Resolutions For Your Resolutions
Eat better. Exercise more. Quit smoking. Get organized. Drink less alcohol. Wake up earlier. Stop using drugs. Spend more quality time with your family. Spend less time on screens. Many of us make the same resolutions year after year, only to see them fail by March…or January 15th.
And yet, the next year we will resolve to make many of those same changes again.
So why aren’t we succeeding? Well, lots of reasons. According to research, we are more likely to stick to resolutions that bring us happiness. If your resolution is to drink less, but you really like drinking, then your resolution will feel like a loss, thus not be very motivating. However, if your resolution is to be hungover less frequently, that is something that has a higher likelihood of bringing you happiness…or at the very least the absence of nausea and a wicked headache.
Is your goal the finish line?
In November 2020, Chris Nikic became the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Iron Man Triathlon. In case you are not familiar, an Iron Man race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full marathon. Nikic achieved this feat by committing to getting 1% better each day. He got his first bicycle at 15 years old and it took him six months to be able to ride 100 feet. At 21 years old, he rode 112 miles (not to mention the marathon and the swim) and completed the Iron Man with (mere) minutes to spare.
When Nikic first got that bicycle, had his goal been to ride 112 miles, whilst falling in the parking lot every 20 feet, it is likely he would not have lasted very long. However, he just continued his goal of progressing slowly, of getting 1% better every day.
So, why are the rest of us setting Iron Man goals before we have dug our athletic shoes out of the bottom the of closet?
Maybe our resolutions are failing because they are not making us happy and our goals are too big. Research also indicates we are more likely to stick to something when we can see results quickly. So, before you feel like you are already failing in 2021, perhaps it is time to rethink your goals.
Seven strategies for meeting your New Year’s goals
1. Start small! Remember, avoid making the finish line the first goal. If exercising everyday was your resolution, but you have been hanging out on the couch for the past year, maybe commit to 2 days a week at first. If quitting smoking cold turkey has not worked in the past, consider a taper plan or nicotine replacement therapy.
2. Try for one change at a time. Oh, it's tempting to do major overhauls on ourselves. But it is also overwhelming. Consider just one change; begin with the easiest, the most fun one, or the one that feels the most important. Once you have some momentum and some success, add on.
3. Stop thinking in terms of failure. If you drank after abstaining for two weeks, you did not fail. You still had 14 days of NOT drinking, which is huge. Try to understand why temptation struck you on the 15th day and incorporate that into your plans moving forward. Eating poorly or buying a pack of cigarettes after you committed not to does not mean you are back at square one. Thinking in terms of failure is more likely to derail you and then keep you off track.
4. Plan for temptation. Temptation is not if, but when. Someone will show up with a giant cake or light up a cigarette around you or pour you a drink. If you wait until that moment to decide how to handle it, you are reacting to a situation, rather than meaningfully responding to it. So, consider what your ‘brand’ of temptation is, and begin planning how you might address it in different scenarios. Then, when it happens, you will feel more prepared and less caught off guard.
5. Be confident…but not too confident. When things are going well and we are feeling good about where we are, it is tempting to feel like we have our problem totally under control. A group of researchers have dubbed this the “cold-to-hot empathy gap”. Their findings show that when we are satiated, we fail to consider the power of our needs when we are hungry, tired, or lustful. The researchers go on to say that when we are satiated, we overestimate our ability to resist temptation, something they call “restraint bias”. The takeaway here is to continue to plan for when times are difficult—do not be too hasty in letting go of your support systems, your accountability.
6. Celebrate small successes. Even the little, teeny tiny ones, because they are building blocks. Success breeds success, and we are innately motivated by results. So, do not overlook your small wins because you are not exactly where you wanted to be. If you were trying to exercise 5 days a week, and you only did 2 days this week—give yourself the credit for exercising those two days. If you smoked one bowl instead of four, put that in the win pile. That is progress, and progress is necessary for wherever we are trying to go.
7. Get support. Having someone to be accountable to, someone to cheer you on, someone to help you identify your barriers to success—what we all need can look a little different. Figure out what kind of support you are needing. The support you need could be a friend, an accountability partner, or some fancy app that I have probably never heard of and do not know how to use.
For some people, therapy is the right kind of support. If you need support addressing your drug and alcohol use, Substance Use Therapy is available. Whatever you are trying to achieve, you don’t have to do it alone.
About the Author:
Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.