January is long gone, and many of us may be finding that keeping the resolutions we made for ourselves has either stalled or begun to waver. Don't be concerned. This isn't another article about making unrealistic New Year's resolutions. Plus, we're already well into the new year.
We appear to be obsessed as a society with the idea of starting over, of becoming completely new people with new goals and better lives. Of course, this is much easier than dealing with the emotional aspects of change.
Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.
Instead, we strive for improvements in our lives, bodies, families, and homes, simply seeking change rather than questioning why we want to change something. The tension that arises when we believe that something needs to change provides us with an opportunity to be curious and discover the 'why.'
Rather than listing tips and pointers to help you get your life back on track, let's look into the psychology of why New Year's resolutions fail but making changes in our lives does. We need to look a little deeper.
When it comes to conceptualizing change, how we describe a goal and the words we use matter. The words we tell ourselves, whether positive or negative, have an impact on how we progress and achieve our objectives.
We may set a goal, but we speak negatively to ourselves: "You're so fat, you need to work out more!" or "If you don't get this promotion, you're worth nothing."
Assume you speak to yourself in this manner and achieve your goals. Is there anything new? Are you content now? You most likely aren't. The only difference is that you now have a goal on your mental checklist, but the 'why' is still the same: self-hatred.
Change is difficult for us, and maintaining that change can be a complicated and erratic process.
According to one study, only enjoyment predicted long-term persistence. In other words, we make a fundamental error when we assume we will stick to a plan to achieve a goal simply because "we should be doing it."
Many factors, such as our upbringing and societal pressures, make it difficult to distinguish between what we 'should' do and what we want. The problem isn't so much with how we define or pursue goals as it is with our preference for tangible outcomes.
Confining our personal development and progress to annual and unrealistic resolutions leads us to aspire to goals that are designed to be checked off a list. As a result, it shapes our behavior.
We then set goals like "lose 20 pounds" rather than goals like "be more kind," which are much more difficult to achieve. We prioritize measurable results. According to Dr. Lisa Ordónez at the University of Arizona, when it comes to setting goals, we often measure what is easy to measure rather than what we truly want to do.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
New Year's resolutions are always exciting with a newfound sense of anticipation that comes with a new goal. But why is it so easy to give up after the initial thrill has worn off and the hard work of forming new habits begins?
The joy we get from what we do makes all the difference, depending on what we're trying to achieve or what goal we're trying to achieve. Assume that one of our goals is to start eating better and eating more vegetables, which was not something we could easily do in the past.
If eating healthy was difficult in the past, changing your diet may not be the most enjoyable experience in such a situation, especially if cooking healthy is difficult or healthy food is not readily available in your community.
We are all aware that the results we seek from eating healthy do not occur overnight. Meals can become boring or taste bad, or we may run out of time to cook after a long day. There are numerous reasons why we fail to keep the promises we make to ourselves.
Such a flutter of persistence isn't a flaw in the character, but it could be a flaw in the plan to introduce so much change at once and not enough enjoyment. Seeing our goals through simply because we believe we should or because they are "good" isn't enough to get us through the less exciting parts of change implementation.
Smaller rewards along the way may be a better way to help us enjoy change rather than waiting for the big reward at the end. Professor Seppo Iso-Ahola of the University of Maryland discovered that our leisure time is defined by our sense of freedom, and any threat to that sense of autonomy can elicit strong psychological resistance.
If you're like most people, you often have very few hours in the day left for yourself after work and family hours. For some, leisure time is more valuable than gold.
Change is influenced by how you perceive your leisure time. If your goal is to become more physically active, going to the gym during your free time may seem like a chore or something that takes you away from your 'freedom.'
Leisure time looks different for everyone and does not always include turning off your brain to watch television. It all comes down to the freedom to do whatever we want in our spare time.
Changing your perspective on what your leisure time entails, such as going to the gym instead of watching TV, can be extremely intimidating and challenging at first. It's all about getting past the initial resistance and making the activity a habit.
Reframing our goals as a choice and revisiting that choice on a regular basis can help chip away at that initial resistance until it becomes habitual. It takes less effort and brainpower on our part when we rewire our brains to make something that was once difficult into a habit.
A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at
When it comes to feeling accomplished, how we define successful completion of a goal matters. It is critical to make goals easier to achieve by creating a more accessible environment in which to complete them rather than making a goal easy to "cross off" a list.
Creating an environment that facilitates a task can help us stay focused on our goals. It may be difficult to begin or initiate, but something as simple as laying out your workout clothes on the couch the night before a morning workout is an easy reminder that you'd prefer to exercise over watching TV.
The time of day we try to form a new habit can make or break it. If you're having trouble, try changing the time of day you want to work on your new goal. Some of us have other obligations that take up time during the day.
Planning to work on something new and challenging during such times increases the likelihood of it not being completed due to other priorities, such as making dinner for your family. If you have the luxury of scheduling time for your personal goals, try scheduling them during times of the day when you have the least amount of competition from other tasks or responsibilities.
For example, the quietest times of the day are early in the morning and late in the evening. Keeping up later or waking up earlier may necessitate some extra effort, particularly if you have children who are already up early. Plan to work on your personal goal for an hour or so before the rest of the house wakes up in the morning.
Additionally, find an accountability buddy or someone who will help motivate you to keep going during lulls in your progress. Having a friend or partner working on a similar goal will also make the growing pains of change and new habit-making more enjoyable.
The bottom line is that when you reflect on your life, your memories will not reflect how frequently you ate, worked out, what promotion you received, or what car you purchased.
Instead, the emotions associated with such occasions—proud feelings for taking that first step or making the decision to take your finances more seriously. Short-term objectives are just that: objectives.
Consider the 'why' and the journey you'll be able to look back on later in life when making New Year's resolutions or any goal throughout the year.
There is no better path than the other, but perseverance is what will get us there. It's also important to self-reflect on how we might struggle along the way to achieving a goal and plan strategies to help us get through those moments when giving up is far too easy.
Persistence is not the same as perfection, and falling off for a few weeks is acceptable as long as you get back on track eventually. Make goals for a future that you will be proud of and that you will be able to celebrate in small ways along the way.