Beth Bader, Co-Author of 'The Cleaner Plate Club,' Says Fun is Key to Making Healthy Family Resolutions That Succeed in New Year Ahead

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Research from experts at the University of Illinois and University of Florida shows those who are least ambitious often perform better than even more competitive goal-oriented individuals — if the task is fun. Fun, says Beth Bader, co-author of 'The Cleaner Plate Club,' may just be the key to resolutions we all can keep.

If, at 12:01 a.m. January first, you started passing around the tray of broccoli bites to your vegetable-hating family, it’s a good bet that resolution lasted only until 12:02 a.m.

As we enter the New Year, maybe its time to try a new approach with resolutions. The same-old pattern of resolving for a fantastic, healthiest year yet that fades by mid-month — much less mid-year — needs a fresh start of its own.

Sometimes resolutions fail because people often make big plans of sudden change, and the change is not something they want to make, or something easy or pleasurable to alter. Resolutions often mean giving up pleasure, not gaining it. It gets more complicated if those resolutions made are for the whole family, not just an individual.

"If, at 12:01 a.m. January first, you started passing around the tray of broccoli bites to your vegetable-hating family, it’s a good bet that resolution lasted only until 12:02 a.m.," says Beth Bader, co-author of healthy family cookbook, The Cleaner Plate Club.

Often, it seems like the only people who succeed at those New Year’s goals are those highly motivated already. The good news is, however, that when fun is added to the equation, less highly motivated people may actually perform better, according to an intriguing study by researchers Dolores Albarracín and William Hart at the Universities of Illinois and Florida.

"It's not that those with high achievement motivation always perform better," Albarracín said. "You can also get the low achievement motivation folks to perform better than the highs when you present a task as enjoyable and fun."

Instead of setting a single healthy resolution up for failure, try a series of family challenges that bring fun and a bit of a game approach to goals for the new year.

Beth Bader, co-author of The Cleaner Plate Club, offers some new ideas of short and fun challenges to take on as a family adventure:

  • Designate each family member a week where they have to come up with one healthy recipe idea that they will eat. Everyone tries it together and votes it "in" or "out" of the family menu.
  • Make a fitness challenge with a prize for the winner. The prize shouldn't be a trip to Ben and Jerry's, but maybe a long-desired activity or even a "get out of household chores for a week" certificate. Affordable pedometers can even make the challenge incorporate into every day life! The one who takes the most steps each month wins the title!
  • Eat the alphabet. One letter every two weeks, a vegetable or fruit or healthy dish starting with that bi-weekly letter.
  • Make a list of new, fun physical activities to try as a family. Foxtrot to fencing, zumba to zip-lining, change it up. Discover a new sport together, or at least get some very interesting pictures for the family album! Affordable activities are often available at community centers.
  • Find volunteer activities that build on health goals. Volunteering at a food bank can offer a day’s worth of physical activity along with a better appreciation of having healthy food on the table at home.

Over time, note the challenges that go well and work for your family. Then, base your bigger changes on things you find fun, incorporating these more and more into your schedule. Ideally, the experience will also offer quality family time, too. Which is healthy for everyone.

Sources: The effects of chronic achievement motivation and achievement primes on the activation of achievement and fun goals.
Hart, William;Albarracín, Dolores
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 97(6), Dec 2009, 1129-1141. doi: 10.1037/a0017146

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