Every year we hear the same thing over, and over again about New Year’s Resolutions and finally reaching those lofty goals of weight loss, less screen time, better organization, finding a new job, ending an unhealthy relationship, finding true love, and the list goes on and on. There is a reason, other than just laziness on the part of most people, why these resolutions so quickly fall to the wayside of our lives. Most people have a genuine desire to make these changes, otherwise, why make them? So then what’s the deal? Why are so many people unsuccessful when the drive to make change is sincere?
My personal and professional opinion is that there are two overriding reasons why so many people abandon their resolutions shortly after the first of the year. The first reason is having a desire to change does not equal readiness to change. Someone may want to commit to losing 15 pounds without being knowledgable (or genuinely ready) to make the lifestyle changes that must accompany long-term weight loss. Someone else may want to quit smoking; however, if she has no other coping skills to replace that comfort for her, she quickly falls off the wagon when stress starts to build. Another person may want to get out there and find his true partner in life, but if crippling social phobia goes unaddressed, he may find himself drowning in anxiety before getting out the door to meet anyone.
Which brings me to my second point. All of the aforementioned situations require action to be taken prior to the actual resolution being feasible. People often do not account for these initial steps as they may not realize how significantly something like social phobia is affecting their dating life or many of the underlying reasons for any unhealthy coping mechanism. Goal-setting is a marathon and not a sprint. We usually start by making the long-term goal (for the sake of ease lets say lose 15 pounds) and forget about the multitude of steps necessary in order to get there. One cannot expect to run 26 miles without having a foundation of running and strength training on which to build. The same is true for any goal or resolution.
I usually ask my clients to envision walking up a set of stairs, one step at a time. I then ask my clients to envision running up the stairs and skipping one or two steps in order to get to the top. I’m sure we’ve all been the person who trips and falls/slides/tumbles back down, often several steps lower than where we left off. Goal-setting is very much like this. If we skip the small steps we are more likely to stumble and give up on our goal before reaching success. A cheeseburger can derail a healthy eating plan in no time flat if someone cannot see the opportunity to try again the next day. Stumbling on one step is typically much less painful than falling down a flight of them- trust me I know, I’m a complete klutz and have landed in the emergency room no less than twice for stair falls!
So maybe the better plan for the new year is to simply make the plan for how you intend to achieve the resolution before taking any steps toward trying to achieve it. Hold off on that gym membership until you figure out how it fits into your schedule and finances. Meet with a therapist or talk over some of your stresses with a trusted friend to see if there are issues you’re not addressing that might interfere with your change. Making a change on January 1 is poetic but not always realistic. Make the change when you’re really ready to make it…. then you won’t have to try and make the same resolution next year.