New Year’s resolutions – everyone makes ‘em, few keep ‘em. Why is this so? And how can we do it differently so we can finally make our New Year’s resolutions stick? Let’s first understand where this question is even coming from.
Western Civ and New Year’s Resolutions
There are two cultural narratives around New Year’s resolutions in our society that are diametrically opposed. The first is that as the new year approaches, we should be making resolutions and should be trying to improve ourselves. If you ask somebody, “what’s your New Year’s resolution this year?” you will probably not get a response of, “a New Year’s what?” unless the person you are speaking to is a recently arrived migrant. There is a cultural sense among us that New Year’s resolutions are a thing, and if you don’t have one, you are somehow deficient and would not be wrong to feel guilty.
The second narrative, which is presented on sitcoms, talk shows, blogs and the like, is that New Year’s resolutions are a joke, nobody keeps them, and nobody really expects you to. Nobody will ask you in July how your New Year’s resolution is going. By March it’s already forgotten. This reversal is how we manage the guilt we’ve created for ourselves – we use humor to minimize the importance of it so that we can go on with our lives. It’s quite an effective defense mechanism.
So how can we approach New Year’s resolutions effectively? How can we make New Year’s resolutions stick?
The Honest Resolution
The answer is to be a little more honest with ourselves. First of all, let’s be honest that our urge to make resolutions is partly cultural expectation (the tyrannical should), and partly our own guilt and not being the way we think we ought to be or doing the things we ought to do – meaning, we know we are not living up to our own values. If you’re just making resolutions because you think you’re supposed to, and not because you have taken stock of who you are and who you want to be, there’s little chance of making any real change in yourself.
Let’s also be honest that change is hard. No matter how much we want to exercise daily, cut sugar out of our lived, and call mom every day, it’s simply not realistic to be there on the strength of willpower alone. Change takes time, and it is most robust when taken in small doses. You may be able to make it to the gym every day for a week, maybe two, but then you miss a day for a good reason, then you miss a day for a lame reason, and then it keeps going downhill from there.
New Year’s Resolutions in Baby Steps
In the classic movie about therapy “What About Bob?” Richard Dreyfus portrays an egotistical psychiatrist with an approach to change that is actually quite down-to-earth. His masterpiece self-help book is called “Baby Steps,” and the basic principle is that if you break a challenge into smaller pieces, it is much more achievable.
If you want to keep your New Year’s resolutions, the key is to make them small. “I will go to the gym every day” is probably not a realistic change to expect to achieve in one go. Instead, find a change you can make that will point you in the right direction, even if it’s “not enough” or not where you hope to end up. For example, try setting yourself up to go to the gym once a week instead of daily. Granted, that may not be the kind of exercise regimen you want to be keeping. The point is that once you can consistently keep that up, you can move on to twice a week, then four times, then maybe every day. But if you try to hop right up to every day, you will likely find yourself falling back down to zero, as perhaps you have in years past.
Or, you resolve to go for a 10-minute walk every day instead of aiming for an hour-long session at the gym. However you design your resolutions so that they provide stagewise growth via baby steps, this kind of approach will make it much more likely that you will be able to stick to them.
What’s your New Year’s resolution this year? Let us know in the comments below! Struggling to figure out how to break them down into manageable chunks? Contact us to help you figure out how to baby-step them for maximum success!