Nearly two weeks have gone by since hundreds of millions of New Year's resolutions, forged by the best of intentions, were set, and I'd be willing to wager that the majority of them have already been either forgotten or forsworn.
Why does our species struggle so much in the marriage of desire and action?
No doubt that, in large part, it has to do with the setting of nonspecific goals without really having a plan as to how to achieve them. No doubt, too, that many abandon their goals simply because they think they ought to be able to earn their black belts in a week.
What do I mean? Well, let's say for argument's sake that this year your resolution was to learn a martial art and that on January 2, when your local dojo reopened for business, you enrolled. I'd expect you'd agree that the likelihood of you becoming a black belt in just two weeks would be rather low. That said, I'd expect that you'd also agree, consequent to media portrayals of martial arts, that your mind's eye did in fact know what being a proficient martial artist looked like—that you could quite literally envision yourself landing that jumping spinning hook kick on some bad guy's chin. But knowing what it looks like to do it right isn't enough.
The reason you don't expect to become immediately proficient at martial arts is that you recognize that it's a skill, and that to get good at a skill takes time, effort, and repetitive training—starting with the very basics and slowly building upon them
It's also important to remember that different people take to different skill sets differently. Take me, for example. I'm a painfully uncoordinated man and always have been. I truly was the kid picked last for pretty much each and every sport.
During medical school, I decided that I wanted to learn a martial art and so I enrolled in a local dojo. Seven years later, I had a brown belt—though I'd seen students get their black belts in two. And that jumping spinning hook kick I was telling you about—I honestly remember that in the first few months of attempting one, more often than not, I literally landed on my butt.
The thing is, healthy living's the same. It's a skill set in and of itself, and while you may well be able to, in your mind's eye, picture exactly what you think it's supposed to look like, the expectation of simply being able to jump up and live that way is wholly unreasonable. And you also might not be a natural at it—but that doesn't mean you can't slowly but surely measurably and demonstrably improve.
So whatever your resolution, if the reason it's already falling by the wayside is the simple fact that, two weeks in, you're not amazingly awesome at it, or perhaps you're landing on your butt a bit more often than you'd hoped, ask yourself whether or not you've really practiced long enough to be able to regularly do jumping spinning hook kicks?
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Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and is also easily reachable on Twitter. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work will be published by Random House’s Crown/Harmony in 2014.