A Rumination on New Year's Resolutions

Dec 31, 2018

With the arrival of New Years Day comes new resolutions. Have you made yours?

The Masked Biologist has, and it is the subject of this week’s Wildlife Matters.

We kick off 2019 the same way we kick off most new years—with resolutions. I think it is human nature to overreach on trying to improve ourselves, especially when we take our families into consideration. Each year, some of the most common resolutions include getting exercise, quitting smoking, losing weight, and something financial (cutting spending, better at paying bills, and the like.) Statistics show that 25% of resolutions fail within a week, and almost half are broken within six months. Why is that? Do we overestimate our own abilities? Are we unwilling to make sacrifices and live without? There are probably multiple reasons why resolutions fail. For example, habits are extremely difficult to break—especially bad habits. Growing up, I was always told it took thirty consecutive days to break a habit. I don’t know where Mom got that, or whether its even based in science, but I have to agree that in most cases if I can avoid doing something for a month it is almost automatic to go without it and if I work hard at doing it for a month, it feels wrong to go without it. A month can seem like an eternity, though, especially in our instant gratification world.

Another reason resolutions probably fail is cravings. We crave caffeine. We crave chocolate. We crave salt. These cravings can be biological, like people with protein deficiencies craving beans or nuts, but they can also be hormonal. Eating chocolate releases serotonin and dopamine in the body, giving the same feeling as being in love. Who doesn’t want to feel loved? Not only are you getting a dose of sugar, flavor and texture but you are getting instant affection at the same time. Choosing to walk away from all of that is extremely difficult and makes kicking the habit almost impossible for the average person in a crowd.

I am an expert at breaking resolutions. I try, mind you, but I fail. I find that when I do succeed at changing a behavior, it is because I was singularly focused on what I was looking to gain, not dwelling on what I was giving up. Last fall I had the opportunity to take a hunting trip to Utah for the first time ever. I was not physically ready for a big game hunting trip that included camping at elevation and side-hilling with a backpack at 10,000 feet above sea level. Fortunately, after having lived out west decades ago, I knew what to expect, and I was able to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the goal…which was to be able to participate in the hunt without having medical issues or inconveniencing the others in my group. So, I instantly cut out fast food, ate more salads, and made other changes to my diet that helped me lose about 20 pounds. I also went in to my physical therapist and started a treatment regimen that included a cardio workout for 20 minutes three times a week, reaching 30 minutes four times a week by the time October rolled around. I made the trip, had a great time, and didn’t need to be hauled off the mountain by a helicopter or ambulance. Sure, I was still old, fat, and slow, but I had improved my situation through sacrifice and hard work.

Before you stand and applaud, I should also tell you that I have almost completely regressed since returning from that trip. I have kept the weight off, for the most part, until the holiday food eating season arrived, but working out had to stop because, well, I couldn’t afford it. And because I got really busy. And because I wasn’t as motivated to do it. So, I am putting a goal back in front of myself, a spring turkey hunting trip, to help me restore my motivation. I am getting signed up at the high school to use the Aspirus community fitness center after school, because its free, and I am getting back in the habit of taking care of my cardiovascular fitness for my own sake and for the sake of my family.

Striving to make new things familiar and familiar things new, this is the Masked Biologist coming to you from the heart of Wisconsin’s great Northwoods.