Why your New Year's Resolution Probably Isn't Working
Let's be honest. By now, the New Year's resolution(s) we have made at this point are starting to falter for a more than a few reasons. Most people are guilty of making grand New Year's plans only to feel overwhelmed and defeated shortly thereafter. My job centers around helping people make changes in their lives and I have even run groups that specifically focused on how people create change. Here are some recurring observations I've made about why change is difficult to achieve:
Motivation waxes and wanes! When people are actually ready to make changes, they are often very highly motivated. They're excited that they have decided to make some concrete changes, have likely prepped themselves well to do so, and maybe even started. The problem is that it is guaranteed at some point your motivation to follow through on this change will decrease, and sometimes be non-existent. This doesn't mean you don't really want it, it just means that the hard part is starting. Write down your goals in the beginning and document your progress in places that are easily seen everyday. Put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror as way to reaffirm your motivation and as a pat on the back for how far you've come. Also, remember that just because your motivation is low now doesn't mean it will be low tomorrow.
Unfortunately, we are creatures of habit. If you think about what you want to change as a locomotive you have been riding for most of your life, how much work do you think goes into slowing that locomotive down, changing it's direction, and getting it back up to top speed? Your brain is wired to continue doing things the way that it has always done them because you have built and reinforced these neural pathways. Because of a process called neuroplasticity, the brain can change itself. But it takes time. You have to rewire the neural pathways toward new habits. This is only accomplished through doing the new behavior many, many times. Just because you went to the gym five days this week doesn't mean that the habit of going regularly is set. It takes about 10 weeks for a new habit to form. Keep that in mind when you agonize over when your changes will start to set in.
I'm going to change the world in the next month! It is not a bad thing to plan on making big changes in your life, it's admirable. However, most people don't recognize that many small steps are required to get to that point and are frustrated by not reaching their goals because they didn't do these steps. Set short, relatively easily-gained goals that lead up to the big change that you want to make. The feeling of accomplishment and success at completing short-term goals will actually reignite your motivation to achieve long-term goals. One technique I use with clients is to ask them to make a 50-step list towards their big goal with step one being what you would do today or this week and step 50 being the actual goal. After they stop looking at me like I am crazy, they realize they never considered achieving a goal takes so many small steps. This technique allows people to consider the many steps between now and their goal and encourages them to realistically evaluate what changes they should be seeing at different points throughout their process.
But I want it now!!! People often get trapped into feeling like change is happening too slow. Don't think about the future, think about today. If you think about how far you are from your goal, it will destroy your hopes of achievement. Focus on accomplishing what you need for your goal just for today. Eventually, all those days add up to a few weeks, months, etc. and, before you know it, you are closer to your goal than you thought. As Dori, from Finding Nemo, says, "just keep swimming, just keep swimming."
Lapse=Relapse. The distinction between a lapse and relapse is very simple. A lapse is when you falter for a moment on the changes you are trying to make but are able to get back at it shortly after. A relapse is a complete return to the original behavior you wanted to change. Little-known secret: everyone lapses!!! Change is crazy hard and I can't recall one person, personally or professionally, who did not falter on the changes they wanted to make. The key is to not let your mind trick you into giving up because you made one mistake, which, for some reason, the mind loves to do (re: creatures of habit).
Change sucks! Change is supposed to hard, annoying, and frustrating because it pushes us out of that cushy, comfort-zone we have created for ourselves. These negative feelings are what lead us into relapse and giving up. Keep in mind: if you're not uncomfortable, you're not doing it right!