With the new year just around the corner, expect to hear lots of buzz in the media and on your social media feeds about New Year’s resolutions. It’s the time of year when we’re expected to set lofty goals around self-improvement, with healthier eating, improved exercise habits and saving more money topping the list of the most commonly made resolutions in 2018.
It’s estimated that approximately half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions; however, fewer than 1 in 10 actually achieve their desired outcomes, and an estimated 80 percent fail by mid-February, a mere six weeks into the year.
Why Most Resolutions Fall Flat
For most people, their New Year’s resolutions are rigged to fail for a number of reasons. At the core of most resolution fails is a lack of a detailed plan — we tend to set our sights on achieving a lofty goal without having a realistic idea of what it takes to get there. Remember, even simple habits have usually taken years to evolve into automatic, conditioned behaviors — we’ve become programmed to automatically resist change.
Another reason for the low success rates of resolutions is that we focus on perfection — we often view success as an all-or-nothing issue, leaving little room to acknowledge small victories or forgive minor missteps and setbacks. This black-and-white mentality ignores the effort and, for most of us, is a form of self-sabotage.
The fact is that January 1st is just another day — there’s nothing inherently special about the calendar being flipped over, although many of us see the start of the year as an opportunity to “start fresh.” If you want to beat the odds and make resolutions that make sense, you need to take the time to carefully consider if your goals are realistic, are achievable and will actually improve your life.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries are a big part of the treatment and recovery journey — they’re what helps us stay balanced and aware of what we can do within our own personal capacities, limits and morals. Establishing and maintaining boundaries involves the same kinds of questions you should ask yourself before committing to a resolution, questions like “Is working towards this goal something that will strengthen my emotional, physical or mental health, or will it jeopardize it?”
For example, while resolving that you’ll go to the gym for an hour every single day might be great for your physical health, the stress of trying to find enough time to maintain an added daily commitment might take a toll on your mental health. It could even mean you’ll have to sacrifice other important things in your life, such as spending time with supportive family members or participating in support groups.
Consider whether the resolutions you make are ones that will enhance your life or are simply new ways to perpetuate old patterns of addictive behaviors. For this reason, any type of goal-setting should be done solo — you need to own your goals in order to be truly invested in achieving them.
Be Honest About Where You’re at Today
While there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, making resolutions that are completely unreachable given your current mental or behavioral health is a recipe for failure.
Before setting out to make major changes in the new year, take the time to reflect on how you’re doing right now. Consider whether or not you have a strong foundation to build upon — if you don’t, setting goals that are overwhelming may do little but add to any anxieties and feelings of low self-worth that you’re already struggling with.
According to Dr. Shainna Ali, a mental health practitioner, “You may think you are interested in change, and you very well may be, but are you ready?” She explains that “failure to thoroughly consider the corresponding what, when, where and why may cause you to lack the ability to truly ask yourself if you are currently ready to make the necessary changes” in order to stick with your resolutions at this time. If that’s the case, it doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals altogether; it simply means you may not be prepared to make the changes it takes to pursue your resolutions right now.
Rely on Outcomes, Not Just Emotions, to Stay Motivated
Although having the willpower to make positive changes in your life is important, desire alone won’t get you to your goals.
Breaking down your resolutions into small, easily digestible bites that can be measured and tracked is a key to achieving success. The ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi (Lao-Tzu), the founder of Taoism, is quoted as saying, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” — advice that still rings true today.
Consider ways to measure the outcomes of your efforts — how will you stay motivated? You might want to set “milestone” goals to keep motivated and minimize the chances that you’ll get overwhelmed.
Keeping track of your progress by journaling can help you see how successful you’ve been in sticking with your resolution, whether that means using a simple wall calendar, using an app on your phone or logging your progress in a diary.
Make Resolutions for the Right Reasons
All resolutions, no matter how lofty or simple they might seem, are ultimately about you making a change. It’s all too common for those in the recovery community to focus on changing in order to gain approval, love and acceptance from others, reasons that rarely lead to lasting success when challenging unhealthy behaviors.
If you’re setting goals simply to please other people in your life, you’re setting yourself up for failure. When you’re considering making a change, take the time to really think about what makes adopting a new behavior, or letting go of an old one, more attractive to you than simply maintaining your current status quo. Sure, having the support of your friends, family members, and recovery community in your quest to reach your goals is important, but the fact is that real change comes from within.
Ready to Make a Change in Your Life?
Do your goals for the new year include dealing with addiction and mental health issues? At FHE Health, our team of behavioral health experts is here to help you get well when you’re ready to make a change. Call us anytime — we’re available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to give you the information you need to plan for your success.