New Year’s resolutions—ah, what fun.

This time of year was always a blessing and a curse for us personal trainers when I worked in a health club several years back. Inevitably, the club would go from ghost town to wall-to-wall bodies. Great to have new people in the gym seeking their goals of health and fitness, but it always caused difficulty for the regulars trying to get their workouts completed, as the facility is taxed with maximum occupancy.

Over the years I’ve addressed this topic a number of times from varying perspectives. I must admit that for a time I was very against the idea of setting New Year’s resolutions. Later, I saw them from a brand new perspective and found great value in them. Over the last few years I find that my view of the New Year’s resolution has taken yet another turn. I’d like to say that my approach is more balanced. I’d like to—but you be the judge.

Chris Ecklund

Early on, the idea of New Year’s resolutions meant a bunch of extra people clogging up space in the club, being much too aggressive in their approach, monopolizing equipment because they didn’t know the gym etiquette—and sure to give up and disappear by March (at the latest). Harsh, I know. The main problem with people in this group was that their plans were so overzealous they were destined for failure. Unfortunately, there was no reasoning with them.

Years later, after several discussions with a close friend of mine, my perspective changed. I found that he and his family approached the New Year with great resolve. Not only would they set personal goals in several areas each year, but they would also meet with their family to discuss, refine, and to be held accountable. I realized that the concept of goal-setting during the new year didn’t necessarily need to be associated with outlandish health and fitness endeavors or breaking 10-year-long habits in the course of a day. There could be value in resolutions if they were approached with balance.

Now I still see the value of goal-setting (as distinct from making a typical New Year’s resolution) but in general the process needs to be better explored. Certainly, the new year can be a good time to sit down, reflect, do some forward-thinking, and set a plan for the year. Yet this habit can also become a crutch and a fallback—or produce a pattern of overplanning.

I commonly observe clients regarding the start of the new year as the only time to set goals or begin to make improvements in their lives. The problem with that is that it feeds into weeks or even months of backsliding and excuses, the thought being, “I’ll hit it hard again once the new year begins.” This, of course, can develop into its own negative life habit. The recommendation in this situation is simply to move forward with goal setting and action ASAP. If an individual is mentally and emotionally ready to make a change, the New Year’s resolution should hold no magic.

Another danger, quite relevant to American culture, is the creation of an overplanned, excessively busy life. One of the topics I spend a good deal of time on with my Westmont students, creating a stressful life pattern is viewed, oddly, as a badge of honor. Though working, learning, growing, investing energy, and donating time are all good things, for some reason we feel as though if our lives aren’t filled from daybreak till the time we hit the pillow at night, we are not doing enough. I’d like to humbly offer the thought that this kind of thinking is skewed.

The fact that the new year rolls around doesn’t necessitate that new goals must be set. Mental skills coach Dayne Gingrich, of Santa Barbara, adds, “Resolutions are tricky because they become so results oriented. Having those goals are great, as long as we make the number one priority the process of the resolution. Focusing on how instead of the long term what will take the pressure off and might actually make it fun. People fall short because of the focus on outcome of resolution. Fear of not reaching that goal is what ultimately stops it from happening. Make resolutions about the how!”

New Year’s goals can have tremendous value. The challenge here is to evaluate whether the timing is correct and the goals add value and balance to your life. If so, dream big dreams, and surround yourself with people who will encourage, edify, and hold you accountable as you enjoy the process.

Enjoy your new year!


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