New Year’s Resolutions – Time For A Change
This is the time of year when many start reflecting on their life. Some notice areas they
want to improve and make a New Year’s resolution. My question is why do we keep
doing something that has a failure rate as high as 80%? Especially when failing often
results in feelings of guilt, sadness, disappointment, self-loathing, harmful self-talk,
feeling worthless and so many more negative emotions. Something that is meant to
empower and bring positive changes turns negative. Yet, year after year this cycle
continues. Some do succeed with their resolutions but most don’t. This year, let’s work
to change the cycle.
Changing the Cycle
If you haven’t seen them already, soon you will start noticing articles on new ways to
succeed at your New Year’s resolutions. Personally, I stopped making them years ago.
Why? Besides the negative emotions often felt when you don’t fully succeed, I prefer
not to wait to make changes. There are many reasons resolutions fail such as not being
fully planned out, being unrealistic, not addressing root causes etc. This year consider
working on goals/changes right away instead of delaying them. Below are some
suggestions that may help.
Set realistic goals
Really look at the things you want to change. Are they realistic? Below are some
common resolution examples and how you can change the focus of the goal to
something that is more manageable and realistic.
Goal: Losing weight. Many want to get down to a weight they haven’t been since
they were a teen or in their early 20s. Maybe it’s possible, maybe it isn’t. I think a
more realistic resolution is to eat healthier. So, an alternate goal could be “cut out
20% of the processed/junk food eaten and replace it with healthy fruits and
Goal: Exercise 30 minutes daily. This may seem reasonable but if you work long
hours, have children to attend to, a busy social calendar etc. this goal may be setting
you up to fail. Instead make it more manageable such as “increase my active time
each week by 10 minutes”. You can do this until you reach a level of activity that fits
in with your lifestyle and makes you feel healthier and energized. This goal is easier
to fit into a busy life because you can easily add in things like parking the car further
away to get in more walking, going for a short walk during work breaks etc.
For goals to succeed they need to be realistic and attainable. Otherwise, what’s the
Find the Root Cause
After you have a realistic goal or short list of goals that focus on positive, reachable
changes now comes the challenging part. Understanding the root cause of the issues
you want to change. If you skip this step you will most likely end up back where you
started. You need to figure out if what you want to change is a habit/learned behavior,
an emotional reaction, self-sabotage, or possibly a fear reaction? Have you
subconsciously developed a negative association with exercise or eating? Without
understanding why you do what you do, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s crucial
that you understand your mindset, believes, habits, fears and any benefit (positive or
negative) that you are getting from continuing with the behavior. I believe most people
struggle and/or fail at reaching their goals because they skip this step completely or
don’t explore deep enough.
For example, let’s say you go from one unhealthy relationship to the next. You just
don’t understand why you keep ending up in similar relationships or picking the same
type of partner. Maybe it’s a learned relationship norm from childhood. It could also be a
trauma response or a fear of abandonment issue that is still unresolved from childhood.
It could also be a fear of intimacy or of being vulnerable? So, the unconscious benefit
of going from one unhealthy relationship to another could be that it keeps your
relationships at a surface level so you feel less vulnerable, less exposed, and
You see where I’m going with this. You can work hard to reach your resolutions but
without knowing the root cause it’s a “band aid fix”. This type of fix often leads to goal
failure because you are trying to change symptoms without knowing or dealing with the
root cause. So, the change doesn’t stick. It’s a temporary solution to an issue but the
underlying cause isn’t resolved. I feel this is the reason most goals fail.
Create a Plan
Once you’ve found the true root cause and figured out any “hidden benefits” for
behaviors you want to change, you can move forward and create a plan.
- The plan needs to include ways for you to deal with the emotions, habits, fears, and
previously hidden benefits that led you to the behavior. Just knowing the “why” of a
behavior is not enough because these past barriers will most likely resurface again.
- So, you need a plan and tools to work through them.
Don’t try and make too many changes at once or you are setting yourself up for
failure. Keep the list manageable. One-two resolutions is better but three is okay if
they are similar.
- Once you have a plan, don’t put off the changes you want to make. If you find
yourself procrastinating then you have more work to do on the root cause because
something is holding you back.
If you feel stuck or like you are just going through the motions of life, you may want to
try the below suggestions as they may help you start to move forward.
This is my go-to attitude adjuster. Practicing gratitude is powerful
and one of the fastest ways to change a negative attitude to one of peacefulness. It can
even help improve feelings of sadness. If you feel yourself getting bogged down in
negative emotions trying running through a mental gratitude list. It doesn’t work if you
just think or say the words without really feeling the meaning behind them. You really
have to feel them. At the top of my list is “I woke up this morning”. I focus on what a
wonderful gift it is to have more time and specifics as to why I’m grateful for it. You can
keep a mental or written list of all the things for which you are grateful and use it when
you’re in a negative mindset. Studies show that gratitude practice has lasting, positive
effects on the brain and our mental health.
Change negative self-talk
Work to change negative messages like “I’m so stupid! I
can’t do anything right” to “I’ve got this. I can and will figure this out.” Change your inner
voice to one that is nicer, supportive, and motivating. Keep switching negative
messages to healthier more supportive ones. Eventuality, the negative self-talk will shift
to healthier messages. I just recently wrote an article about this topic which you can
I hope you find this information helpful but it is not intended to diagnose or treat. I hope
everyone stays safe, healthy and has a wonderful New Year!
Melissa Spino MA LPC CDMS
Life Transitions Therapy LLC Founder and Therapist
Phone: (616) 238-2116