It’s almost that time of the year: the season of resolutions. New Year, new beginning, a slimmer and healthier new you… Undoubtedly, many of us will, on impulse, make unrealistic weight and fitness goals that will be abandoned guiltily just a few weeks later.

As we once again turn over a new leaf in this seasonal book of self-change, we sooner or later come to realize that this story of resolve and willpower has no happy ending.

In pondering this circular narrative of our lives, it appears that we’ve embraced the wrong meaning of the right word. Let me explain.

You see, the term resolution has two meanings: the seasonally-familiar meaning of a statement of intent to solve a problem, and the original, historical meaning of analysis and process-focus. The word resolution stems from the Latin verb solvere which means to loosen, to dissolve, and to break down. Thus, resolution, in its original sense, is the process of reducing things into simpler form (Online Etymology Dictionary). In other words, a resolution is a process of zooming in to amplify the invisible, a way of distilling the complex into manageable nuances.

With this distinction in mind, it appears that one of the main reasons why diets typically do not work is because they are a sudden and impulsive undertaking. We dive into a complex process of weight management without understanding what’s involved. We bank on our resolve and willpower without understanding the variables of success and the skill-power necessary to bring about the desired outcome. And indeed, once we proclaim our intent to slim up and get healthier, we rush off to buy a new book that will tell us what not to eat or we try to recycle an old failed self-restriction solution into a New Year’s re-solution.

There is usually no preparation or practice of the new eating skills and habits. We jump into the role of a dieter after reading the script only once, without rehearsing our lines. We go from non-dieting to dieting, from out-of-control eating to over-controlled eating, expecting to have the performance of a lifetime, complete with the standing ovation of envious onlookers.

But the bombastic beginning (the triumphantly proclaimed New Year’s resolution) and the vision of the outcome are but the beginning and the end of a journey and not the journey itself! In affirming our commitment to a healthier eating lifestyle, we have to go through the actual process of change, we have to travel the journey of mindfulness and awareness one meal at a time. We have to break down the process of mindless overeating in order to understand the booby-traps of mindlessness. We have to distill the know-how of mindful eating, and in doing so, move beyond promises and willpower to zoom in on the formula of sustainable eating in moderation.

So, if you plan to go on another diet in the future, consider learning how to eat mindfully first. Instead of trying to un-learn your life-long eating habits in a grand gesture of willpower and resolve, take time — maybe a year’s worth of time — to learn how to eat mindfully. After all, the solution to the problem of overeating isn’t dieting, but eating; not self-restriction, but the presence of Self; not willpower but Skill-Power.

Let it be different this year. Close the scrapbook of snap resolutions and turn over a truly new leaf: set no start dates and make no promises. Take a break from weight watching. Consider yourself to be on a sabbatical from dieting, on a contemplative retreat before your post-holiday-season diet (if, in fact, you are going on one). Let a mindful-not-mouthful approach serve as the grand rehearsal to the “new you.” Let the New Year bring a focus on the process, not on the result. Let your New Year’s resolution be this: no more New Year’s resolutions!  And track some mindfuls instead!

Additional Resources:

Yoga Mat for Your Mouth

Oryoki Eating Reconsidered

Meaning-Centered Eating

Weight Management Motivation Booster