by Kassandra Lamb
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? (Or perhaps you call them goals.) Do you find they have flown out the window by the end of February, and then you feel like a failure?
The problem may be with how you are wording the resolutions/goals. Or perhaps they aren’t quite the right ones for you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that get at the most common reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail.
1. Is the goal/resolution too abstract?
I will be the best person possible sounds good, but it is doomed for failure as soon as you make your first mistake of the new year. Instead, ask yourself what traits or behaviors you would like to improve and make the goal more concrete and specific.
I will strive not to interrupt people during conversations is much more doable.
2. Is it too big?
Chunk it down into more manageable sub-goals. These can be celebrated as they are achieved, versus only looking at the big goal that feels so far away and difficult.
I will write and publish my first novel this year feels overwhelmingly hard. But if you chunk it down into:
- I will finish the first draft by June.
- I will strive to do two self-edits by September.
- I will send it to a professional editor by October 1st.
- I will investigate what is involved in getting my book published.
- I will set the publication process in motion by the end of the year.
3. Is it something within your control?
When I was a novice psychotherapist, I foolishly thought that I could readily help people lose weight. I had studied hypnosis and figured it would be a great tool to get people to eat less and exercise more.
And the hypnotic suggestions usually did work, but I soon discovered that weight management was much more complicated than that. Even when people did everything they should do, they didn’t always lose weight. Sometimes there were physical issues—slow metabolism, medications, genetics, etc.—and sometimes there were psychological barriers. And sometimes it was a plain old mystery why the pounds weren’t coming off.
Note that I’m calling it “weight management,” not “weight control” as it is more often labeled. The reality is that we cannot directly control certain things, and our weight is one of them.
Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.― Epictetus (Greek Stoic philosopher, circa 55-135 AD)
So look at your resolutions and ask yourself if the end goal is totally within your control.
I will research and establish healthier eating patterns and increase my activity level is more realistic than I will lose thirty pounds.
4. Are you “shoulding” on yourself?
Is this a goal you really want or are you setting it because you believe it is something you should be doing?
Does I will find a better-paying job get shifted from one year’s resolution list to the next? Maybe you really like your job, but it just doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. Are there other alternatives, such as asking for a raise or looking for a second-income source?
Maybe, after asking these questions, you realize you really should pursue the goal, even though you don’t particularly want to, but being clearer about why you are doing it may help you get there.
So the resolution may become I will look hard at my finances and try to find a way to ease them, which may require changing jobs.
5. Is your measurement criteria accurate? Or to putting it another way, are you judging success based on the right aspect of the goal?
I won’t get angry at my kids may not be all that realistic, since everyone gets angry and kids can be irritating at times. Maybe I will control my temper better and not yell at my kids when I’m angry is more doable.
One of the frustrations I encountered when working with clients on weight management issues was their obsession with the scale. The reality is that the number of pounds we weigh is not always the best measure of our health or even our appearance.
After a while, I started asking clients to put their scales up in their attics and use a measuring tape instead to keep track of how many inches they were losing as they lost fat and toned muscles (which get denser and heavier when they are toned). Going down three clothing sizes was a better indicator of success than how many pounds they had lost!
6. Is your resolution related to a goal or dream that you have lost interest in or one that you don’t care enough about to put in the effort required?
This can be a very subtle reason why New Year’s resolutions fail. Sometimes things we used to be gung-ho about aren’t so important anymore, and sometimes a goal turns out to be too damn difficult to be worth the bother.
It’s also sometimes hard to admit this to ourselves.
So ask this question, when you find yourself feeling lackluster about a resolution/goal: Are you giving up due to lack of confidence but you really do want it? (In which case, figure out what you need to improve your skills and confidence and push yourself to get there.)
OR are you not willing to make it happen because it’s just not important enough anymore?
There’s no shame in this. And it doesn’t mean the goal was stupid to begin with—things change over time, including our enthusiasm and willingness to commit resources to something. And it may be a goal that becomes important again down the road, when the resources are more readily available.
I started writing my first novel fifteen years before it was finished and seventeen years before it was published. For the first five of those years, I will finish my novel was on my New Year’s resolution list.
And every year, I would fool around with it some—change the opening, add a scene or two—but then I would get discouraged and put it away again.
I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to get it published once it was written. This was back in the days when traditional publishing was the only viable alternative.
I knew getting a publisher would be difficult, involving many factors I couldn’t control, and I HATE not being in control of my own destiny.
At that point, I stopped putting it on my resolutions list and told myself I would pursue my writing dream once I was retired and had more time and energy. The story languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten, for years.
But after I retired, I decided to finish writing it, even if it never got published. In retirement, I could justify “wasting time” on something that might never pay off. I sat down and finished the first draft in six weeks. 🙂
Hopefully these tips will help you modify your resolutions/goals this year, so that they are less likely to end up on the trash heap. Can you think of other reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.
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