How to Make and Keep a New Year’s Resolution
I propose that New Year’s resolution is a very important thing! It is so good to redirect yourself towards what is important to you and start taking steps. And what can be a more natural time to actually think about a reboot, a natural beginning? The question is how to do it right?
Let’s face it. We make them and then break them! Contrary to the resolutions of the year, we stop exercising, keep eating sugar, waste time on unproductive things, do not keep in touch with friends, and do not forgive friends and family. Oh yes, in my previous career as a Math Computer person, I had not written that amazingly clever computer code I would plan every year. After changing my career to become a psychotherapist, I had not established my own unique psychological theory that gets published in textbooks. Why make plans when you know you are going to quit? Why make any resolution — let alone New Year’s Resolution — at all?
In fact, I have realized that the reason we fail is because we don’t have the right perspective, the right understanding of our resolution. How do you get that? First, understand that making a serious resolution and to start working on it is an act of self-care. Every day is a new beginning and it has a potential to bring in new sunshine.
THE TRICK IS NEVER TO GIVE UP — AND THIS IS HOW!
Don’t feed the begging dog. Your resolution is typically aiming at a goal that brings in a long-term good. Guess what it is competing with? The conflicting system of instant gratification. That system is never satiated because it is based on the uncertainty of our next moment’s existence. It wants to give short-term “feel-good” things to us whenever and wherever possible. It is like the perpetually hungry dog that begs at the table right after finishing his own meal. If you keep feeding the dog whenever it begs, you can imagine a bloated dog with knee problems. How about being clear about the long-term reward you would be getting from your resolution? How about having the image of a healthy dog with a long life full of beautiful fur and a perkiness of a lifetime? So, make your reward from your resolution very clear to yourself — almost as clear as the short-term “fun” thing.
Self-flagellation is a passé. This is a big problem. If we end up being tempted to feed the begging dog, a lot of us think that beating ourselves up, self-criticizing and creating a maximum amount of stress will “teach” us a lesson and then we would not do it again. Guess what, research shows that stress is, in fact, antithetical to self-control. Research also shows that self-compassion is a better motivator. What that means is that hold yourself in kindness (as if you were your own best friend) and go back to doing what you had planned to do. Give yourself a soft landing and then take off again, instead of turning your momentary failure into a spiraling depression into inaction.
Lost in the big picture? This is another thing that happens to most of us. We come up with a big goal which looks great as a big picture, but we fail to think about the small steps we need to take in order to create this big picture. First, check if your goal is too lofty. Like me saying I want to have a flat tummy like Karlie Kloss or I want to write the next Malcolm Gladwell book. The resolution, if challenging, should be a “realistic challenge”. The next most important thing is to know what micro-steps you need to take and focus on just those. For example, if I want to have a flat tummy (albeit not like Karlie Kloss) then I should come up with a weekly realistic and specific plan on how I want to exercise and what I don’t want to eat. Even with this plan, try to make it based on your abilities. Do you have a realistic plan? If not, make it.
Train your willpower muscle. Research shows that you can train your willpower muscle even when you may not be born with it. Kelly McGonigal’s book says that meditation is one way you can train your brain to have better sense to make good decisions and to avoid temptations. If you are not a meditator, do this every day. Starting with two minutes (and then extending it as much as you can), after you wake up, stay still, breathe in and out, and pay attention to your nostrils to notice all sensations from breathing. Do this no matter what. If it makes you feel restless, anxious, and unpleasant, even better! Because by doing so you are training yourself to sit through the unpleasantness and to break the temptation to feed the begging dog.
Reboot, reboot, reboot. This may be the most important step of all! After a few weeks if you find yourself falling off the wagon, take a few minutes to think about why it happened, learn, and restart! Is it because you need to accommodate certain limitations you may have? Is it because you need to come up with different steps? Or could you add a new element to help you to stick to your plan (a personal trainer, a friend to keep track of you, joining a class or a group, or taking a day off to rethink)? Never ever give up. Keep restarting and rebooting over and over again. There are plenty of long weekends to use as restart button (including Valentine’s Day). Eventually, you will see the result. That is what life is all about!