Weight Loss Resolutions And Willpower

As the end of the year approaches, the daunting prospect of settling on a New Year's resolution is starting weasel its way into our societal consciousness.   Every year, many Americans resolve to lose weight and get fit.   Yet to me, the idea of setting such a goal as a resolution has always seemed doomed to failure and, in turn, unnecessary self-criticism.

Resolutions frequently to go hand in hand with what we call "willpower" - that characteristic that allows us power through uncomfortable tasks by force.   And perhaps, it is understandable why we choose to rely on willpower if our goal is simply to lose weight.   But if the goal is to be healthy, that is an entirely different matter.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Cooke

The goal of losing weight often comes as a result of external stimuli.   For example, when we compare ourselves to the women in magazines, we often wish we could lose weight in order to measure up to society's (skewed) standard of beauty.   Since this wish is imposed upon us - and does not come from our own sense of what is healthy for ourselves - there is no internal desire driving us to achieve it.   Therefore, we must rely upon willpower if we are to lose weight.   But willpower alone is not enough to accomplish most goals.   Our subconscious behavioral patterns, coupled with the fact that there is no authentic desire to change, will sabotage our efforts.

By contrast, if we truly feel the desire to be healthy - and it comes from a genuine sense of what makes us happy and what we want in life - then we can actually achieve our goal.   In this case, we are striving to be healthy because it is what we truly want for ourselves, not something society is telling us we should want.   Of course, it still is not an easy goal to accomplish, but we need not rely upon willpower because we don't need to force ourselves to do something we genuinely want to do.

Willpower-driven goals are also frequently coupled with guilt. They're goals we're told we need to accomplish, but our hearts aren't in at and in fact may want something completely different.   So on one hand, we're trying to accomplish the goal while on the other, we're resenting being guilt-tripped into trying.   Clearly, approaching a goal with such conflicting emotions is not conducive to success.

Photo courtesy of skampy

What's more, willpower-driven goals tend to create a vicious cycle of failure and guilt.   Because we're attempting to accomplish the goal out of guilt, rather than an authentic desire to change, our attempts are only half-hearted.   As a result, we often fail, which leads to increased guilt and an accompanying renewed desire to undertake the goal once again.   Rather than achieving a sense of accomplishment, we only succeed at lowering our self-esteem and damaging our sense of empowerment.

However, if a goal is undertaken out of an authentic desire to be healthy, we are much more likely to see it through.   When we are making a change that truly feels right, even when that goal is difficult, we are more dedicated and committed to it.   This is where the distinction between losing weight and becoming healthy comes into play.   The goal tof losing weight often comes as a result of external pressure - we want other people to think we look attractive.   On the other hand, the desire to become healthy comes from deep within ourselves - we want to have the highest quality of life possible.   Trying to lose weight often causes us to be overly critical of ourselves, whereas trying to be healthy helps us to value ourselves more highly and realize that we deserve to lead healthy lives.

So this New Year's, if your resolution is health related - or even if it isn't - ask yourself why you chose that goal.   If your answer is that you value yourself and you want to do something to improve your quality of life, then full steam ahead.   But if your answer is that you feel like your goal is something you should want - something others have convinced you to value - than set that goal aside for now and allow yourself to discover what you truly want for yourself.