Many of my clients come to me this time of year saying:
“I want to lose weight..."
"I want to be more positive..."
"I want to stop judging people...”
and they are usually in the form of what has come to be known as resolutions.
Yet, New Year’s resolutions are sometimes set up to fail, and there are a few reasons why.
We make proclamations out loud, but there is a gap between that initial motivation and actually performing the action. When we tell everyone how amazing we will feel because of our resolutions, our brain actually kicks its reward center into gear, and releases dopamine. So since our brain already feels rewarded just for proclaiming a resolution, why make any extra effort?
- Resolutions are used to motivate us, but they don’t require any actual effort.
Many of the behaviors we want to change (smoking, the way we eat, adding exercise to our lives) are actually bona fide habits, and habits are much harder to break than we think. We can rarely “reinvent” ourselves overnight.
- Many people get caught up in making grand life-altering changes in a limited amount of time, but these are likely too broad and non-specific, and therefore, not reasonable to achieve.
- We sometimes feel stuck on the idea of needing to make whirlwind life changes, and that the absolute best and only time to start making these changes is clearly New Year’s. This adds a lot of pressure.
It’s time to challenge that belief, and remind ourselves that an intention (a word I find more fitting than “resolution”) to change a behavior can be set at any time of the year, or day for that matter.
While it is nice to have calendar markers like New Year’s or even birthdays to reflect upon our health and wellness and commit to making changes, an intention for positive change is available to us at all times. This takes some of the pressure off the resolution-making hype.
Bottom line: Privately set more realistic and specific goals - at any time of the year. If you want, and if it helps to keep you accountable, let people know through your actions that you are on your way to achieving change. This will also help prevent guilty feelings that may creep in if we break the resolutions we announced verbally.
Every intention should include an action plan.
Break big goals into smaller, very achievable parts, and be very specific about the behaviors you will take each step of the way. Know that creating new habits and breaking old ones is achievable, but that it’s a process (and sometimes much slower than we'd like).
Above all, always have self-compassion as you go through this process. Do not give up on making the change you wish to see, even if you “break” and have a moment where you’re feeling less resolute. If you are not where you want to be, there is no reason you can’t try again (this time perhaps, more realistically and specifically, and perhaps with the help of a therapist) and keep trying again, and even again, at any time, anywhere.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and mindful new year,
Jennifer Wolkin, PhD