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Why New Year’s Goals and Resolutions for Weight Loss Backfire & What to Do Instead

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It’s tempting to start off the near year by mustering up all of your willpower and setting your sights high on the goals you want to achieve. Have you been known to write up an ambitious “to-do” list at the beginning of the year? It might be a list of the things you won’t do again (resolutions) or a tidy list of achievements you hope to attain? In either case, goals and resolutions have the potential to backfire, which can feel quite defeating.

How so? According to Edward Desi in the book “Why We Do What We Do” people are more motivated by autonomy and choice than they are by external motivators like New Year’s resolutions. Even though you may have chosen the goal to lose weight, it’s actually setting you up to follow specific behaviors (like dieting, exercising regularly, avoiding splurges and treats) in order to achieve the weight loss goal. Every time you think I “have to” do this or that because of my goal, you are taking away your own autonomy. You aren’t the boss anymore, but your weight loss goal is. And every time you fail to reach a goal or the steps you believe are required to reach the goal, you feel like a failure yourself.

Are there more effective ways to lose weight than setting a goal? To answer that, you need to look at the WHY behind your desire to lose weight. The weird thing about excess weight is that it can be disguising the real issue. If you’ve ever thought “my life will be so much better/happier/exciting/successful when I finally reach my goal weight” you are experiencing exactly what I’m talking about. Instead of tackling weight, it’s actually more effective to work in reverse and tackle what’s behind the desire to lose weight first. Then, you will find that the weight starts to come off without trying so hard. This is exactly what happened to Sheila Viers, read about here weight loss story here.

Let’s look at 3 alternatives to setting a weight loss and see how much more enjoyable these approaches are.

1. Choose a theme, power word or mantra

If you can think of resolutions and goals as the rules and guidelines in how to conduct your behavior, then think of choosing a mantra as more like a guiding star. Instead of obsessing over “weight loss” all year, it may be more helpful to choose a new theme like “healthy eater” or “mindful” or “empowered soul” to fill your thoughts. Having a mantra can help guide you in the big picture direction, or even give you some insight when making small daily decisions. If you think “mindful” every day when you see it on a sticky note, or enter your new password mantra, soon it will be a theme that pervades every area of your life. Subconscious repetition can often produce results we are seeking over time.

2. Set intentions (instead of goals)

Having a list of goals can seem intimidating and defeating if not achieved. However, setting intentions has a bit of a softer feel. It’s not so black and white/right or wrong. An intention can be a behavior or can be a desire. It’s less rigid and more directional- such as, I intend to choose more movement. Or I intend to select more nourishing foods. You could word your intention like you would word a goal “I intend to get to the gym more” but that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? It just sounds wrong. What you are looking for here is a softer approach to guide you in a more specific direction without the rigid push that setting goals can have.

3. Uncover your Core Desired Feelings

Author Danielle LaPorte has written a legendary book based on this concept. The main reason we chase goals is to produce certain feelings. So why not get clear on how we want to feel first and make our decisions based on those? Her book The Desire Map and program have been instrumental in helping so many redesign their lives so that they are based on their values and the core desired feelings that are important to them. People have surprised themselves when they realize they don’t really want to lose weight after all, but instead just work on feeling “radiant.” It’s a game changer for many and can free your mindset from years of thinking that achieving weight loss was the only option to feel “successful/confident/happy” etc.

If you’d like to keep exploring, I invite you to join me and a small group of freedom seeking explorers in a virtual Desire Map bookclub starting in February. The link is below if you’d like more information. This could be one of the most exciting starts to your New Year!

Hope to see you there!

2015 Desire Map Bookclub Facebook Group

1 Comment on Why New Year’s Goals and Resolutions for Weight Loss Backfire & What to Do Instead

  1. Lily
    January 14, 2015 at 4:47 pm (3 years ago)

    I completely agree, Amy! It’s all about getting to to the root/reason behind our health goals. Otherwise, you just end up on a hamster wheel for a few weeks only to tire out and move on.


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