Why would I make such a seemingly negative statement to start the new year? The simple answer is that it is true. The vast majority of normal, everyday people become less healthy and have a diminishing quality of life over time – sad but true.
I also understand that anyone reading this article is likely not a normal, everyday person and you are therefore much less likely to suffer the same fate. In fact, the reason I am writing this article to help to ensure that you do not.
When it comes to health and well-being this is the time of year that people make resolutions. I have seen dozens of articles about New Year resolution pop up on social media. I have written many articles on resolutions over the years. The problem with resolutions is that they almost never stick and not only do we not follow through they can actually harm us by chipping away at our resolve and self esteem. So, instead of leading us to our best self we just get one year sicker and more miserable.
It doesn’t have to be that way but in order to get a different result, we must take a different approach.
One of the main issues I see with resolutions (through personal experience btw) is that they are GOAL FOCUSED. It could be ‘lose 20 pounds,’ or ‘squat 500lbs,’ or ‘run a marathon,’ or other goals regarding our career or finances. Don’t get me wrong, I think having clearly written goals is a good thing. However placing most of our focus on the endgame can be a recipe for disappointment and disaster.
The problem with focusing on the end goal is that it can distract us from what is most important which are the habits and systems that move us in the right direction. Habits and systems that we implement daily are a lot less sexy than victory at the end yet they are absolutely necessary. As James Clear points out in his book Atomic Habits, ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.’
Why is it advantageous to focus on habits and systems over goals? The first is that there are many ways to achieve a goal, but is it healthy in both the short and long-term? Is achieving it in that manner sustainable? You can lose 20lbs with a crash diet or diet pills but for how long can you keep that up? What other costs will you have to pay for that approach (health, well-being)? Focusing on eating a good breakfast each morning is not as exciting and may require more time but the long-term outcome will be far superior.
Another problem with being goal focused is that you can do a lot of great work (habits) before there is any obvious pay off. Does that mean you are failing? It can take a fair bit of time before healthy breakfasts and exercising show up on the scale. Perhaps your weight remains the same but you are gaining muscle and losing fat. Does that mean you should stop? Don’t let the goal distract you from what is best for you.
The other question is what happens after you reach your goal (on the small chance you do)? Most people slide right back into old habits and end up worse than when they started. The super ambitious then up their goals to a higher standard. This is great, but what if they systems they used are not sustainable?
This year, I give you permission to put the resolutions on the back burner. Focus on habits. Once your new habit becomes ingrained in your life (systematized), add another one. Instead of focusing on the outcome, place your attention on getting just 1% better every day. That is the only way to become healthier and happier in 2020.