With each new year comes a new round of New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, stop smoking, take up yoga, join a book club, or drink more water. Such goals generally reflect the need to do more, do better, and consume less “junk,” both physically and mentally. The new year is also a chance to wipe the proverbial slate clean and relegate last year’s failures to “the past.” After all: New Year, New You.
Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same behavior over and over and expect a different outcome each time. So, why do we continue to make (and break) our New Year’s resolutions each year? And why do we believe that this year will, somehow, finally be different?
“As human beings, we are perpetually drawn to the light of our best selves, knowing that we have within us the potential for greatness, or at least fulfillment,” said Montpelier psychologist Eric Aronson. “What we lack is a thorough understanding of the complex patterns that hold us back and the ways to realistically and meaningfully integrate change into our everyday lives.”
In other words, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “our virtues exist in our imagination, but not in our will.” But, how do we change that? Are we doomed to repeat the same behaviors (and outcomes) repeatedly throughout our lives?
According to Dr. Aronson, there are a few simple ways to increase your success in staying on track:
• Break down your goal into small, simple, specific steps you can take and write these actions on your calendar at times you’d be most likely to do them.
Think about how you could make them more enjoyable, fun, or even exciting!
• Compare their actual difficulty and satisfaction with what you’d anticipated.
• Reward yourself with preferred activities that don’t undercut your goals.
• If you don’t get something done, don’t scold yourself and don’t give up.
• Get social support. Encouragement from friends and family can help, especially if they join in some of the activities with you.
• Don’t forget to encourage yourself! Give yourself daily affirmations and frequent doses of “You can do it!” and “Yes we can!”
In other words, we fail because we set the bar too high and throw in the towel too soon. Creating new habits (and breaking old ones) is hard work, and you’re going to have a few missteps along the way. Don’t give up because you missed a few workouts, stayed up late watching TV instead of reading Tolstoy, or ate an entire bag of chips. You’ve only failed to keep your resolutions when you stop trying to create new patterns of behavior. Give yourself time and expect some little failures on the road to success. And don’t forget: You can do it!
Licensed Psychologist-Doctorate Eric Aronson works with adults, children, couples and families. He specializes in helping people with trauma/PTSD, grief, EMDR therapy, relationships, parenting, anxiety, depression, dissociative disorders, ADHD, learning and behavior problems. Additional information can be found on his web page: psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/eric-r-aronson-montpelier-vt/436738.