NEW YORK CITY - This is the year.
This is the year you're going to lose that belly fat. You're going to be more organized. You’ll call your mother more often. You're going to hit the gym every other day. You're going to learn that second language. You will teach yourself guitar like Dan Smith. You’re going to find a new job.
This is the year.
You said all those things last year, and alas, here we are again, same time, different year, feeling stuck and somewhat defeated because you failed to stick to your resolutions.
Maybe it’s time to ditch those resolutions, and take a different approach. Here are a few ways you can shift your thinking:
Consider the artificial nature of January 1.
There really isn't any scientific or natural reason to “begin” the year on Jan. 1. It is not based on the equinox, nor the solstice. It’s not a special day in the calendar for any reason other than we’ve all agreed to make it a special day. It’s just the start of a manmade calendar that reflects a 365-day year, that societies across the globe have agreed to follow. In fact, the current calendar — also known as the Gregorian Calendar — was only implemented in 1582 AD because earlier versions ended up being inaccurate over time.
If you can think of Jan. 1 as just another day, it can help you not to pressure yourself to get caught up in the zeal to make changes. Your internal body clock won’t know you missed New Year's Day. Your ego is the only thing that may make a big deal out of Jan. 1 as the mark of a new beginning of making changes. And, you have control over how much emphasis your ego ultimately puts on that.
Understand that your New Years resolution could be a symptom of a deeper issue.
Often when my clients first come to see me at the start of the year, they focus on their symptom as the problem they want to solve, when in fact the problem is something deeper.
For example, one client might be concerned about his or her overeating habit, but through our work together, realizes they need to resolve whatever it is that is making them feel anxious or depressed, which is driving their overeating.
In a similar fashion, people often look to new year’s resolutions as the solution to their longstanding issues, as opposed to looking at the obstacle that’s preventing them from living the lives they so desperately want to live.
Wanting to change a “bad habit” is a worthy goal. However, it takes time and reflection to understand why we might have started that bad habit in the first place. Sometimes bad habits come about as a coping mechanism for an underlying issue. Ultimately, making effective behavioral changes results from a change in how we think about ourselves.
Don't let resolutions provoke negative self-talk.
Another insidious aspect of New Year’s Resolutions is that for many individuals, the failure to stick with a goal ends up reinforcing negative beliefs we have around powerlessness and failure. The extreme version of this is an internal dialogue that sounds something like: “You never stick to your goals. You are powerless to make changes. See, you are a failure.”
Usually these negative voices in our heads are formed way back in our childhoods, through negative experiences and the response we got from the world around us. Understanding and ultimately challenging those deep-seated negative beliefs is where the changes in our behavior can ultimately manifest.
Be gentle and patient with yourself.
Be curious about what’s driving your behavior, especially in the moment when you’re feeling the discomfort of unachieved goals. When we’re starting to make our list about the resolutions, be curious about the emotions that are underlying you decision-making process.
Focus on underlying problems instead of the symptoms. Avoid “It will be better when…” thinking, as in “It will be better when I get a new job, move to a new town, get to the gym more…” Those beliefs tend to keep us out of the moment and stuck in negative patterns.
And, finally, don't expect big changes to happen immediately. Going past the surface level of our problems takes time … past January 1.