This hilarious and somewhat grainy SNL skit definitely takes us back down memory lane. We knew then, and science definitely proves it now, that trying to stop a behavior out of sheer will most often doesn’t work. New Year resolutions are definitely no different. In fact, research shows that New Year’s resolutions seldom deliver the intended results most of us are looking for, and that results decrease with age. People in their twenties are 39% more likely to manifest their resolutions than people in their fifties, at only 14%. The reasons why most of our New Year’s resolutions never see the light of day are many. In order to keep us sober and grounded in reality, let’s look at some avoidable pitfalls we ought to consider if we are to succeed; and some mental and emotional attitudes to include, if we are to remain resolute in achieving our 2017 goals.
First, some numbers to keep us honest:
- About 40-50% of us make New Year resolutions.
- For all intended purposes, 70% of us will have given up on our New Year resolutions by Valentine’s Day. This means that only 25% (of the 40-50% of the New Year resolute) are still actively working on their goals by February 15.
- By April 1st, we lose another 5%; meaning, only about 20% still consider themselves successful.
- While these numbers are a bit disappointing, the good news is that people who stick with their resolutions by July 1st, are about ten times more likely to keep up with their resolutions by December 31st. Unfortunately, this accounts only for 4 to 8% depending of the research.
This forces us to pay attention to some of the major pitfalls, which prevent us from achieving our yearly goals:
Continued from Newsletter:
A year is a long time. For many of us, promising ourselves and others to implement a difficult challenge for a full year can be quite overwhelming, and can be too big of a commitment to uphold. What if we only committed ourselves to keep up with our resolutions until February 15? That would only be a 45 days commitment! A challenge nonetheless, yet one that is more manageable than a 365 day challenge. On February 15th we could celebrate our 45 days success, and, with this success under our belt, choose to take on another 45 days challenge. On April fool’s day –another important landmark when many drop their precious goals– we could recommit, this time for 90 days, which we would already have completed by then. We would therefore find ourselves half way towards the threshold, which defines the 4 to 8% of those who accomplish their full year goal. Imagine that! Pacing ourselves and creating manageable calendar markers could greatly increase our success rate!
What motivates us to decide to change course in the first place?
“This year I’m going to spend less time on Facebook or the current dating app”; “I won’t lose control over the chocolate sirens that live on the shelves next to Trader Joe’s cash registers”; “I won’t smoke pot… watch porn… binge on Netflix… or shop so much”; “this year I will reach my perfect weight and get rid of my love handles…” Do we utter these resolutions out of guilt and shame? Do we make our New Year’s resolutions like addicts at the bottom of the cycle of addiction because we can’t bare, once again, not having more control over our impulses and needs? Do we love the sound of our voice unequivocally stating powerful affirmations while we know deep inside that we don’t have –yet– the required internal structures to take on the challenge to be different, and do things differently? While our social structure would have us jump onto the “New Year’s Resolutions Bandwagon” right now, it might serve us better to take a pause and mindfully plan our strategy to increase our chances of success.
Before any huge changes can be implemented, most of us go through a few phases, which prepare us to successfully take on the challenges ahead and keep up with implementing them. These four phases are:
- Contemplation Phase, we acknowledge that something drastic must take place, but we are not yet ready, or sure we really want to tackle the challenge. We are still ambivalent that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.
- Preparation Phase, we commit to make the required changes. We know the time has come to get serious about taking action. This is when we gather information, make lists of why we must change, and/or stop certain behaviors. We set a date, and we gather the support needed to tackle our resistance head-on!
- Action Phase, willpower takes charge! Both the external and internal pressures to remain in the status quo have been assessed, and we are armed with the strategies and support needed to bring the envisioned results. Because the changes are usually drastic, the possibilities of relapse are greater. Therefore, strategies to get back on track are ready to be implemented should the need arise. Short-term rewards are assessed so that motivation remains strong.
- Maintenance Phase, once the big changes have been implemented and are sustained, we want to make sure that long-term success is achieved. Avoidance of the temptation(s) to return to the bad habits, especially in periods of high stress, is of first importance. Being able to anticipate the curve balls that could come our way and throw us back into old habits is one of the greatest strength of the maintenance phase. To put it simply, slipping quietly back into our old routine over time turns out to be THE top reason for failing to accomplish our goals, and it is what the maintenance phase prevents us to do.
If we are to achieve our long-term goals, thoughtfulness is mandatory in the Preparation, Action and Maintenance Phases. Our New Year’s resolutions should not be bound to the first week of January if we are genuinely not ready to take on the challenge(s); because we are still in the contemplation phase. Knowing this, let’s give ourselves the permission to work our way through each of these phases. Truth be told, it can be done in a few hours, or in a few days. Pretending to be at a different stage when we are not is a sure way to set ourselves up for failure. There is no need to do so. In fact, fooling ourselves in believing that we are ready when we are not will only erode our sense of agency. Being honest with our self, and knowing the path we need to follow if we are to accomplish our long-term goals, will drastically increase our success rate. After all, New Year’s resolutions don’t have to begin on January 1st, or 4th.
Understanding our brains when it comes to being resolute:
When we bypass identifying what led us astray from what we believe to be a better life for our self; when we dismiss the –often unconscious– forces that make us choose against our best interest; when we don’t think through the steps we’ll have to take to achieve our goals, we render ourselves blind to the obvious. Our inner divided selves are often in conflict with each other: “I want what I want when I want it, and I want it now!” <—> “I am willing to be uncomfortable and relatively frustrated now in order to achieve a bigger goal which is worth more to me than the instantaneous satisfaction”. At the end of the day, we need a strong pre-frontal cortex if we are to remain resolute and manifest our goals, AND, we must also honor that we have subcortical structures that are at play in the background. While our pre-frontal cortex gives us direction, focus and determination, our limbic and reptilian structures are focused on avoiding pain and increasing our chances of survival. Survival for these sub-cortical structures doesn’t mean a well-funded retirement plan, but rather a delicious piece of cake or buying this new “thing” we absolutely “must” have now. Reinforcing our ability to choose what is best for us for the long-term and act accordingly cannot be achieved if we are at war with our emotional and instinctual brain structures. Therefore, it is wise to include –ahead of time– self-care, physical activities, playful times and fun hobbies strategies to help us cope with our challenges as they arise. Identifying the people in our lives that will help us feel connected and supported will reinforce our ability to creatively channel and release our emotional and instinctual energies that would prevent us from succeeding.
Ten pointers that might help you increase your success rate:
- Be aware of your negative default mental and emotional attitudes and take action to correct them. Being mindful of your mental and emotional pitfalls such as: having a pessimistic attitude, being too self-critical, or having a tendency to distort reality so that you don’t feel pain and disappointments, are a few of the many negative attitudes that will erode your ability to manifest your long-term goals.
- Ask for support from people who will keep you accountable for your actions, and none actions towards your goal(s). As mentioned above, be mindful that an “I can do it alone” attitude is most often a guaranteed way to self-sabotage. On the other hand, having a supportive network is often a huge predictor of achieving our goals.
- Start with baby steps, and be realistic as to what you can really accomplish. List your current non-negotiable engagements, which require your time and energy (work, school, children, commutes, brushing your teeth, sleeping, etc.), and take a clear look at what your schedule allows for. While some goals will require more of a stronger mindset than a time commitment, each goal you set forth will demand that you dedicate a certain amount of time, energy and focus if you are to achieve it. Trying to achieve too many goals at once could be a clear indicator that you will manifest none.
- Identify your goals in two broad categories: those which require your attention every day or many times a week (such as exercise, food intake, monitoring the amount of money you spend), and your resolutions which only require your attention once or twice a week, to a few times a month (investment strategies, nurturing your social network, going on dates to find a long-term partner, etc.). This will help you identify, and plan accordingly as to when you’ll be implementing your resolutions throughout the week or the month.
- Give yourself financial or joyful incentives as you succeed (a dream vacation, a new something you’ll enjoy that will become a symbol of your achievement, a favorite food once a week; aka a cheat treat), AND financial penalties or “pay the piper” reality checks if you don’t. Make these incentives and penalties fun. We do better when we keep a positive and playful attitude with life and its challenges. We want to make these changes to experience a better life, not to punish our self.
- Make sure you get all of the sleep you need. Remaining focused on your goals requires energy, dedication, motivation and self-control. All are pre-frontal cortex activities, which require a lot of energy to function optimally. Being sleep deprived hinders your ability to remain resilient in the face of stress. It makes it harder, if not plainly impossible, to manifest your goals. If getting regular and consistent sleep is not a given for you yet, it might be wise to make it a priority. Maybe even a New Year’s resolution on which all other resolutions will build.
- Increase your ability to sustain your motivation. How will you regain focus when your mind convinces you that you can skip the gym or yoga, eat another serving of spaghetti, go to bed 1 hour later than required to get your proper night’s sleep? Writing down a few reasons why your goals are worth achieving will help you sustain motivation. Having this list handy can make the difference between overcoming the challenge and giving into temptation. This strategy could fall into the column “In case of temptation, break the glass and re-read the reasons as to why this is important to me. Read it as often as it takes to feel it deep into my bone again!”
- Manage your stress, and know what to do when stress takes over. How will you handle the inevitable stress involved in changing your lifestyle, especially when life throws you a curve ball? Who will you turn to for support and comfort? How will you release the extra stress so that it doesn’t coerce your mindset and derail you from your goals? In other words, how will you avoid the inevitable self-sabotage that is likely to take place while you journey towards your goal? Have a few different options when stress becomes too much. You’ll need them.
- Remain mindful of how good you are doing on a daily basis and allow yourself to FEEL your achievements. As you allow yourself to acknowledge your daily success, let your body catch up to how it feels to having achieved them, and having overcome the temptations that could have derailed you. When we embody our cumulative small success, we reinforce the “muscles” (aka mental neuro-networks) that allow us to overcome the bigger challenges as they arise.
- Keep things in perspective when you have a bad day. When life throws us a wrench, or when we let ourselves down, we start fresh as soon as we possibly can, and we reset our focus. To prove ourselves that we are still in charge, we can add an extra small challenge, or just simply take an extra second to sense in our body that we are back in the saddle, in charge!
As you are beginning this New Year, are you ready to remain resolute in 2017, or not? Whether you respond with an empowering “YES!”, a timid “I’m not quite sure yet”, or a honest, “I don’t think I am right now”, I encourage you to not bend reality. The end result is always more pain than gain. When you are ready to make changes, wether today or in the future, you’ll have better tools to manifest them. Resolute or not, I wish you the very best in this coming year! May Grace finds Its way to you, may you welcome It, and feel It deep within you throughout this New Year!
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©