New Year's Resolutions....and why they just don't work!
90.8% of people report failing to keep their New Year's Resolutions- but why? What are we doing wrong? And more importantly, how can we make positive changes that stick?
Close your eyes for a moment and consider your resolutions this year. Are they about giving things up? Losing weight? Stopping smoking? Perhaps take a few minutes to write them down, paying attention to your wording; I am willing to hazard a guess here that you have compiled a list of activities that you want to NOT do- and I am also willing to bet that this is precisely where you have been going wrong.
In order to explain, first I need to tell you a little about Transactional Analysis (the theoretical model that I use in my psychotherapeutic counselling) - please stay with me here and trust that the following is truly relevant to you and your future success with resolutions.
You see, Transactional Analysis is different to other methodologies because your therapy is built around your own personal contract for change. Your therapist will spend time with you, focussing on what it is that you wish to be different about your life and exploring ways that you can achieve this change. Although this sounds simple, arriving at your contract can take a very long time. First you need to build a relationship with your therapist- after all, why would you trust a total stranger to help you achieve the things that you want most from your life? Once you have established enough trust to move on to the next phase of work, you and your therapist will need to explore the areas of your life that feel disconnected or unsatisfying to you. You will look at how long this has been the case, explore why you continue to have these problems and what your part in them might be. Once you have pinpointed the areas of your life that you want to take control of and do something about, you are ready to co-create your contract for change with your therapist. A psychotherapeutic contract might sound something like this:
Therapist: "What would you like to be different at the end of this session/therapy?"
Client : "I want to be sociable- to spend more time having fun with friends."
Therapist: "How will you and I know when you have achieved this change for yourself?"
Client: "Well, I will go to one social event every week. I will make a new friend. And I will invite people over to my house once a month."
Now you have your therapeutic contract, it is your therapist's job to ensure that your work together revolves around this contract as a centralised focus (until such a time as you have successfully fulfilled your aim or change your desired outcome) and it becomes your responsibility to make changes, all the while being supported, held, heard and challenged by your therapist. A good Transactional Analyst will use contractual methods to help their clients focus and move towards their desired outcome.
Notice in the example above that the wording used is positive and intentional; this wasn't an accident. And this is where I believe you may have been setting yourself up to fail with your New Year's Resolutions of the past. Let's return now to your list and take some time to explore the intention behind your phrasing.
"Imagine how other areas of your world might change for the better if you were able to trust yourself to do the things you promise that you will"
Taking a few minutes to re-word your goals might well be the difference between achievement and failure. It's important to your mental wellbeing and growth as a human that you experience success; we can't control external events or other people and so we are left with only a single thing that we ARE able to control in our lives: ourselves. Proving to yourself that you can set a goal and follow it through to completion is an incredible exercise in personal growth. You will be able to trust that your life is in good, trustworthy and capable hands. Imagine that! Imagine how other areas of your world might change for the better if you were able to trust yourself to do the things you promise that you will. Every one of us has experienced a relationship with someone that chronically disappoints us - a person that promises something and consistently fails to deliver. We all know how we feel in relationship with these people. While we can't change the fact that people who let us down will always come in to our lives, we can make sure that we are not another person that lets us down.
So, that brings us to the important matter of your resolution- or your 'annual contract for change'. Before we set about re-wording and removing the negatives, it's important to first ensure that:
Your goals are achievable
It's one thing to decide that you will join a band, for example, but quite another to set your sights on playing a sold-out gig at Wembley Arena twelve months from now. Joking aside, make sure that you aren't setting yourself up to fail- doing so will serve only to batter your self-esteem. Make sure that your goals are also achievable not just by people in general, but by YOU.
Perhaps your next-door-neighbour has been competing in Iron Man competitions since the 1980s and you've decided to start training to compete this year; having absolutely no experience of triathlons; achieving this within a twelve month period would be unhealthy, unlikely and quite possibly ill-fated.
Your goals are your own
We've all been nagged or influenced by the wishes of others and for some of us, the boundary between what we want for ourselves and what other people want us to be/do becomes so blurred that it gets lost. We all know that smoking is bad for our health, for example, but unless it is your own desire to become healthier (and not your partner's dislike of smoking) that motivates you, you'll be unlikely to commit to making a change with enough conviction to make that change stick.
Your goals are measurable
As demonstrated in my contract-making dialogue earlier in this blog, you need to know when you've reached your desired outcome in order to know that you have succeeded. While some goals will be ongoing (taking up running, for example) and some that you hope to be lifelong (to replace unhealthy cigarettes with vaping, or to knock it on the head completely perhaps), make sure that within that long term plan there are measurable targets. Perhaps instead of stating 'I will lose weight,' you might say 'I will weigh (x)kg/lbs by the 1st of May.' Instead of 'I will start running,' perhaps state 'I will partake in park run every Saturday and by 1st July I will run 5km in 40 minutes without stopping.'
Be mindful of using negative words and consider how you might re-frame your resolution to change a negative in to a positive. The reason for this is to do with visualising your goals: it is impossible to visualise 'not-something'. Try it yourself. Try to imagine a not pink elephant. If my hunch is correct, you have automatically brought to mind the very thing that followed the 'not'. It is therefore impossible to make a negative contract without visualising the very thing that you want to avoid. Evidence has shown that, to be effective in the long term, a contract needs to provide at least one more option than the old behaviour. For instance, if you intend to stop smoking then I would suggest that you choose at least one new behaviour that you will do instead of smoking, to replace your unwanted behaviour.
Give it a go-this might just be the year that you make some real, positive changes for your life. Send me a message or leave me a comment if you want to discuss any of the above, or have any questions about your own resolutions. Oh, and Happy New Year!