Get out the whip, and let’s get cracking – it’s new Year’s, and it is time to change. I don’t care how little sleep you get, how hard you work, or what your life is like, it’s New Year’s – time to be better!
Mrs. M. came in to my office right after New Year’s and, after not having exercised for a few years, she started off with a magnificent bang. She went to an exercise class and hurt herself so badly, she had to go to physical therapy for weeks. Mr. M. started spending more time with his children. After two weeks of ignoring his own to-do list, he felt so stressed that he became even more withdrawn, guilty and feeling like a failure for not doing enough. Ms. L. tried cooking home-cooked meals. The energy and enthusiasm, after two weeks, morphed into resentment at the end of the day because the extra pots and pans she had to wash filled her with so much bad feeling at the end of the day, she knew she’d failed.
And herein lies the reason why our New Year’s resolutions fail: because we come to believe, when we can’t keep them, that WE have failed. Feeling that you have failed when your resolutions don’t fit in to your lifestyle is not a good feeling. It is a feeling that you do not want to have. It is a feeling you want to get away from. Nobody likes to feel like a failure, nobody likes to feel like they don’t do things right, and certainly, nobody wants to feel like they are a sub-standard person.
So, only a few weeks after New Year’s, we don’t exercise the way we’d planned, we go back to shortcuts, we sit for hours in front of our computers because it’s just too much effort to turn them off and have to sit for hours with the family, we return to our old patterns.
In fact, I know many people who don’t even make New Year’s resolutions anymore, which, in my opinion, is not much fun. What’s the point of New Year’s? There must be more to it a midnight embrace. If you manage to stay up that late.
But here’s the thing: if you weren’t so busy feeling like a failure, you would see something. Which is that just because your resolution didn’t work does not mean you’re a failure, it just means…the resolution needed tweaking. And probably, the reason why is that your resolution was too big.
The fact that your resolution was too big, is wonderful. You are an ambitious, well-meaning person. You want the most you can get out of life. You are great – I love you already just thinking about you and your resolutions even if I don’t even know you because I know where resolutions come from: the impulse to grow, be better, be in life, and have it be the best that it can.
So now, we’re going to listen for something different. Which is not that you’re a failure, but rather, how to make the resolution smaller. How to make it fit the bill. The bill being real life. The fact that as it is, you’re pretty overwhelmed because you’re an American in 2013, and that’s your legacy.
Here is how you make your resolution smaller:
- DON’T LET YOUR LIMITS GET YOU DOWN. Try your resolution and monitor your frustration. Your frustration can take many forms. Tightness in your body, aggravation or exasperation emotionally, confusion about things, bad feelings about yourself including feeling dumb, inadequate, a failure, lazy or any other negative label you notice you are attaching to what you are doing regarding the Resolution.
- SCALE DOWN MENTALLY. Once you have taken note of your feelings of discomfort, tell yourself the following: RESOLUTION IS TOO BIG.
- SCALE DOWN PHYSICALLY. Then, try to change the resolution to be smaller. For example, exercise for only five minutes instead of 40. Spend time with your family for ten minutes instead of a whole evening. Buy pre-washed, pre-packed vegetables instead of anything you have to wash and dice and slice.
- DESIGN THE RIGHT REWARDS. Reward systems are usually designed to give yourself a present for meeting a difficult goal. This is different, because if you’re resolution is too big, no reward will motivate you. The only motivation you should give yourself now, is the reward of knowing you met your goal. So if those five jumping jacks a day are going to give you a feeling that you did something, that should be your exercise plan for the first week. Set up rewards that don’t reward behavior, but for which the behavior itself is the reward.
- TAKE YOURSELF FURTHER. The terrible ways that we become hard on ourselves, without consideration of our real-life limits, our psychological limits and our true capacities, is never more evident than during new-year’s. This is your chance to take stock of this aspect of your relationship with yourself. Take your misgivings about yourself, your disappointments with yourself, your regrets, your shame, your self-disgust and anything else that is not working in your relationship with yourself and air it all out by becoming mindful about it or, even better, sharing it with someone else so all this stuff can get organized. This is your chance to make it better, so that you can learn who you really are, and what you really need – and NOT stay stuck in that place we all know so well where you wish you could be someone else – someone better, stronger, and in any way different.