this time. Of course, there’s always next year.

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