New Year’s Resolutions – make the myth a reality this time!

Achieving New Year’s Resolutions

January can often be the month of overly optimistic enthusiasm when it comes to changing your life. Tragically, February often sees the demise of those life change aspirations, and the resultant sense of failure can leave an enduring feeling of hopelessness and discourage us from trying again – only this time perhaps better.

The problem here is the cultural myth of New Year’s Resolutions. There’s a kind of magical thinking associated with them – a bit like blowing a candle out on a cake, throwing a coin in a well and expecting the miracle to happen. We toast the New Year with our resolution but magically it just doesn’t seem to happen.

My assertion is that New Year’s Resolutions are mostly doomed to failure. It’s not that I’m being unkindly pessimistic here, nope, just that they generally aren’t thought through into a workable plan with clear measurable realistic outcomes and specific time frames. Nobody accidentally found themselves stood on the top of Everest – if you want to climb the mountain you’re gonna need good equipment and a good plan and be ready for some hard work.

If it’s life changing you want, I say bin the New Year’s Resolutions and go think again! Confused? What I mean here is that thinking things through carefully will help you avoid the pitfalls and will be key to your future success.

Reasons for not changing

Before we start, lets face a few harsh realities: a bit of honesty in the first instance, and then we can be kinder to ourselves and work constructively towards positive change. Here goes:

Firstly, be honest – recognise that there are good reasons for not changing!

To create change in our lives we need to think through our motivations, turn negative motivation into positive ones. Consider this: losing weight; getting fitter; giving up smoking etc: behind each of these resolutions is the nagging voice of the internal critic – the voice that berates us our failings and treats us more harshly than we would ever any of our friends. And let’s face it -nobody likes being told off or forced to do stuff they don’t like doing.

Notice also that behind each of these resolutions is the idea of loss and sacrifice – give up favourite foods, give up free time to have to exercise, give up the enjoyment of a cigarette. Tell the average child they can’t have something they like because it’s bad for them and what do they do? Exactly.

So, to create change, the reasons have to be bigger and better, and we need convincing evidence that this is true. This is why the outcomes need to be clear and realistic. And to be fair here, before change can occur we need to recognise that if we are doing something we know to be detrimental to our well-being i.e.: drinking, smoking or eating more than we know to be healthy or beneficial then this is going to be for a reason.

Unless you address the reason you are doomed to failure – especially if it’s emotional distress or unhappiness driving the behaviour.

What will you gain?

Secondly, and most importantly, we need to be clear about what is actually to be gained from investing the energy and effort for any of these resolutions. What if after all that effort I’m not happier, more fulfilled? That would be even more depressing!

So this is where the outcomes need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and within a specific time frame: yep, SMART targets. Targets and goals need to be positive not negative. It’s easier to think of gaining something rather than losing or giving up stuff – so turn the goal into a positive outcome -find the gain!

Allow for failure

Thirdly, be kind to yourself – if a friend approached you and said they needed your help and encouragement to achieve a goal how would you motivate them? For starters we would not berate them for finding it difficult and we would not criticise them for the inevitable minor setbacks on the road forward. Yes, build in the room for a bit of failure! Allow for the times when you don’t stick to the plan exactly – so long as you are working roughly towards the big plan you are still on target.

Praise and reward yourself

Finally – praise and reward success no matter how small. Reward yourself regularly for making the effort to change (but preferably not with cream buns – well, maybe only occasionally!). Think short-term reward, medium term gain and long-term strategy.

THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES – otherwise you’d had tried that already – and in fact probably have – they didn’t work did they, so set in for the long haul and work to the big plan. AND, most importantly, make sure you have plenty of way-markers on route – break your big goals down into smaller more achievable chunks so that you get a regular feeling of success.

What do you want and why?

So, if you want to make a change to your life, think carefully about what it is that you want and why you want it. Then work out what having it will give you that will make the effort worthwhile. Then make sure you have the tools, strategies or knowledge to implement the necessary action to create change – it might be that before getting the promotion at work you need to learn to be more assertive – so go learn about assertiveness.

It may be that underlying your desire to lose weight is that you get home from work stressed and upset and binge eat, or down a bottle of wine. Go seek a therapist to help you deal with the underlying stress and develop better coping strategies.

It may be that you would like to do voluntary work or take evening classes but find shyness holds you back. Get a friend to go with you or maybe seek therapy to help you overcome the shyness and leave you free to follow your dreams. AND THEN BE READY TO FAIL A BIT.

Ask anyone who is successful and they will tell you – to be successful in anything you will have to fail a bit on route – this is not a problem, it’s part of the plan -succeed a bit, fail a bit, succeed a bit more; succeed a bit better. The trick is to make use of the failure and to learn from it – something needs to be done differently – failure will teach you.

But – and here’s the important bit, if at first you don’t succeed, – don’t just try, try try again – how stupid is that – you’ll just make the same mistake. No, if at first you don’t succeed, TRY DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY. Eventually you will succeed because you will have learned enough to know how to make your dream come true.

So, what dream would you like to turn to reality?

Counselling Caerphilly GlamorganAbout The Author

Alex Drummond is a fully qualified Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist and Counsellor located near Caerphilly Glamorgan. His clients come from Cardiff, Newport, Ebbw Vale, Pontypool, Cwmbran and the surrounding valleys.

For more information about Alex’s work visit his GoToSee profile page here


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