At around 7 p.m. last Oct. 31, numerous big box department stores and several area supermarkets, which shall remain nameless, began systematically replacing Halloween candy corn with Christmas confections. Where once stood frightening, glowing green skulls for the front porch were now stockings for the fireplace.
Christmas had arrived … in October.
If it now takes nearly two months to prepare for the arrival of the “most wonderful time of the year,” it takes at least as long to decompress.
Sure, stores unceremoniously dismantle “The Holidays” in favor of Valentine’s Day by Dec. 26, but chances are many of us are still in recovery mode for a good while — like, until March.
Why do we set ourselves up for failure by pretending that we might re-invent ourselves at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1 with a new set of New Year’s resolutions? Most experts not only say that the time is wrong to embark on life-changing intentions of self-improvement, but they also agree that the way we go about it is often with misguided, reflecting goals, which are way too hard, too easy, or too vague.
Of 365 days in the year, many experts agree that Jan. 1 may be the worst on which to start a new routine. Twenty percent of resolutions are broken within the first week of January, 36 percent by Jan. 31, and at least 80 percent are broken within one year, according to Harvard psychologist Stephen Kraus and smallcellsusa.com.
Instead of starting resolutions on Jan. 1 — after a hectic month when most people have been knocked off of their usual routines because of the holidays — start on Feb. 1, suggested www.inc.com.
Another hurdle for those attempting to embark on New Year’s resolutions are fitness goals which imply the “terrible too’s” — too much, too soon, too rigorous.
“Too” many resolution-aries fall prey to their own overambitious regimens and wind up disillusioned, burned out, or even injured.
“An hour-long high-intensity aerobics class on your first day will only discourage you … and may send you back to square one,” cautioned weightwatchers.com writer Melissa Sperl.
For those looking to lose weight, most fitness experts suggest a reasonable goal of losing not more than two pounds in a week and up to eight pounds a month. Similarly, runners should not increase mileage more than 10 percent from week to week.
But an unexpected culprit unexpectedly lies in “too easy” goals — ones that imply little or no effort or change.
“My personal mantra is, ‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you,’” Chapel Hill / Carrboro YMCA health enhancement director Kevin Cragwell said. “It’s a delicate balance and a dance: we don’t want to overwhelm people, but we also don’t want to underwhelm them either.”
Goals in that “goldilocks zone” (not too easy, not too hard, but just right) are what fitness experts recommend.
“That’s why our personal trainers do fitness assessments,” Cragwell explained, “which look at where someone is now and what their current routines are. Then we make suggestions as to what they can do to change their routines.”
Fleet Feet Carrboro training program coordinator Nora Hannapel said her store offers a wide variety of training programs for that very reason.
“I think one of the good things about our programs is that they help provide structure and support that people can continue with on their own after the program has finished,” she said. “It’s great that we have a lot of options. We have our No Boundaries program beginning in February, but we also have training through our four and 10-mile programs with the Tar Heel 10-miler and the Fleet Feet four-miler as goals.”
Devil’s in the details
Simplistic or nebulous goals like “lose weight” or “get in shape” may be no more help than unrealistic ones.
“Despite being vague and directionless, resolutions like ‘enjoy life’ and ‘worry less’ maintain top-of-the-chart status (as resolutions),” Eric Ravenscroft wrote for the website Lifehacker.com. “Fortunately, they’re not impractical. They just need a bit of direction.”
Ravenscroft suggested that “resolution-airies” envision well-defined goals that are quantifiable — providing a time frame and measurable results — and then share those goals publicly.
“Even if you don’t have someone on your case about (goals) 24 / 7, putting your resolutions on a public medium can increase pressure on yourself to make sure you get them done,” Ravenscroft said. “Not only can this help you avoid vague resolutions (it’s difficult to log or quantify ‘be happier’), but you can use social media or public trackers to look back at your progress throughout the year.”
That public sharing speaks to the issue of accountability, which is even more powerful when it’s mutual among those seeking self-improvement. But the benefit is not just peer pressure – it’s a support system.
“A workout partner can be immeasurably helpful, because you have a responsibility to your friend not to talk yourself out of exercising,” Sperl said. “Choose a buddy who’s in about the same shape as you.”
“I’d say most — even 60 percent of us — really need that peer accountability,” Cragwell said.
Hannapel said “coaches provide some accountability to participants. “There’s accountability not only to the training group (and coaches), but to the people training around you.”
Just Do It! (differently)
Remember the adage, “to fall short is human; to forgive yourself, divine.” But also remember that repeating the same behavior in hopes of seeing difference results is one definition of insanity.
“If you do choose to reach for the same goals you’ve tried for in the past, spend some time evaluating your previous results,” psychologist Kendra Cherry wrote for the website “About.com.”
“Which strategies were the most effective? Which were the least effective?” she added. “What prevented you from keeping your resolution in past years? By changing your approach, you will be more likely to see real results.”