We find ourselves at the beginning of yet another year enlivened with a variety of vows and disciplines that we swear we will adhere to. We do pretty darned well for a couple of weeks.
We find ourselves at the beginning of yet another year enlivened with a variety of vows and disciplines that we swear we will adhere to. We do pretty darned well for a couple of weeks. Then, complacency may set in, maybe it gets too tough to maintain, or perhaps life itself gets in the way. Whatever the situation, after just 30 days, most of these good intentions will fall by the sidelines, and after a few months, they will retire to the resolution graveyard, only to be dug up again next December.
“Now is the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. ~ Mark Twain
Why don’t we seem to be able to support and follow through with our New Years resolutions? Why do most of our resolutions fail and we end up, as Mr. Twain so aptly describes, “paving them with hell?”
Are we doomed to live the rest of our lives with declaring these good intentions in hopes to shift some of our less than optimal habits, yet unable to actually follow through?
I’ve been thinking about this and I believe that the answer lies in the difference between a conscious commitment versus an irreverent resolution. I think that most resolutions are positive in nature, yet too vague to actually be able to enact. A conscious commitment, on the other hand, involves more of a focused approach to transformation and with that, perhaps more success is involved.
“New Year’s resolutions have been traditionally done at the end of every year, and people who do so have probably made such promises for a number of years,” proclaims the site, recomparison.com. Continuing, “ As to whether or not such promises are actually kept varies, but the main problem is the lack of a truly sober and clearly defined goal. A New Year’s commitment on the other hand, subjects the person to a definite objective or a plan of action. For instance, a New Year’s resolution may be to quit smoking, while a New Year’s commitment may involve being free of smoking by a specific day.”1
Voicing a similar view is Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D, “But while 49 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only about half of them achieve even a little success. Only eight percent actually achieve their goal. Eight percent! The problem doesn’t lie with our intentions to try to be better. The problem is one of commitment.”2
Having a clear, specific goal seems to be theme from most of the psychologists. In an article written in Psychology Today by Ray Williams, he quotesTimothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, as saying, “that resolutions are a form of “cultural procrastination,” an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, he says. Pychyl argues that people aren’t ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate.”3
Mr. Williams goes on to say, “The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship. You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn’t, you may get discouraged and then you revert back to old behaviors.”4
There is a link here—thinking. I believe that the mind is the creator/motivator of the resolutions and the culprit/destroyer of them at the same time. How do we corral our mind into supporting newly found positive habits which will enhance and support our healthier lifestyle?
By being mindful. By being aware. By being conscious of one’s commitments and the subsequent push back from the ingrained routines and habitual mind. It takes time to develop new ways, and it takes time to release old, familiar “friends”.
“Making resolutions work is essentially changing behaviors and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and “rewire” your brain.” quotes Ray Williams. “… habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.”5
Also involved in success with achieving our resolutions/commitments is to actually do, rather than try. As Dr. Hartwell-Walker writes, “The key to moving past good intentions and actually achieving a stated goal is doing instead of trying. It is making the commitment to take positive, observable action.Thinking about it, making half-hearted attempts, or flailing about with activity that doesn’t add up to much doesn’t count.”6
We also need to create doable tasks, rather than being slammed with many resolutions. We might have an ultimate goal in mind (losing 50 pounds), however, facing that might be too overwhelming for us to tackle. Losing 10 pounds in three to four months is realistic, which is another key word. Many people create unrealistic resolutions and find after a few weeks that they can’t support it. Which makes them feel like they’ve failed. They haven’t failed, they simply created an unattainable, immediate goal.
This principle applies to relationships, also. If you’re in one, perhaps pick one area that you can consciously work on to improve. It might be something “small” like doing a task before being asked, or really listening to your partner, giving full attention, by putting the phone down. Whatever it is, make it simple, attainable, and the follow through with mindfulness. If you forget, don’t worry about it, pick up and go on.
If you’re single and wish to be in a relationship, then perhaps create a simple goal of joining groups where you might meet people of similar interests. Stating to yourself that you will definitely have a significant date on Valentine’s Day might be an unrealistic goal. Perhaps making the commitment that you will join and participate in a certain number of group events is more realistic.
We need to be kind to ourselves. Beating ourselves up with unrealistic goals, vows, and resolutions is not productive, and will feel hurtful in the end. We will feel like a failure much of the time and ultimately will resort to our negative, destructive patterns of behavior in an effort to comfort ourselves.
Mindfulness is the key. Being aware of how we’re feeling and thinking throughout the day is paramount to our shifting deep, ingrained patterns of behavior. Change takes time, and we have lots of that.
1. Unknown contributor, New Years Resolution vs. New Years Commitment, recomparison.com,
2. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., New Year’s Resolutions: Good Intentions or Real Commitment?,psychcentral.com
3. Ray Williams, Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail? PsychologyToday.com, Dec 27, 2010
4. Ray Williams, Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail? PsychologyToday.com, Dec 27, 2010
5. Ray Williams, Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail? PsychologyToday.com, Dec 27, 2010
6. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., New Year’s Resolutions: Good Intentions or Real Commitment?,psychcentral.com