It started out on a rainy day in January. Like the rest of overweight America, I had resurrected old New Year resolutions. I wandered into a branch of a not-to-be-identified weight loss program and approached a young lady sorting out pamphlets. After giving me the information I requested, she excitedly told me that I would also be able to access her blog, which she updated with helpful hints. She stopped, perusing my persona, and asked, “Do you know what a blog is?” Or said another way “You have white hair, which means you’re technologically illiterate.” I immediately felt furious. I responded in an icy tone, I have a blog. I think I saw her flinch, at least I hope I did. Our conversation went downhill from there. I ran through the rain back to my car, vowing not to join this group.
I thought later, I wish I had the sense not to get so defensive. I had lost a teachable moment. In my past career as a gerontological nurse practitioner, I met many older people who transcended the stereotypes of aging. They showed me how they dealt with the complexities of old age—with humor and humility. Will I be ready to confront ageism with panache when it happens again? And I am sure it will happen again.
This year I hesitated to make any New Year resolutions. Why? Because for the last five years, at least, they remain the same:
Write the book.
Lose the weight.
The only thing that changed was the pounds I wanted to drop. They increased yearly. Now it’s 20 pounds! I felt defeated. Depressed.
But something has happened to make me feel positive in reaching my goals after all. When I took my walk yesterday, I put in my ear buds and tuned my I-Phone to The Peoples’ Pharmacy podcast. The show I heard had aired on December 31st and was entitled “Willpower Science.” For the next forty minutes or so I listened to Kelly McGonigal PhD, psychology instructor at Stanford University and a health educator for the School of Medicine Health Improvement Program, discuss reasons why we often fail in keeping our New Year’s resolutions. The take-home message that most attracted me was twofold.
First, think about what you really want. What you are willing to do to achieve it? And what will your life be like if it happens? Not just next year but in two years from now. How proud will you feel if you do achieve your goal? Or the regret you will feel not having made the change.
(I must add here Dr. McGonigal suggests small goals like exercising five minutes a day and increasing slowly. Success breeds success.)
Second, we need to feel self-compassion and self-forgiveness. When we slip up, we shouldn’t chastise ourselves and give up but realize we are human. Guilt and shame undermine our ability to get back on track.
Okay, none of this is really new. But the science behind these statements helped me better understand how willpower works or doesn’t work. Check out Dr. McGonigal’s web site and her book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, And What You Can Do To Get More Of It.
It was serendipitous that I connected to this podcast. I’ll apply the lessons I learned so I don’t have to repeat 2012 resolutions in 2013.
I wish each of you a new year free of guilt and stress.
Be good to yourselves.