The New Resolutions

February 1, 2017 | By More

The New Resolutions

By Lisa Healy

Psychologist in training & ACT Therapist 

What were your New Year’s Resolutions?

January is drawing to a close, and those of us who rang in the New Year with ambitious resolutions are feeling smugly satisfied as we enjoy the fruits of following through with those resolutions on our health, waistlines, love lives, or careers… right?

Well, if statistics are anything to go by, for the majority of us this isn’t the case. Most of us who make resolutions in the New Year are likely to abandon them, and will do so within a month of making them. We have great intentions; big plans; noble goals. We can probably say that X or Y is something important to us. And yet, we find ourselves struggling to commit.

This is a post for all of us abandoners and resolution dodgers.

Here’s a typical early January scenario: you’ve spent December filling the cupboards and then your belly with all of the decadent, luxury foods being advertised in the run up to the holidays. There’s been office parties and reunion drinks with normally far-flung friends. Almost everything around you has been seductively whispering “indulge” and “treat yourself!”

Now January arrives, and suddenly every advertisement is targeting your diet and fitness habits. Those holiday indulgences now stand in stark and even shameful contrast to the diets and celebrity-endorsed exercise programmes. Our minds, which do a great job at comparing us to others, may start to tell us that we are not matching up to the standards we are constantly being presented, and we may begin to think more self-critically. The snugger fit of my favourite jeans might spark off a sensation of tightness in my chest as anxiety about my appearance shows up.

Deciding to eat better and exercise more seems like a good way to turn down the volume on that nagging voice, and so we feel better – for a little while at least. For me, it’s not long before the judgement machine of my mind starts chiming in with its opinions on my progress and reminding me (rather unhelpfully) that this running business wouldn’t be so tricky right now if only I hadn’t been so lazy earlier.

So now, even though I am doing the things I should be doing to be healthier or fitter, my mind is still not easing up – the self-critical thoughts are still there, and now my efforts might be judged by my mind as not good enough. If I made this resolution so that I wouldn’t feel bad about myself, then it’s not working – in fact things might actually be a little worse, because now I’m doing something that’s difficult for me and I’m dealing with feeling like my efforts are falling short – so what’s the point?

It’s not hard to understand why so many of us abandon our resolutions.


So what is the point?

Let’s think for a second about the function of our resolutions. I invite you to bring to mind one of yours for a moment, and ask yourself:

“Was this resolution made to move me towards the people and things in my life that are deeply important to me, or was it made to help me to avoid some difficult or unpleasant experience?”

Notice that the resolution you decide to commit to may look the same regardless of which of these motivations led you to choose it. You might decide to start eating more healthily to avoid feeling bad about the excesses over the holidays, or it might be because you want to look after your body by nourishing it with the foods it needs. The meal you choose may be the same, but what’s influencing the decision to choose it may be quite different.

See if you can notice whether, moment to moment, what motivates your choices can change. You might opt for some fruit instead of a fried breakfast as a move towards heart health, and at lunch you may be ordering a wholesome salad because a less health conscious fast-food option could come with a side order of guilt or shame.

Simply noticing whether you are moving away from a difficult experience or moving towards something important to you can have a remarkable impact on how you chose to act.

If you take a moment to think of your most recent resolution, can you notice what influenced your decision to choose it? Were you moving towards something or away?

Here are some things to consider if you struggle with making lasting changes.

  • Viewing yourself as whole and capable of change

Right now, here in this moment as you read this, you have everything you need to make a meaningful change to your life. Even if it’s difficult. Even if your mind came up with a million different contradictions when you read that statement. The best place to start is from where you are, with what you have. When it comes to doing what matters, the perfect moment is always the one you are in.

  • Discomfort is growth in its working clothes

Moving outside your comfort zone is also moving into the zone of vulnerability. Change is challenging. In addition to external obstacles, you might face all sorts of protest and demands from your mind. Part of your mind’s job to keep you safe and minimize your exposure to pain or perceived danger. So when it pipes up in these situations, it’s doing exactly as it should… but it might not be helpful in moving you towards what truly matters. Are you willing to experience difficult thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations if it means getting to make contact with the things that add richness and vitality to your life?

  • Beware of Shoulds and Have Tos

Take the time to check in with the language you use about your resolutions – when you talk to others, and when you think about the changes you plan to make. See if you can notice words like “should”, “must”, or “have to” showing up. When they do, see if you can notice how these words feel for you. What do they have to say about your freedom to choose? How connected do you feel in those moments to the areas of your life that your resolutions serve? Are there other words that allow you to reconnect with why this action is important to you?

  • Follow your joy

If resolutions don’t feel like the right fit for you, and you still want the year ahead to stand for something, taking the time to reflect on the things that have brought joy into your life can be a good guide for your actions. If your joyful moments – the ones where you felt happy, or calm, or energised, or grateful, or inspired – if those moments were a compass pointing you towards the things in life that are important, what direction would you chose to move in? If you followed your joy, what would you chose to do in the next year? What about in the next month? Is there something you could do tomorrow to move towards that area of your life? Is there something you could do right now?

  • Hold it lightly

No matter what you choose to do or not do in the year ahead, I invite you to see if you can hold each set back or success lightly. Take pleasure in your accomplishments as they happen, and be gentle to yourself when you fail, and let each of these experiences pass without holding on to it too tightly. Take each moment as an opportunity to choose how you want to act, and have fun where you can.

Make flexibility and fulfilment your new resolutions!

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