The beginning of a new year is great for signaling a “fresh start”. For someone who’s experienced a lot of challenges and struggles, embarking on a new year can elicit feelings of relief, peace, and renewal. It’s almost like a do-over.
But as for setting resolutions and actually sticking to them, most people abandon their new goals after the first couple of months. My own personal experiences around drafting resolutions, and not accomplishing them, made me realize that I don’t find New Year’s resolutions all that helpful.
I would start out a new year with big dreams in tow. I would have a brand new shiny planner, and update my vision board that reflected what I wanted in life. I felt the excitement and joy of what could be.
However, come March, my planner started to collect more dust than to-do’s. I looked at my vision board daily but ironically, began to feel overwhelmed and discouraged versus motivated. My inner critic would blabber sweet nothings of “you can’t”, and it questioned my ability to accomplish said goals.
The conventional self-help advice suggested I should ignore my inner critic, and go for the gold. But I know my inner critic is there for a reason. It’s there to help me look at both sides of a situation.
Sometimes yes, it behooves me to ignore it. But other times, it does have a good point. And in this case, it helped me reflect on why I wasn’t successful in accomplishing my New Year’s resolutions.
Here’s what I discovered:
A resolution is an outcome. It’s an end result that sounds awesome. But guess what, new action is required to get an end result. The only way to reach our desired outcomes is to actually build (and carry out) daily habits to support them.
- “I’m going to lose 20 pounds.”
- “I’m going to learn to play the guitar and be a rock star.”
- “I’m going to start that new business.”
But what does it look like to achieve the above goals? What would someone have to do on a daily basis that’s different from what they are doing now?
Humans love the status quo. Most of us don’t like change all that much because it seems hard. And when we really think about giving up bread, going home after a long day at work and then having to practice an instrument every day, or the legalities of setting up a corporation, we quickly abandon ship.
One reason why we don’t achieve our resolutions is we don’t really want what we say we want. Deep down, we don’t want to do the work required to get it.
Once I started thinking about all the things that I would have to do to get the outcomes on my vision board, certain goals became less and less attractive.
They sure did sound good, but was investing in professional sound equipment and a studio to host my own podcast an immediate priority for me? No, not really. I had more pressing (and revenue generating) projects to complete.
We often “should” ourselves into setting goals that really sound more like the wishes of a family member, a work-place expectation, or a way to fit in to society. When our goals really aren’t our goals, we don’t have any skin in the game.
Seven years ago I decided to purge gluten, dairy, and sugar from my diet in order to resolve some physical health problems. I felt like crap, and my skin was constantly itchy and breaking out.
I was completely miserable and knew that the conventional means of popping pills would only be a band-aid fix. I decided I was in enough pain to bite the bullet and do the hard work.
I was prepared to change my whole way of thinking about food and eating in order to feel better. I valued having restored energy, clear skin, and a happy digestive system.
I realized that I did stick to my resolution this time (even though it was more like June than January). The steps were hard. I craved bread and sweets for a month, and experienced massive sugar withdrawal headaches. But I still did it.
What was different about this goal? Why did I stick with it? It boiled down to pain and value. I valued not feeling horrible anymore. I valued my health and not developing a more serious problem that would have even greater consequences for me.
Many abandon their resolutions because they aren’t in enough pain and they don’t value the results. The truth is, most people only make significant life changes when they are ready to move away from a pretty bad situation.
For example, it’s not until one realizes that their confidence is totally in the crapper, and they are so lonely and depressed because of their excess weight, that they will choose to do something about it. Otherwise, it’s still easier to live in dis-comfort. It’s just not that bad enough yet to stick with a new habit or plan of action.
Reaching a goal requires creating (and sticking to) new daily habits, which requires a “lifestyle” mindset. The best way for me to explain this is to compare someone who says they are going on a “diet” to someone who says they follow a “low carb food lifestyle”. The word “diet” alone suggests a temporary situation, and it’s hard to tell your mind that you are going to maintain something when you already believe it’s short term.
I live a dairy, gluten, and sugar free lifestyle. It’s non-negotiable. It just is. I don’t even have to think about it anymore. And I feel great! I really have no reason to go back to the way I was eating before. I value how I feel now.
I am sure the Laws of Attraction folks would greatly disagree with my take on resolution abandonment. I do understand, though, the benefits of positivity, thinking big, and getting excited about possibilities.
But when it comes down to actual change, to getting results, to creating new circumstances for yourself, it’s going to take a lot more than a new year, vision board, excitement of what could be, and a new planner to make it all happen.