The closure of the previous year and beginning of the new one is generally a great place to start resolutions because it is a transition point. Transition mean letting go of the old and beginning the new. This is the reason life changes are so difficult. Examples of this are leaving Mommy and going to preschool for the first time; going to college; beginning a new job; divorce; death of a beloved pet or family member. These things, as well as New Year resolutions, are a process, not a quick choice. They require time, commitment, and tolerating moments of anxiety. Most people fall down or fail when their anxiety rises.
New Year’s resolutions usually fail because people choose their most challenging issues to overcome – their Achilles heel. These challenging issues may include dieting; ceasing to smoke, drink or use drugs; and change personality characteristics which are all issues that require ongoing guidance and support. You can’t simply decide to change without a long-term plan and safety net in place. Most people set the resolutions on January 1st and fall off the wagon within the first few weeks of the New Year.
Be sure to put guidelines in place when making New Year’s resolutions. These guidelines include:
1. Make a reasonable plan that can be followed without too much trauma. In other words, if you want to lose weight don’t decide to go on a juice fast for a month. You will certainly become too hungry, tired, and cranky and ultimately fail.
2. Plan for the “what if’s”. Know ahead of time how you will deal with falling off the wagon. For instance, if you cheat on your diet plan how to get back on as quickly as possible. Most people feel one failure as a total loss, and they give up.
3. Create a support system. Find a trusted someone you can talk to and get non-judgmental support from.
Determining what one wants versus what one needs in terms of making resolutions can become complicated. The needs should be pared down to physical and emotional health. For example, if a person continues to have personality clashes with co-workers or family members they may need to list ‘Become less critical’ on the Need Resolution list. Wants should include luxuries and extras that enhance life but are not necessities. These may be a designer pair of jeans, special handbag, or perfume.
It seems that resolutions can often be rooted in the negative (I’ll stop biting my nails, I’ll lose weight, I’ll stop procrastinating on whatever), whereas a bucket list is all about the positive: We’ll go to Costa Rica! I’ll learn to kick box! I’ll frame all my art! We’ll learn to make tofu! Even if some of the things on the list might be a bit mundane (I’ll set up a 401K! I’ll start brushing my hair!), it’s the attitude that makes a difference. These are things we’re excited to do this year, things we’ll be so proud to have accomplished, things that will make our lives better, more interesting, more stable, more fun.
It is best to have only one big resolution and a couple or few smaller resolutions. Too many biggies will likely overwhelm you. More than one little resolutions give you several opportunities to prevail and feel successful self-esteem.
If the resolution involves another person then it is important for one to be accountable for their resolutions and actions. For instance, if your resolution is to be less openly critical of others and you find yourself still criticizing, you must own up to it and be accountable. This is the first step toward change. However, if you resolution is self-contained, meaning it only affects you, then you are accountable but you must be kind and forgiving to yourself. This is all about developing a more benign Superego. Or in plain English, we must learn to cut ourselves slack and accept ourselves – flaws and all!
It is perfectly okay to not make New Year’s resolutions with the caveat and understanding that you are not a loser or failure to not doing so. The fact is that most New Year’s resolutions are not adhered to. Most people feel badly when they don’t stick to their commitments. But, here is the truth. The unconscious mind always prevails. In other words, the part of the mind that stores desires, wishes, wants, and needs that we are unaware of (without thought) always wins. That means that it doesn’t matter what you think you want, the truth of your underlying wants and needs will always happen. So, you may think you want to lose weight when, in fact, what you really want is the cozy, warm, comfort of food. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Take a painful, open look within and discover your own truth. Nurture and respect it.
If you want to try the reward system for sticking to your resolutions, make sure you implement rewards for short-term positive attempts of sticking to your resolutions. Waiting too long for a contingency doesn’t work. Give yourself daily or weekly small rewards versus waiting until the end of the month. Do not implement negative reinforcements or punishments. Falling off the wagon is punitive enough. Make it a positive incentive and if you meet with disappointment give yourself a break for being human.
My main message to my readers is to acknowledge, validate, and accept ourselves – flaws and all! This is what we, every child and adult, long for.