Research shows that as many as 50% of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10% keep them for more than a few months. Why is that? I searched the internet for studies about why this is, and I found an article by Dr. Charles Herrick, Chair of Psychiatry, Nuvance Health, and it made lots of sense to me ( https://www.westernconnecticuthealthnetwork.org/newsroom/article-listing/new-yearsresolutions#:~:text). He says that we don’t stick with our resolutions for three reasons: we’re trying to break old and entrenched habits; we’re focusing on very specific outcomes; and these changes aren’t purposeful.
Creating new ways of being and thinking require that we change old ways of being and thinking which is easier said than done. Anyone who has tried to stop procrastinating, become optimistic rather than pessimistic, quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more or quit drinking can attest to this. Our habits and thinking patterns are ingrained by years of reinforcement and have become second nature – we always default to them. For example, a smoking or drinking habit may be reinforced by your lifestyle, the places you go, the people you interact with, physical sensations associated with the behaviors, and other rituals such as drinking when you get home from work or whenever you are happy or upset. Your feelings, thoughts, and emotions related to smoking or drinking can also contribute to making the habit satisfying because you like the way it affects you – you’re calmer, you can forget your problems for a moment and you can avoid almost anything, for a while. How about eating, shopping, working or just fill in the blank? All of these are habits have become a way to take us somewhere else, anywhere but here and now.
Often times, our resolutions are very specific – I’m going to lose 15 lbs. by March, I’m going to start respecting my boundaries right now, I’m not going to use my credit cards for a year, I’m not going to drink for a month. What happens when these goals aren’t met right away? I know what I used to do – I’d say, “Oh well, it was just a silly resolution,” and that would be the end of it – resolution forgotten.
When I said that my resolutions were just silly, I was actually saying that I really didn’t matter and, once again, I reinforced my core belief that I was worthless. As I write this, my heart aches for the wounded person that I used to be and then fills with an immense gratitude that I was able to turn all of this around. I often look back and still am amazed that a moment of clarity allowed me to say these words to myself, “I matter, and I deserve to be happy.”
These words opened the door to purpose and when my goals had purpose, they really mattered and became easier to achieve. The other thing I learned during this crucial time in my life was the concept of baby steps. Taking small realistic steps made my goals feel achievable and then doing this work with others provided positive feedback and the reinforcement of my nascent beliefs of self-worth. While working on my goals, I was breaking old habits and changing old patterns of thinking while creating new and healthy ones.
This was a huge endeavor under any circumstances but this year, especially, the year of COVID-19, any thoughts of resolutions are more difficult to prioritize. We’re all looking for comfort and are drawn to what we know, even if what we know isn’t good for us. All the more reason to make goals that are significant or meaningful, healthy and holistic, accountable and actionable, risk and results oriented, and partnered: SHARP.
This leads to the question of how? How do I know where to start and what matters most to me? I’m a believer in the power of journaling and meditation and have been able to find clarity and insight as the result of journaling, just for myself, and mindfulness meditation. I recommend this as a starting point, and I also recommend working with others. This may be the time to consider working with a coach – someone who can intuitively pinpoint those sticking points or the most natural places to focus your attention. Someone like me. If you’re reading this, why not give it a try? What’s stopping you?