As we enter into another new year, it is common to think about resolutions, or changes, that we would like to make. Is the word “resolution” like a swear word to you? For many people it is, and some decide to make them anyway! For others, resolutions can give a goal, and hope for change. If you think about them either way, or somewhere in between, today I’d like to discuss resolutions on a little deeper level.
Google Definitions defines “resolution” as “a firm decision to do or not do something” or “the action of solving a dispute or contentious matter.” Resolutions are all about making necessary changes, and sticking to them, even if it’s hard. So if resolutions are all about making a firm decision to change even when it’s difficult, why do we have such a hard time keeping them? Why do our “firm” decisions so often fall by the wayside?
I would have to admit that I have made resolutions and not followed through with them in the past, and according to the Statistic Brain website, I am not alone (www.statisticbrain.com, data from 2014). They say that 45% of Americans usually make resolutions. Of those, 8% usually successfully achieve their resolution, and 24% fail to keep their resolution every year they make one. The other 68% had varying degrees of success, keeping their resolutions for somewhere between a week and 6 months.
Why Resolutions Don’t Work Sometimes
I think that the answer to why our success rate is so low in keeping these “firm decisions” is multi-faceted, but not very difficult to understand. We don’t like change. We fight it. We don’t like to be forced or shamed into doing something hard or new and different, even by ourselves. We rebel against it. It’s not comfortable. It causes a dissonance in our brain chemistry even! It doesn’t feel good. It takes energy. It’s hard to take responsibility and easier to blame. And after all, we got through last year without all that hard work on whatever we want to change, so why bother?
The biggest reason that I think we bother, the reason those 8% of people make their resolutions and keep them, is pain avoidance. We are some kind of stubborn creatures when it comes to change, aren’t we? We tend to only change if/when the place where we are is more painful than the difficulties we have to endure to make a change. All those barriers I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you know? We have to overcome the pain and discomfort of change: cognitive dissonance, fear, rebellion, shame, and the constant difficulty and effort required…in order to actually change for the long term. Pain and fear of pain are excellent motivators.
Changes to Improve Our Probability of Success
I’d like to make a suggestion, however, in the approach to resolutions. What would happen if we were to sprinkle them with grace? We don’t want to dismiss or forget about the pain of what we would feel if we were to reach Dec 31, 2015 and still not have made the changes we wanted to make. Remembering that discomfort is good motivation. But we don’t want to trigger the shame and rebellion demons either, those are massively de-motivating, so the “how” becomes quite important. If we sprinkle that reminder of what we will feel like if we don’t meet our goal with grace, we can keep the motivation without making ourselves feel bad, or ultimately inadvertently encouraging ourselves to quit.
Processing this throughout the year looks something like this…insert your own resolution in the blanks:
I want to make changes this year in this way __________, so that I can be/feel __________, because I value ___________. I know that sometimes I will not do this perfectly because change is difficult, but when that happens, I will give myself some grace, and then simply do the next right thing. I am doing this because I love myself, I’m ready to grow, and I want _________ for myself. I expect imperfection, and perseverance. This is MY journey and no one else’s.
Other tips for the logistics of resolutions, use as many as you think will help. Make your resolutions:
- Attainable, don’t set yourself up for failure
- Plan-able, have a daily plan that will let each day contain a step toward your goal, but only if it won’t trigger resistance.
- Intentional, picture what it will be like when you get there
- Accountable, hold yourself to it, but sprinkled with grace when you fall
- For you, instead of against you…no shaming language
- For you, frame it in a way that you are doing this for yourself and not someone else (ex. “I want to work on my relationship skills and learn to take better care of your feelings because I want to continue to enjoy your company.”)
- Rewarding, include occasional rewards along the way for a job well done
One Final Thought
Real and sustained changes, the kind that are resolute, come with a ton of grace and humility, not willpower. They come with a focus on oneself, not others. You are the only person you can change. Grace and humility attained inside of you invites, not forces, changes in not only you, but others as well…but it must always be a choice. Ask yourself to grow and change, instead of trying to force yourself. The “how” of this process is absolutely crucial to it’s ultimate success.
If you enjoyed this blog, please feel free to share it on your social media pages or with friends who might enjoy it. Happy New Year, make it a good one!
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW