Understanding why resolutions often fall short and how to change this in 2022.
I remember years ago, I had to be in my late 20’s, I had first been introduced to the concept of January Friends at my local health & fitness center. I’d been a member for several years at that time. Not looking for any specific outcome, just a designated place to get a sweat going and distress from a day’s work. I had facilitated an adolescent outpatient group for substance use and was in the routine of going to the gym after I left work around 8PM.
This was a great end to the work day… It was my place to mentally sort through and put to rest any unfinished business from work. I needed to re-work my routine due a schedule change and found that the best time to get in a good sweat would be to head in prior to work, putting me into the middle of the 6AM rush. I hated it - Such a different experience than going later in the evening! This fundamentally changed my relationship with going to workout, but that’s a different story.
What I did notice more of, was the in’s and out’s of everyone’s routine. Which days certain people came, the frequency people met with trainers, what day people were in for their back/bi’s, chest/tri’s, leg day, core rotation… Clearly I’m a rather observant person. This all fell apart in January, however, when what felt like the greater New York metro area decided to join my same health & fitness center.
It was mayhem, perhaps a good empathy training for treating those with attention and hyperactivity conditions. I found myself wanting to go to the gym less when apparently everyone else was compelled to go in. For me, it was way too stimulating. Gratefully, and getting a bit more to the point (I’m also a storyteller if you couldn’t tell), by time mid february rolled around I found myself being able to breathe a bit easier as things quieted down to their normal rhythm, perhaps with a few additions sprinkled into the mix.
In having a conversation with a friendly face I’ve developed a camaraderie with, I was able to get some clarity… I can feel my blood pressure going back to normal, I don’t have to fight for my locker anymore. He was kind enough to laugh at my sarcasm. Oh this year was nothing, last year one of our January Friends broke one of the steppers and it took another 4 months to get it replaced! For context, there were only two stair climber machines in the gym, so this loss created quite a stir for all of the glute fans. January Friends? What’s That? I was risking my naivety. January Friends… You know, all the people that make a resolution to lose weight and get one of the gimmicky gym memberships you see on the commercials. Most of them flake out by February, so for us, they’re January Friends.
What I was then introduced to… is that resolutions won’t work unless you work them.
We can truely go in a variety of directions here, most notably the research and advertising dollars placed in exploiting people insecurities (i.e. the health and fitness industry knowing that Americans gain approximately 8 pounds between Halloween and New Years Day while also knowing that our cultural norms frown on weight gain, naturally enhancing self shaming thoughts, making us more vulnerable to advertisements for services or products that may offer us an opportunity to lose weight, and therefore defeat the shame dragon), but again, that would be a different blog for a different day. What I was then introduced to, and have then taken the opportunity to observe in others and experiment with myself, is that resolutions won’t work unless you work them.
The Oxford Languages Dictionary offers a definition of the word Resolution to mean a firm decision to do or not to do something. But more specifically, when talking about a New Year’s Resolution, Wikipedia would posit it as “a tradition, most common in the Western World… in which a person resolves to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behavior, accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve their life at the start of a new year.”
So what’s wrong with making a resolution? Inherently, nothing. However we need to factor in what we know about our own humanity, and that is namely the fact that we are creatures of habit and frequently resist change - sometimes to the point of kicking and screaming.
Of course, not all change is bad, and in the matter of a New Year’s Resolution, we’re in control of, and often welcoming these changes. The matter to consider here is not if we want or don’t want the change, but rather that to propose a change without planning and consideration is usually a recipe for disappointment.
The matter to consider here is not if we want or don’t want the change, but rather that to propose a change without planning and consideration is usually a recipe for disappointment.
As a therapist having worked with clients seeking recovery from substance use disorders and other behavioral health conditions, I have too many stories to recall that speak to this notion. Often what may bring a person to seek therapy is that they’ve tried to make their own life adjustments that have been unsuccessful. After assessing what’s going on and getting to the root of things, part of the process is putting a plan in place that the person can follow - independent of the therapist - to maintain their course of intended action. The goal of therapy, ultimately, is to no longer need it.
In our training, clinicians (counselor’s, social workers, psychologists, therapists - whatever you want to call us) are trained in something called treatment planning. This process is often a collaborative one, involving an agreement between client and therapist to identify a specific problem (or problems) that the client is seeking to address and getting into why or how this problem is creating distress in their life. Once the problem has been identified and defined, then steps are made to identify a goal (or goals) and what steps will be outlined to reach this goal. Further discussion is had on how the steps will be taken and identifying what supports are already in place as well as what resources the client may need to be successful at attaining this goal.
Therapy sessions end up being a place to not only unload and process day-to-day life events, but also to check in on the status of or progress toward goal attainment. For those who seek out wellness coaches, this process is similar in nature, just on problems and goals that are not related to mental health or behavioral health concerns. NJ Recovery & Wellness offers both counseling and coaching to address both sets of needs.
This piece is not a pitch to sign up for therapy as a bid to make your New Year’s Resolution more successful - it’s an offering to rethink your resolution to make the commitment or change you’re looking for in a sustainable way. And if you find you’d like some support in that process, yeah - we do that too!
Rethink your Resolution to make the commitment or change you’re looking for in a sustainable way.
Let’s get started with an exercise that may help you get some traction in this direction. It may be helpful to get a pencil and paper (Yes, pencil - you may need to erase and rewrite; yes, pencil and paper, not opening your notes app or a word document - there’s a special magic to writing intentions down. Don't ask). Take note of your response to these prompts:
What is a change you’d like to make in your life? How would you describe the reason you’re looking to make this change? What’s the problem you’re looking to resolve?
WHY is this a problem in your life? For this, push yourself to get into the nitty-gritty. It’s often a common practice to keep on asking why until you’re able to distill it down to a basic, overarching problem or problematic theme you come against.
What is it that you’re looking for? How will you know that your problem has been addressed and resolved? How will life be different once you’ve been able to move past this problem? Let’s form this into a goal statement.
What STRENGTHS do you have that will be an asset to working toward this goal? We all have positive attributes to our personality and character, or have skills from previous life experiences that may be helpful in different ways. What do you have that is inherent and part of you that applies to working toward your intention?
What WEAKNESSES can you identify that may serve as a barrier to getting what you want? Let’s admit it, in addition to having assets, we also have character flaws and defects. This is not a criticism, rather an honest appraisal and acknowledgement that there are certain parts of ourselves that will pose a challenge in maintaining this particular commitment.
What OPPORTUNITIES do you have to seek support and take steps toward achieving your goal? This may involve other people, organizations, or resources to enlist support, collaborate with others who have more experience or previous success in this venture, or to gain relevant information or guidance. What do you need that you don’t have yet to get what you want?
What THREATS do you anticipate that can interfere with your stated goal? These are likely to be challenges of the external world that may lead to temptation to revert to previous behavior, often those contributing to the problem you’re looking to change. What else can make the change process difficult?
Keeping in mind your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), write a list of actions that you can take to work toward achieving - AND MAINTAINING - your resolution. One of the keys here is to be specific with your actions, and to focus on what you will do, not what you’re going to avoid or not do. Set yourself some structure for these actions or objectives, and create a timeframe you would like to have them accomplished. Another key is to be realistic with these objectives and timelines.
Find a way to look at your goal and objectives EVERY DAY! By keeping focus on your resolution and how to maintain it, you are more likely to stay aligned with your intention, being less likely to be subverted by the pull of our more comfortable behaviors. Keep in mind that change is a process, and does not happen overnight.
CELEBRATE your successes. Yes, when we see progress and reach an objective, you too can use a pat on the shoulder and a “good job,” cheer of encouragement. Positive reinforcement is not only for children and pets (just think about that the next time you receive a compliment from an employer or teacher, or when you get a good grade or raise).
More often than not, when we make New Year’s Resolutions, we’re really just making a declaration, as if the statement alone will create the changes necessary to make it true. Don’t get me wrong, speaking our intentions can play an important role in accountability and the idea of manifesting intentions is really a thing! But if we rely on this, and only this, we can fall into a bit of magical thinking, which may prove lack-luster results.
When we put planning and consideration behind our intentions, we fortify these resolutions. And by reviewing them routinely we reinforce their importance and increase the likelihood that we will make the next right decision to support their actualization.
Don’t just make a resolution - Make a plan. Get what you want by putting in the work.
Be well. Be RAW.