Are you helping or hindering your new years resolutions?
How to make meaningful and lasting change in the new year, without succumbing to the most common pitfalls.
By Dr Liza Chervonsky, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Inlight Psychology in Bondi Junction
A new year. A time of reflections on the past and hopes for the future. A new you. Starting today. Today will be the day that you break out of old habits, eat healthier, exercise more, quit alcohol, and become the better you. Today, you will be proud and finally be the person you’ve always wanted to be. Definitely today… although, perhaps not quite today. After all, you did already break a few of your new year’s rules today. You didn’t quite do the exercise you planned on doing and you did snap at a colleague even though you said you’d be better this year. So perhaps not today. Maybe tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow, will be the new you.
Does this sound familiar? The dream and the fantasy of the better “you” tomorrow. Why is it that so many of us set new years resolutions only to break them almost immediately? We start off so hopeful. Yet as each day passes, we sink back into a state of helplessness and despair, as we watch ourselves carry out the same old behaviours over and over again. We may almost resign to the idea that we will be the same and no change can be made. It all just starts feeling too hard.
But is that really the only way? Absolutely not. If you just change your approach a little bit, you can be on your way towards more meaningful and lasting change this new year.
The fantasy of the better you tomorrow
It is good to dream and to imagine positive change. However, sometimes dreaming and hoping can give way to an almost delusional fantasy of the perfect you that will miraculously come into existence tomorrow. Doesn’t matter if you’ve succumbed to cravings or have been unable to exercise for the last few months. Tomorrow will magically be different. Tomorrow you will not do ANY of the things you have been doing over your life up until now. Doesn’t really sound that realistic, does it? Now this is not saying that change can’t be possible, but if you plan to jump into the brand new and improved you tomorrow without considering the work that will be required in between, you will be terribly disappointed.
What to do differently:
Accept who you are today and acknowledge your current reality. We can become so resistant to who we are today that part of our fantasy of tomorrow is an escape from the shame that we feel about who we are today. However, we cannot make change in the future or in a fantasy. We need to make change grounded in reality. Accept yourself for who you are today and recognise that no human being is perfect. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving in to who you are for the rest of your life. It is simply an acknowledgment of what is true now and a release from the draining battle that you have with yourself and your reality.
Don’t wait until tomorrow. Start today. If you can accept who you are and any behaviours you have already carried out today, then you can use the remaining mental energy you have on making that positive change today. If you cannot accept and you resist today, you will use up all your mental energy on your anger, self-criticism, and resistance to today and no positive change will be made. Accept what has already happened and continue on your journey today. Don’t wait for a perfect tomorrow. Start today.
You only need to aim for one little thing different today. Don’t set yourself unrealistic goals that are unachievable and unsustainable. Focus on the tiniest action that is in the direction of your goal. For example, if you wanted to exercise more, stand up for a few minutes in a situation where you might usually be sitting down. This is a positive change and you can build from this.
Focus on one day at a time. It’s much easier to imagine yourself taking positive actions for just one day compared to the rest of your life. Aim for one day at a time. If one day feels like too much, aim for one hour, or even 10 minutes. Start with a duration of time that feels manageable. Don’t aim to be “good” forever more. Just aim for today.
Fear of failure
One of the most crippling fears that can get in the way of making positive change is the fear of failure, which is often rooted in perfectionism. The idea of not succeeding straight away or falling short of our immediate expectations can make it very difficult for some to move forward in their lives. However, just as the “fantasy perfect you that lives in the tomorrow” isn’t helpful, perfectionistic ideals in the now also only lead to paralysis, fear, avoidance, and despair.
What to do differently:
Embrace failure. Don’t waste any more of your mental energy trying to avoid this experience. Recognise that the word “failure” in itself is meaningless without the negative judgment you place on it. A baby or young child will repeat a behaviour over and over again, without shame that they are not doing it well straight away. This is how they learn so quickly. Shame around failure is a mental construction that you can choose to not buy into. Instead, embrace failure as one of the most important steps in achieving success.
Making change for the wrong reasons or setting goals inconsistent with your values
It’s much harder to do something when your heart isn’t really in it. We are bombarded with so many different ideas of what is “good” and “desirable” that we can lose sight of what really matters to us. If we find ourselves trying to make change that takes us further away from the person that we feel we truly are or want to be, we might end up self-sabotaging. This in turn could lead us to falsely believe that we are not capable of change, rather than recognising that this was never a change that we wanted in the first place.
What to do differently:
Reflect on your values and what is most important to you. Of course, there are many overlapping values between people but at the end of the day it is important that you spend some time working out exactly what is important for you. If you find that you are choosing things only because you think they will give you more “social status” or admiration, perhaps reflect deeper within and see what you might want those things for. Is there something deeper that you crave, behind the superficial?
Find your own motivations and reasons. Your goals need to make sense to you. Not to anyone else. Explore your own personal reasons for why you want to make change and find the motivation from within these reasons. Don’t look towards other people. Everyone is on their own journey and has their own reasons for their behaviour. Focus on yourself.
Doing it all on your own
Because people often feel shame about the things that they want to change in themselves, they tend to remain secretive about it and not share their desires with others. Unfortunately, when we hide parts of ourselves away from others, the shame around this grows. In turn, this creates more self-criticism and more helplessness and despair around change.
What to do differently:
Choose your social support wisely. We have friends for different purposes. Some friends are good for a laugh, others are a great shoulder to cry on. While it can be very helpful to share your goals and seek support from others, it is important that you do so with supportive and understanding people. Steer clear of people who tend to be critical, jealous, and overly competitive. Instead, look for help from those who you feel would support you in the best way possible – with love, care, praise, and enthusiasm.
Team up with someone to work on a goal together. Sometimes going into something new together can help you both stay on track more. You can support each other and stay more committed to the task when you know you have someone who might be checking up on you or depending on you.
When you break it all down, there is a clear and simple message. Learn to embrace yourself and who you are today. Only from this place can you start making change. The more resistance and anger you have towards yourself, the less you energy you will have leftover to create the change you seek. Keep yourself grounded in reality and aim for small and achievable steps. Don’t forget to connect with others and don’t withdraw in your own shame. You’ve got this. Try it a little bit differently this year. What have you got to lose?
Dr Liza Chervonsky is a Clinical Psychologist and the Director of Inlight Psychology in Bondi Junction. She has a strong passion for psychology and helping people make meaningful and lasting changes in their lives. She treats a number of conditions including anxiety, mood, anger, emotion regulation, relationship difficulties, perfectionism, personality disorders, and work and academic problems. If you would like further support in creating positive changes in your life this year, please don’t hesitate to book in an appointment by calling (02) 8320 0566 or emailing on firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Inlight Psychology, please go to www.inlightpsychology.com.au.