Getting Back On Track With New Years Resolutions
Every year, millions of people all across the western world commit to new years’ resolutions – changes that they hope will improve their lives and lead to a better future. For many, though, making good on these commitments is a challenge. It’s often hard to give up the things that are bad for us, whether it is something as simple as chocolate or as complicated as a dysfunctional relationship.
Fortunately, help is at hand. For years psychologists have puzzled over why it is that some people stick to their resolutions while others struggle – and now they have some answers. It turns out that the solutions are often more straightforward than you think. Mostly, you don’t need to anything intensely challenging, such as making profound breakthroughs in self-knowledge. Taking small steps can add up to a big difference.
What follows are some simple, actionable strategies that you can deploy with relative ease, no matter what your circumstances.
Don’t Let Small Setbacks Bring You Down
If you’re the type of person who struggles with falling off the bandwagon from time to time, then the following statement may help:
No success is ever final, and no defeat, forever.
Contained in that short sentence is great wisdom. It teaches you that life is never complete. There’s always a victory to be won and a defeat from which you must recover. Nobody ever gets to the top and stays there – or the bottom, for that matter.
The problem with resolutions, however, is that we set them up in absolutist terms. We tell ourselves that we must stick to our plan 100 percent and that if we don’t, we’re a terrible person unable to make improvements in our lives.
As you can quite clearly see, having this kind of conversation with yourself isn’t helpful – nor is it true. Failing to stick with your resolution every second of the day doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It just means that you’ll have another opportunity to make good on it tomorrow. Remember: no defeat is forever. Check out this link for more in-depth info
Manage Your Anxieties
Worry and anxiety lie at the root of a lot of destructive behavior. People will often turn to food, drink, or worse to take away the immediate emotional distress of their experiences, even if they know the long-term consequences are dire.
For many, a new year’s resolution is an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and say to oneself, “this behavior ends right here, right now”. If you need help managing your anxiety, check out our 5 Tips or anxiety treatment page.
The problem with this approach, of course, is that it is dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. If a person with anxiety issues gives up chocolate as a coping method, then she may simply turn to some other destructive behavior to cope. What’s more, she never deals with the anxiety that drove her habit in the first place.
Managing your anxiety with the help of a trained therapist can have an enormous impact on your ability to stick to your resolutions. With the right treatment, you can eliminate or reduce some of the negative feelings that are driving your behavior, making it more likely you’ll succeed in the long-run.
Keep Track Of Your Progress
If your new years’ resolution is something that you can measure, like losing weight, then you must keep tabs on your progress. Psychologists have found that those who track and measure their goals are much more likely to succeed long term. The feel-good factor of all the mini-victories along the way soon adds up. For a person who wants to lose one hundred pounds, seeing their weight go down by two pounds every week provides evidence that they’re strategies are working!
Sometimes, measuring progress towards new years’ resolutions is a little more complicated than this. If your goal is giving up smoking and going “cold turkey” from day one, then you achieve your goal so long as you don’t light up again in the future. Of course, failure is likely, so with these kinds of resolutions, the best approach is to keep tabs on the number of days per month that you backslide. For instance, you might light up five times in January, three times in February and then only once in March. That’s progress.
Here again, it’s crucial not to beat yourself up for not being 100 percent perfect. If you wind up smoking one afternoon, don’t see it as a failure. Just focus on tomorrow as another opportunity to succeed. It will get more comfortable with time.
Don’t Frame Your Resolutions The Wrong Way
The way that you frame your resolutions can have a massive impact on whether you achieve them or not. We tend to believe that resolutions must be absolute and final, but couching them in such terms probably isn’t wise – at least, not from a psychological perspective. It piles on the pressure c,and doesn’t leave any wiggle room for failure whatsoever.
Here are some examples of absolutist ways of framing your new years’ resolution:
- I will never smoke a cigarette ever again in my life
- I am leaving a bad relationship
- I will not eat chocolate ever again
But you don’t have to frame your resolutions like this at all. Instead, you could say something like:
- This year, I am quitting smoking
- This year, I am going to leave dysfunctional relationships behind
- This year, I am going to avoid eating chocolate
The differences between the two lists here might seem subtle, but they can have a significant impact. Again, it goes back to the idea that no victory is ever final. Every day, you fight a battle: some days you win, others you lose. But it’s the balance of victories over defeat that determines the final outcome over the long term.
Be Specific About Your Goals
If you read the goal-setting literature, you’ll see that they are very interested in the idea being “specific” about your objectives: that is, something tangible or measurable that you can use to hold yourself to account.
Let’s say that you’ve got a general idea that your new years’ resolution should be to make more money this year. Instead of just saying, “my new years’ resolution is to earn more this year,” try something like: “this year I will increase my income by $10,000.” While the first resolution is pretty vague, the second is much more specific. It gives you a concrete figure you can work towards.
Having a specific focus is important. It lets you know when you’ve accomplished your goal. Simply earning “more money” is something you could be working towards forever. By contrast, earning an additional $10,000 is finite and time-limited.
“Lean Into It”
People make ambitious new years’ resolutions that they hope will dramatically change the trajectory of their lives. That’s to be commended. The issue, however, comes when people go overboard in their attempts to make good on them.
Take the man who wants to get fit, for example, after years of inactivity. On January 2nd, he heads off to the gym to complete a grueling workout he found in an online fitness magazine. The workout lasts an hour, but the man feels the soreness and pain for the following week. The experience was thoroughly unenjoyable. He went too hard, too soon.
After the workout, his brain learns that going to the gym is synonymous with discomfort. Now, every time he plans on getting some exercise, his unconscious reminds him of what happened last time, making it much less likely he’ll make the trip.
Compare this example to the man who decides that he is going to “lean into” his training and take it easy for the first few sessions. He gets the feel-good factor that he’s completed a workout, and doesn’t feel so awful afterward that he never wants to go again. Instead, he feels pumped. From here, he can slowly dial up the difficulty as the weeks and months go by, getting closer to his goals.
The lesson here is simple: by leaning into a lifestyle change, you can dramatically increase your chances of success. Making incremental adjustments to your routine can add up over a year into something truly life-changing.
Plan Your Resolutions: Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute
Jumping into a whole new mode of behavior on the first day of the new year is a big challenge. You often have to make sweeping changes to your usual routine. For this reason, a little planning is essential. If you want to make significant changes to your diet, stock up on ingredients and the utensils you need during the days and weeks beforehand. Similarly, if you want to get fit, you may want to get your gym induction out of the way first.
Making big changes to your life is always a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. By using healthy strategies introduced here, you can often make substantial progress towards your goals. The good news is that no matter how grueling a change might appear at first, it’ll become second nature over time. If you need help managing your anxiety and breaking out of bad habits, check out our home page for a wealth of knowledge.