Why do we fail with our New Year Resolutions and what can we do about it?
Christmas is over and we are already a month into the New Year. Resolutions have been made and some of us have hit the point at which we’re struggling to maintain our resolutions.
It's important 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.
At some point you will have contemplated and identified your goal and decided that you are ready to change your behaviour with some awareness of the barriers that make that difficult. You will have prepared yourself and will have started to successfully implement your plan for achieving your goal, 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?
For a start, don’t beat yourself up about it! You’re only human and it’s okay to slip up sometimes. Let’s re-frame the thinking that is applied to a notion of failure: Instead of saying to yourself, “This is hopeless. I will never achieve my goal,” try to think something along the lines of, “Okay, so I slipped up yesterday but today is a new day and another opportunity to get things right.” Imagine that you’re pressing a reset button in your mind.
Often people are unable to achieve their goals because they have not fully prepared themselves at the initial stage. Laying a solid foundation for change in ourselves is essential. This could involve the following activities:
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 targets. 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 that you enjoy.
Consider putting some strategies into place for occasions when you might feel tempted. Again, 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.
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 in order to form new neural pathways. 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 another modality that I use to help people rewire their brains and make desirable 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.”