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There's something about the promise of a new year that convinces so many Canadians that things can be different.

Maybe it's the tendency to over-indulge at gatherings. Or maybe we simply have more time to reflect during the holiday break. Whatever the reason, the new year is when most of us resolve to change our bad habits and start fresh.

"I watch multiple screens right before bed time, with Netflix and social media open at the same time," says Lauren Hayes, a mid-20s communications professional.

"I know it's bad for my energy levels and sleep. I wake up much more refreshed when I don't do it. My goal for 2017 is no screens before bed."

But, using Jan. 1 as a starting point for a new lifestyle might actually be a bad idea if a goal is unrealistic.

Setting lofty goals can lead to feelings of anxiety, reduced self-worth and set you back, rather than put you on the year-long journey of self-improvement.

"People unintentionally sabotage themselves by setting unrealistic goals," says Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University and author of Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting it Done.

"If your goal is to lose 40 pounds, you are unlikely to succeed. But if you set out to lose four pounds every two months, that is much more doable," he said. "Breaking down a larger goal into baby steps is much less discouraging. If you fail, you fail small and can reset."

Toronto-based fitness expert Dustin Pym says gyms get an annual influx of new year's resolution-ers who will eventually give up.

"The average person who joins a gym Jan. 1 goes for three to five weeks and then doesn't come back," he says. "We call it tourist season."

Part of the reason for this, according to Pym, is that people try to flip a switch from good behaviour to bad.

"People are gluttonous over the holidays. The average person puts on five pounds during the holiday season and feels crappy at the end of the year. The plan is to go from 0 to 100 per cent in a day? Well that's impossible for almost all people."

Pym himself is guilty of this. He used to resolve to cut down on social drinking every new year and was never successful at it, partly because of how alcohol-rich the holiday season was.

Hayes also admits that her screen habit is much worse right now. "Just knowing I was going to make the resolution has been a licence to binge over the holidays," she says.

Sasha High, a physician and obesity medicine specialist in Mississauga, says setting aggressive, unrealistic health goals can set people back significantly for the entire year.

"People who were sedentary in November and December and then suddenly decide to start kickboxing class in January can end up either discouraged, demotivated or even worse, injured."

High says a big part of her job is to help patients set realistic weight management goals. Instead of focusing on a large goal with a one-year timeline, start with small, measurable goals within a short time frame, she says.

For example, saying you want to get in shape is too vague. You can't quantify it or create a specific target or goal around it. However, saying you want to go to the gym two more times a week for the next month is specific enough that it becomes achievable.

It also helps to be accountable to friends and family – or the public, if you are brave enough.

"Even before the days of social media, when you make something you want to do public, it is much more likely to get done than something you keep private," Ferrari says.

Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University, explains why accomplishing New Year's resolutions is highly dependent on your heritable personality traits

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