Why do we fail with our New Year's Resolutions and what can we do about it?
Christmas is over and many of us find ourselves reflecting on the year gone by and making new resolutions for the year ahead. However, so many of us will resolve to change something, perhaps to give up a bad habit or start a good new habit only to find that after a few weeks we haven’t managed to keep it going.
Let’s be honest here, we need to recognise that personal change is not easy for most people and of course it requires motivation, commitment, and perseverance. Our brains are wired for gratification and if that gratification is delayed our motivation can fall away.
Personally, I prefer to think in terms of goals for the year ahead rather than resolutions. Resolutions are quite vague whereas goals can be specific and broken down into achievable steps.
Nevertheless, at some point you will have contemplated and identified your New Year's resolution and decided that you are ready to change your behaviour with some awareness of the barriers that make that difficult. You may have prepared yourself and will have started to successfully implement your plan for achieving your resolution, only to find that after a good start your motivation begins to wane, and you fall back into old patterns of behaviour. So, what can you do about this?
Realistic, achievable goals
Laying a solid foundation for change in ourselves is essential. Initially it is important to be realistic about what we would like to achieve. For instance, nobody manages to run a marathon without putting in lots of hard work to build up their stamina and fitness over a period of months beforehand. Ask yourself, “Is my goal realistic and can I achieve it.” Also, consider if the timescale within which you would like to achieve your goal is manageable with all the other time commitments you may have in your life.
Prepare an action plan
Your action plan doesn’t need to be anything elaborate. In fact, the simpler and easier it is the better. You may wish to write it down because when we commit our thoughts to paper, we reinforce our goals both mentally and visually. You may want to create a pinboard of statements or images that you find motivating to help you keep on track. Whether this is done as a digital or non-digital exercise doesn’t really matter, the important thing is that you review it regularly.
Be clear about any barriers to change
Being clear about any barriers to change is not easy but a skilled therapist could help you to identify those barriers and the action steps that you could realistically take to overcome them.
Also, it worthwhile to remind yourself of any risks associated with your current behaviour and the rationale for change.
You may find it helpful to tell other people who you know would be supportive about your goal. They will encourage you if your motivation is waning.
Reward yourself appropriately
Once you have a good foundation in place it is time to put your plan into action. At this stage it is useful to think about how you may reward yourself as you begin to reach your goal. For example, if you have managed to lose a kilogram in weight, how are you going to reward yourself for that achievement? It wouldn’t be a good idea to treat yourself with food, but you could treat yourself to a healthy activity.
Consider putting some strategies into place for occasions when you might feel tempted. If you are trying to lose weight and you are going out for dinner, you could look at the menu online in advance and decide what would be the healthiest option beforehand, thereby minimising the risk of a spur of the moment decision to make a less healthy choice.
Don’t give up!
Do you know that it is normal to fail in achieving our goals? Success often requires several attempts. Most people will relapse into well-established patterns of behaviour because our brains are “hard wired” in that way. If we want to change, we need to develop and reinforce the desired behaviour repetitively. Unfortunately, many people become so disappointed and frustrated with themselves that they just “throw in the towel.” Don’t give up! This can be a learning opportunity; a time to review your progress so far, evaluate what worked for you, where you went wrong and consider if anything needs adjusting. Was there something that triggered your relapse? What could you do differently next time? Take some time to remind yourself of the steps taken in the planning stage and see if any improvements could be made. What steps could be taken to avoid a relapse in the future?
If planning and reviewing progress is something that you find difficult then I can help you with that process. As a former SEN lecturer, I am adept at action planning and breaking goals down into smaller, achievable targets. Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a modality that I use to help people rewire their brains and make positive changes in their lives.
Finally, please be kind to yourself. A little self-compassion can go a long way. Keep going. Every time you fall back, pick yourself up again with your goal clearly in sight.
A Chinese proverb that I use to motivate myself is, “The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
© Copyright Tracy Daniels 2024 | All Rights Reserved