Don’t Make The New Year’s Resolutionist’s Mistake!
All of my clients are well aware that I do not allow New Year’s Resolutions. Well, at least in the way that we typically go about them…:)
Why? Because New Year’s resolutions are usually tailored to largely ignore the way that our brains work. This sets us up for repeated failures and has us feeling pretty bad.
I’m in the happiness business. I don’t want you to feel bad, I want you to feel good!
Aside from just my sweet well wishes for your mood, you need to know that your brain will avoid anything that you perceive as not pleasurable, boring or hard. If you’re feeling bad about what you’re not doing, your way less likely to do it at all.
Also, as a survival mechanism, our brains are wired up to sabotage any new, abrupt behaviors from the get go. Whaaaaaaat?! Yep, it’s true! This is really bad news for the New Year’s Resolutionist, I know!
Sameness equals safety according to our brains. So, your brain will go out of its way to get you to stop doing any new behavior simply because it’s new. It doesn’t matter if eating healthier is better for you or learning to knit is your life’s passion or excelling at swimming will help you grow as a person. Your brain thinks, “Well, I didn’t do that yesterday, and I survived just fine. So, why would I do that today?” It’s all about survival to your brain.
Lastly, our brains don’t know the difference between a broken commitment we’ve made ourselves with someone else. What this means for us, is that if you would call someone a jerk or unreliable for not following through on something, your brain is likely to start calling you those names, as well. And, we know from cognitive psychology that if you think something enough, you’ll believe it whether it’s true or not.
Imagine how many horrible thoughts we have about ourselves that aren’t even true!
So, What is The New Year’s Resolutionist’s Mistake?
It’s really a series of mistakes that keep us from achieving our goals every January 1st. Here they are:
- New Year’s resolutions typically assume that something magical will happen in January 1st. Sitting here writing in the midst of beautiful, cold December day, please don’t forget: Nothing magical happened on January 1st. You may even be contemplating the same resolution as last year!
- New Year’s resolutions typically rely on willpower alone and excessive guilt and “thought punishment” when we falter. This will again, leave you feeling pretty horrible.
- New Year’s resolutions avoid planning, preparing, or contemplating the new behavior. A lot of times, you’ll hear people in December comment on what their New Year’s resolutions will be in the coming month, but they instantly wave it away…they don’t want to talk about it. They don’t even want to think about it. These people have a far lower success rate sticking to their guns.
- New Year’s resolutions leave no room for flexibility because they are counting on immediate perfection. First of all, you already are perfect! It’s true. You are exactly the way you are supposed to be in this very instant. If you’re still balking, consider this: What is perfection anyway? Does it mean perfect behavior? What is perfect behavior? Never making a mistake??? Know this: You will have a 0% success rate basing your perfection on perfect behavior. There are so many variables involved when predicting, contemplating and executing a behavior (many beyond your consciousness!). This will leave you always feeling bad for not performing perfectly! Sounds ridiculous? It is!
- New Year’s resolutions often require that our new behavior is daily. “I will exercise every single day.” “I will meditate every single day.” I tell my clients, don’t plan to do anything every single day unless it’s biological. Runners don’t run every day and they probably consider themselves pretty successful with this behavior and identity. Doing things with regularity is the key. This is where healthy habits and the creation thereof come in…If you’re doing something with regularity, it’s just a part of who you are…Something you do without stress, procrastination or excuses. And, that’s the name of the game!
- New Year’s resolutions rob you of the lovely journey of changing for the better and for good. People that are truly changing, and accomplishing their goals, are unbelievably happy…Even, during the process. The truth is, as much as we want our goals to be immediate, being present during the process is quite amazing. Long-term change can be fun and habit-forming! Who knew?
So, how can you avoid The New Year’s Resolutionist’s Mistake? Well, first you’ll need to change how you typically think about and execute a New Year’s Resolution…
- Let the end of the year be the goal. That is, don’t start at the goal on the first day of the year. New Year’s resolutions typically start at the goal. It doesn’t make any sense. Have you ever heard anyone say they were going to play Jimi Hendrix licks and starting on January 1st? You’ll need to work on this a bit, prime your brain, fire some neurons around, learn, learn, learn. This is how a new habit begins…with some work on the front end. If you don’t do it now, there is no reason to think that you all of the sudden canand willon some magical day in the future.
- Challenge yourself to start at any old time. Perhaps, this Thursday. Or, after dinner today. It doesn’t have to be January 1st, a Monday, or even at the beginning of the day. Every single moment is an opportunity to decide to change. And, it all starts with the decision…
- Honor your true self by being flexible and forgiving. You may decide you don’t even like Pilates and if you don’t, I totally get it! I don’t like Pilates either! If you vowed to do Pilates regularly starting January 1st, there is no reason to feel bad if stop doing it because you just don’t enjoy it. At least you tried, it ~ Celebrate this!
- Change the way that you think about change. If you know me or have heard me give a talk, you already know that one of the first things I teach is that the most important thing for success with long-term change, is simply feeling good about it. Take on a theme song (my current theme song is here: Do Life Big), think about puppies or your baby, or puppies with babies! Do whatever you have to do to FEEL GOOD.
- One of the best ways to feel good is to drop all “shoulds” and “oughts” from your speech and thought. “I should exercise more.” “I should be more thoughtful.” “I should stop eating all sugar.” “Shoulds” always feel bad. Albert Ellis says, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself anymore.” I couldn’t agree more…Remember not to “should” on anyone else either!
- Think of your resolutions as new healthy habits instead. Semantics really matter to your brain. “My new, healthy habit” sounds way more exciting! The truth is, the idea of a New Year’s resolution is probably associated with some pretty negative feelings by now.
- Think of willpower as a muscle; that is, something you can working on strengthening. We tend to think of willpower as there or not there, when actually willpower lays on a continuum. Willpower can get stronger the more you “work it out.” This way, when you have a moment of weakness, you won’t be as hard on yourself.
- Avoid the comparison trap. Comparing yourself to others rarely feels good, and when it does, it’s short-lived and ego-based. Instead, keep the focus on yourself. That is, be kinder to yourself ~ especially with what you say to yourself.If you would forgive someone else for a mistake, then offer this same courtesy to yourself.
- Plan, contemplate, and ease into your new role. The truth is, your brain needs a lot of time to accommodate these new thoughts to allow the new behavior to have a chance. If you want to be a runner, then hang out with runners. Go where runners go. Wear what runners wear. Eat what runners eat. Give your brain a chance to ease into the identity of being a runner, and it will be more likely to allow you to run.
- Focus on successes and not failures. A lot of times my clients will tell me, “I only did this part of the homework. I didn’t finish.” Why is it so hard for us to focus on what we did do? We have so much focus on what we’re doing wrong, we barely pay attention to what we’re doing right! This is an easy trick to keep you feeling good.
- Wayne Dyer tells us to think about being a little bit better than you used to be…not better than anyone else or perfect. I LOVE this! Think about it: Would you rather be a little bit better than you used to be by the end of this year OR absolutely “perfect” for two weeks only at the beginning of this year and then falling back into your old ways again?
- Consider the change that you want in your life as a gift from the universe. If you’re working on a New Year’s resolution, it can be assumed that you’re not thinking about where you will sleep tonight or where your next meal is coming from. This means, you get to choose your life’s obstacles. Lucky you! Overcoming obstacles is the way that we grow and change. If you didn’t choose your obstacle, the Universe would, I can assure you. The next thing you know, you’ve picked up a mean boyfriend or have to deal with a difficult person at work…
- Consult with an accountability partner. You’re way more likely to go to that spinning class if your friend is in a leotard banging on your door. For some reason, we are still so much more interested in pleasing others than we are ourselves. Until this changes, use an accountability partner to your advantage. Going through change with someone else can be a profound and awesome experience.
Good luck this year! Feel good, be open and go for it in a whole new way!
You can do this!!!
Much love and light to you,
Cheri Augustine Flake, LCSW
The Stress Therapist
Cheri is currently working on her book, How to Avoid the New Year’s Resolutionist’s Mistake and Finally Change for Good!