New Year’s Resolutions

Michael SallustioArticlesLeave a Comment

by Michael A Sallustio, CNC, CPFT, JD 

Are you completely unenthused about making another New Year's Resolution this year?  Tired of setting yourself up for failure?  So why do you suppose this tradition is so discouraging?   Why can't you just do what you say you  want to do?  Are you ready to break the cycle?  Let's take a closer look at this fascinating dynamic of human psychology and then consider some possible solutions. 

There are three main reasons people fail to follow through with their New Year's resolutions. 

One reason is that the whole idea of making a behavioral change is being initiated by an external event. 
In fact, we tend to put off change until such an event occurs, whether it's a holiday or a loved telling us they've had enough of some negative aspect of our behavior.  In other words, your decision to change is often not entirely your decision.  And it is a truth of human psychology that any decision that requires you changing your behavior is not likely to stick if it was initiated or made for you by someone else.  It is a well-known fact that a smoker will never quit until he has decided for himself that he is ready to quit.  All of the hypnosis or other smoking cessation programs in the world will not work unless and until that persona decision has been made.  If you want it to stick, it has to be yours (i.e., you have to own it). 

As a health & fitness consultant, I see this in my practice all of the time.  Someone will send in their spouse to lose weight or to improve their eating habits.  When I ask the client why he is here he inevitably replies, "because my wife sent me" or "my wife thinks it would be good for me". Nine times out of ten, I will either never see this person again or they end up giving up before they've learned anything.  And the obvious reason for their failure is because the lifestyle change was not something they really wanted or were ready to take on anyway.  They weren't doing for themselves. 

A second reason is that New Year's resolutions, like other annual commitments to change, are typically treated as temporary commitments.  In this sense, New Year's resolutions are not much different than religious based sacrifice, such as the Christian Lent or Jewish Yom Kippur or Muslim Ramadam.  It is during such times that we are encouraged or required to vow to give something up or change an aspect of our behavior for a period of time to symbolize our commitment to our faith.   We pledge to give up some behavior for a period of a few to several weeks and then when it is over we are right back to our old habits.  You can probably look back at year's past and see that in fact by mid-January you were right back to eating sweets or failing to make time for exercise.  This leads to the third reason New Year's resolutions often fail.

The third reason is that you let your history of past failures determine your future behavior. Is it possible that every year your resolutions are doomed to fail because subconsciously you believe they will fail?  In other words, if you have failed at something in the past, this is imprinted in your subconscious mind and any future commitment to similar behavior is doomed for the same fate.  Think about it.  How excited do you get about taking on that next weight loss program if you have failed at one or more attempts in the past?   How likely are you to get out on that dance floor if someone once made a negative comment about your dancing skills years ago?  Your subconscious mind has much more to do with your decisions than your conscious or logical mind.  In fact, the subconscious mind is much more connected with feeling and emotion than with logic. 

So how do you get past these obstacles?   How do you approach your New Year's resolution differently this year, so that the change you hope to make actually sticks? 

The first and most effective thing you can do is to not refer to it as a New Year's resolution at all.  Call it a Lifestyle Resolution.  This makes the decision to change more personal.  It is not for New Year's Day—it is for you.  Unlike a behavioral change you may make for a religious holiday, which is pledging a commitment to your faith, a Lifestyle Resolution is a commitment to yourself.  In this sense the term is also more descriptive and more permanent. 

And speaking of permanent, don't give yourself six weeks or eight weeks, which will only leave you where you were before you started.  Decide to make the change for life.  This is another reason that Lifestyle Resolution is more appropriate. 

And to ensure that you are making this decision for your own reasons, you must identify something you are truly ready to take on.  And you must be ready to take it on for your own reasons and not someone else's.  You must then acknowledge that although you happen to be making this decision on New Year's Day, it is still your decision and the timing of it is secondary to your commitment to change. 

And finally, the past does not equal the future.  Do not let your past behavior dictate your  present or future behavior.  Make a commitment to leaving your past behind you and realizing there is nothing you can do about what has already occurred.  The only behavior you have direct control over is what you doing now or what you are about to do.  Many of the most successful people you know were once failures or were not always good at what they are now recognized for.  Jack Lalane was once a 90-pound weakling.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.  Many famous authors were turned down by several different publishers before their books became best sellers.  If you truly want to change, forgive yourself for any past failures and make the decision to move on. 

For more on how to make a lifestyle change, click here.

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