Why bother to make resolutions and then feel disappointed or guilty for breaking them? Do you get excited and resolve to change, but within days or weeks lose interest and can’t motivate yourself? Wonder why you get sidetracked by distractions or become easily discouraged when quick results aren’t forthcoming? The problem is threefold:
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
• Terminology. When you think about goal setting, you realize that it’s a process and that requires effort to reach your target; whereas a resolution is a decision or intention. It has to be more than a wish, but it’s only the first step in reaching a goal. There’s no implication that planning or effort is involved. It’s as if saying it makes it so. Naturally, it doesn’t. Change isn’t easy. Instead of making several New Year’s “resolutions,” make ONE, you can keep, and it will give you confidence that you can do more.
• Motivation. Change requires work. To be motivated, your heart has to be in it. To realize your goals and resolutions, you must be inspired and really want to make the effort necessary to leave your comfort zone. Inspiration infuses you with energy and power. It stimulates your creativity, promises a better future, or connects you to a larger purpose. It fills you with positive emotions that overcome fear and inertia. Love mobilizes parents to work hard and protect their children, disregarding their own comfort and safety. For change to last, make sure your motive expresses your true self and fosters your highest good. Your goal must be congruent with your core beliefs. Resolutions to make changes for someone else’s approval, for monetary gain, or because you think you “should” are hard to sustain.
• Self-Discipline. In addition to desire and motivation, you need self-discipline. It’s been said that success is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration. Change requires focus and sustained effort before results are noticeable. The process is not a straight path, but a spiral of movement forward, slips, stagnation, and leaps ahead. It’s easy to get discouraged and be swayed by the pull of habit. Expect to feel discomfort. You may feel confused, awkward, or anxious. Studies show that on average that changing habits requires at least two months of vigilant monitoring, and they still sneak up on you. Be patient. Continue to exert your willpower, and over time your persistence will pay off.
For years, every January I’d make resolutions and set goals for the coming year. Twelve months later, I’d see if I’d accomplished them, never considering the “how-to” middle part. Of course, “good intentions” didn’t get me very far. Here are five tips that I’ve learned:
1. Create an action plan. I’d get overwhelmed and lose confidence when I thought about a major goal. Break it down into smaller steps by month, week, and daily to-do lists. Actionable steps become manageable and doable.
2. Heighten self-awareness. People often seek therapy to raise their self-esteem or overcome addictions and codependency. If your resolution is to change your habits, self-awareness and vigilance are needed in order to interrupt old patterns. Daily meditation and journaling are potent and helpful tools in monitoring and changing your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
3. Encourage yourself. Discouragement is normal. Become a positive coach, and continually give yourself positive feedback, praise, and recognition. Look for small signs of progress and celebrate them. If you have low self-esteem, you may talk yourself out of your desires and think you lack the skill, worth, or ability to achieve them. Underlying depression does the same thing. Self-doubt and negative self-talk paralyze you in a past expression of yourself. They sap energy and motivation, and can easily persuade you to give up.
If you aren’t making progress or slip into old habits, don’t dwell on your “mistake.” Rather than stay stuck in self-judgment and guilt, admit what you did or didn’t do, and quickly get back on track. Stay solution-oriented. Ask yourself, “What am I going to do about it?” Self-forgiveness improves both self-esteem and future behavior.
4. Have a vision. To create a powerful motivation for change, picture yourself as you’d like to be and see yourself happy and confident behaving in a new way. Rather than focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what you desire. Here are some suggestions to manifest the new you:
• Draw the future of you.
• Imagine what it would be like if you were the future you at this moment. See yourself carrying out your New Year’s resolutions. Notice the expression on your face, and experience how you would feel in your body. See the future you as having accomplished your goals. Experience yourself feeling proud, happy, and confident. See people in your life responding favorably to you.
5. Get support. Some changes entail facing the unknown or perceived danger, such as life after a divorce, moving to a new city, or standing up to intimidation. They require courage, and support can be a great help. Addictions and habits are hard to break, especially if they’re driven by temptation, like drugs, food, and sex. Support and encouragement from friends, family, a mentor, support group, or therapist are vital until new patterns are established as part of your self-definition.
Many people make changes on their own. If it’s been difficult for you, or if you find it hard to muster motivation and self-discipline, it may be that an internal shift is required before anything external can permanently change. Sometimes, unconscious beliefs about yourself and what’s possible hold you back. Consider that therapy can lift depression and move you through the challenges outlined above. It can raise your self-esteem, facilitate insight, and guide you in facing the unknown and maintaining new behavior.