The Trick to Actually Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions

The New Year is here again and it brings to mind a former patient – let’s call her Jody. Every year, toward the end of December, Jody would read me her list of New Year’s resolutions and then a week or two later she’d show up at my office with a downcast look and her shoulders hunched over in shame. She was despondent and embarrassed because yet again, she was unable to keep even one of her resolutions.

Whether it was going on a diet, starting an exercise program, clearing out her clutter or following a budget, Jody was notoriously awful at keeping her New Year’s resolutions. Even so, she’d embark on the same process at the end of each year thinking that maybe this time, it would be different.

Does this story remind you of anyone you know? Maybe it reminds you of yourself. Like Jody, too many of us are great at making New Year’s resolutions but terrible at following through with them. What’s with that?

We all want to be happy and fulfilled and one of the ways to do this is by making positive changes in our lives. We can give up the old habits that aren’t working for us and adopt  new habits that are likely to be more successful.

We can let go of the attitudes, beliefs or expectations that don’t serve us and open our minds to new ways of seeing things.

We can look at the people in our personal and professional lives and consider which of them are supporting us in becoming our best self and which are holding us back. And we can foster the positive relationships and walk away from the less positive ones.

Making New Year’s resolutions can be a good way to jump-start these changes but unless we go about it in the right way, just like Jody, we’ll be wasting our time.

As another New Year arrives, many of us have planned out our resolutions for 2020. Despite our best intentions, however, most of us will be abandoning these plans before the end of week one. We want to be happy and have a better life, so why can’t we keep our New Year’s resolutions, no matter how hard we try?

 

There are five reasons why people like Jody can’t keep their New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Too many resolutions: When we have too many ideas for all the changes we’re supposed to make, this becomes overwhelming. Piling on too much change at one time makes it impossible to create any change at all.
  2. Superficial resolutions: If we make resolutions about shallow things like looking better, being richer or having more followers online we’ll know that deep down inside, these things don’t really matter and we won’t be motivated to keep these resolutions.
  3. Pressure to perform: We’re going to have a lot of ambivalence about resolutions based on things we feel we “should” do, or resolutions that arise out of guilt or obligations. These put too much pressure on us and they’re almost impossible to keep.
  4. Unrealistic expectations: When we aim too high we set ourselves up to fail. Making resolutions that are too difficult to accomplish is an exercise in futility. In their article, The False Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled Expectations of Self-Change, authors Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman say that “when unreasonable expectations for self-change are not met, people are likely to feel frustrated and despondent, and to give up trying to change.”
  5. Resistance: Change is hard and if we push ourselves too much, there’s going to be a push-back. If we want to keep our resolutions, we have to be kind to ourselves and we can’t force ourselves into creating change.

 

I have a family member – let’s call him Ben – who always keeps the goals he sets for himself. He’s a real inspiration to me because he never wavers. If he has a goal, he keeps it, no matter what.

Whether he’s making a New Year’s resolution to get out and walk more or just deciding in February to lose 10 pounds and improve his blood sugar levels, Ben will always follow through with his plans. What is Ben doing right that the rest of us don’t understand?

Ben isn’t particularly special. He’s just figured out the secret to achieving his goals. There are a few simple things that differentiate people like Ben from people like Jody.

Ben, and people like him, are making choices that enable them to in follow through with their New Year’s resolutions and with all their goals and plans.

There are five reasons why people like Ben can keep their New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. They keep it simple: They stick to one or two resolutions. Keeping the numbers down prevents them from becoming overwhelmed by all the changes they’re supposed to make and it facilitates positive change.
  2. They keep it meaningful: They go for the things that are most likely to bring them real happiness and success in life. This maintains their motivation to go after their goals.
  3. They focus on their wants: They get in touch with what their heart truly desires and they don’t cave in to any guilt, obligation or “shoulds.”
  4. They keep it do-able: They choose resolutions that they’re capable of achieving, so they’re much more likely to stick with them in the long run.
  5. They go easy on themselves: Resolutions should be positive steps, not an exercise in self-abuse. When people don’t push themselves too hard, they make their goals more achievable.

It’s not easy to create positive change in our lives. Now that we have more of an idea why we succeed or fail in keeping our New Year’s resolutions, we’re all empowered to be more like Ben and make the best choices for moving forward in the New Year.

Happy New Year to everyone and Happy New Year’s resolutions!

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