How to Keep your New Year's Resolution
It's the New Year, and there's lots of talk about resolutions. Weight loss programs and fitness, financial improvement and general self care. And I think most people would agree that it's great to have goals. But the trouble is, less than half of the people who set a New Year's Resolution have given up within six months. So how do you stay on track? This post is all about making sustainable change.
1. Keep your goals realistic and compassionate. Ever heard "New Year, New You"? Well, that's what I might call a "trash can thought"--an idea so ridiculous and unrealistic that it belongs, well, in the trash can. I'm taking such an assertive stance against this concept, because it's really rooted in shame and self-loathing. It completely misses the fact that there's already so many great things about you--each one of us--and it completely defines your whole being as a problem to be changed. Lasting change doesn't come from shame. It comes from compassion. So keep in mind your positive qualities, and start small. Make one goal for yourself, and support yourself along the way.
2. Acknowledge what you like about the thing you want to change. That might sound strange, but if there wasn't something good about it, you wouldn't be doing it! Acknowledging what feels good about it makes it easier to talk back to, and keeps you in the driver's seat instead of an unacknowledged longing. When you are aware of the positive qualities, you can also find other "replacement" behaviors and activities that might also bring you these feelings, without negative consequences.
3. Write a list of the negative consequences of the behavior. And talk yourself down. Write the list. Carry it with you. Read it as necessary. When you hear the longing, when you see yourself getting off track, give yourself a reminder.
2. Make a plan. I believe that most New Year's Resolutions fail because they are made from sheer will. And even those of us with the strongest of wills likely will not be able to sustain their goals for too long. Devise a plan that will help you to strategically stay on track. It might include carrying a list of negative consequences. It might include "replacement behaviors" or things you can do instead of the thing that you want to change. One of the most important things it will include is getting support.
3. Get Support! Again, this goes hand in hand with the plan. Who is going to be there to support you? If your goal is to quit smoking, get the name of a hotline or a counselor and incorporate when you will talk with them as part of your plan. If your plan is to yell less at your children, schedule a babysitter for more self care time or learn some new strategies from a therapist.
4. Look out for sabotaging thoughts. "I can't do this". "This is too hard!" "What's the point?". "So and so does this, and they're fine". These kinds of thoughts also belong in the trash can. They feel real, but they're not true. You can do this if you want to. Remind yourself of other difficult things you've done, and it'll be easier to move on.
5. Don't give up! Okay, you got off track. Progress does not equal perfection. You're trying your best, so keep on going. Revise your plan. What happened that got you off track? Is there something to learn from this? Maybe you can devise an even stronger plan that will help you maintain your goals even longer this time!
6. But, it's ok to change your mind. Maybe you've come to the realization that you're making this change for the wrong reasons (out of shame or fear or something else). Maybe the changes aren't working for you. As long as you're not giving up (see above--sabotaging thoughts), it is okay and ideal to be flexible and compassionate with yourself. Maybe it's not the goal for you. You tried it, did your best, enjoy your victory.
It's great to have goals and work toward them. But if anxiety, fear, shame or self doubt is getting in your way, therapy can help! And not necessarily in a "New You", resolution kind of way, but in a compassionate, realistic, "You deserve this" kind of way.