Avoid future failure in the New Year
– By Dr. Caroline Cederquist and Joy Lynn Post –
We are gung-ho, all systems go at the start of the year. Our resolution list has been spoken aloud and our peers are supportive. A brand new year filled with potential lies in front of us. Successful resolutions usually happen during the first two weeks and we are driven by a commitment to ourselves. Things are going beautifully until February slides in and backsliding begins. January’s significance seems far way, and come the following December most people are back where they started. Or worse, even farther behind. If we are aiming for perfection and lose sight of the prize, this can happen year after year.
Researchers have described resolutions as a form of “cultural procrastination” in an effort to reinvent ourselves. Sometimes we use resolutions as a way of motivating ourselves. Psychologists argue that often we aren’t actually ready to give up our habits, particularly bad habits, when we resolve to make changes. But we still say we will, and researchers suspect that accounts for the high failure rate.
Psychologists have identified what they call the “false hope syndrome,” which means a resolution is significantly unrealistic, and often out of alignment with the internal view a person has of themselves. When you make a positive affirmation about yourself that you don’t really believe, the positive affirmations not only don’t work, they can be damaging to your self-esteem. Imagine a young girl looking in the mirror and telling herself she is beautiful, but not believing it. We do the same thing when we make resolutions we are not ready for.
Failed resolutions can also be the result of a belief that this change will be the answer to life’s problems. You may think that if you lose weight, reduce your debt, or exercise more, that your entire life will be different. Then when March marches in and you realize your life didn’t change the way you expected, it’s easy to give up and revert back to old behaviors.
To make a resolution work and truly change your behavior, you must change your thinking and “rewire” your brain. Thinking patterns actually create and establish neural pathways and memories. These can become the ‘default’ behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. If you focus on just ‘not doing it’ then you actually work against an automatic process in your brain. When opposite behaviors fail, it can actually strengthen the brain-and-connected-behavior as a default. For example, if you focus on not eating a cookie, you use all your strength to that end, and feel like a failure when you couldn’t fight your default. But luckily, according to research, there is a way to reinvent the wheel, and change your default behaviors.
Real change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking. So if you begin to consider becoming someone who prefers not to eat cookies, except on occasion, then you begin to identify yourself differently. Processing thoughts like “I used to be a cookie monster, but not anymore” can help redefine your neural pathways. If you still consider yourself a cookie monster, but just resolve to deny yourself cookies, eventually most people revert back to pre-resolution thoughts. You must change the way you view yourself as a person, and different
default behaviors will result.
Quick tips to help make resolutions work
1. Focus on one resolution, not several.
2. Set specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be a perfect example. Then follow with a March resolution of keeping that 10 pounds off for the rest of the year.
3. Don’t wait till New Year’s Eve to make resolutions. Ponder them throughout the year.
4. Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big, and demands they overhaul their entire life. One thing at time.
5. Have an accountability buddy who’s not trying to lose weight, and report your progress.
6. Celebrate any success you have between milestones. Don’t wait to rejoice when the goal is complete.
7. Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. Remember, you must create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits.
8. Be present and focus on today. What’s the one thing you can do right now toward achieving your goal.
9. Write down a new way to regard dreaded activities. Telling yourself you want to learn to enjoy exercise so that you can become a person who loves to exercise, will take you a lot farther than any exercise goal you could ever set.
10 . And finally, don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, but don’t let it hold you back from working at your goal.
Cederquist Medical Wellness Center